Big White Wall: Expanding mental health access through the digital sphere

5th June 2015

Big White Wall

The gap between Mental Health needs and services. Big White Wall CEO reviews potential to improve access to mental health treatment in the UK, US and globally.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, one in every five adults in the United States—over 40 million people—experience some form of mental illness in any given year. These are mostly mild to moderate disorders, such as depression and anxiety, which can result in economic and social hardship as well as poor productivity at school or work.

Left untreated, these conditions can result in more significant problems, including incidences of disability. Indeed, serious mental illness, defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as resulting in serious functional impairment, affects nearly 10 million American adults each year.

Despite some of the known consequences of mental health disorders, the majority of these disorders go untreated. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 35 percent of individuals with severe depressive symptoms reported seeing a mental health professional in the past year.

For the vast majority of those who do get treatment, it is via a primary care physician and mostly consists solely of medication. Access to broader support and treatment, such as evidence-based talking therapies, remains rare.

The Inherent Limitations Of The Mental Health Care Status Quo

Conventional approaches to mental health care are insufficient to deal with the magnitude of behavioral and emotional health needs when more than 40 million people face these challenges each year in the United States.

A study by Mental Health America found that there is one qualified mental health provider for every 790 citizens in the United States. Nearly 100 million Americans—and growing—live in an area where there is a shortage of mental health providers. But geographical access isn’t the only barrier to mental health services. A survey by SAMHSA found that individuals also do not seek assistance because of cost, lack of health insurance coverage for mental health care, fear of having others find out about mental health challenges, worries about job security, and general concerns about confidentiality. These mirror issues we find in the United Kingdom.

While the social stigma surrounding mental health has improved in recent years, it is still highly prevalent. Our determination that there was a need for the Big White Wall was, in part, founded in the knowledge that nine of every 10 individuals would not reveal their poor mental health to their employer for fear of discrimination. This fear makes it difficult for individuals with mental health issues to seek support and treatment as the risk of shame and exposure prevent them from reaching out.

Yet even if they do seek treatment, they are likely to have access issues. Most assistance for non-emergency mental health conditions is only available during a conventional nine-to-five workday schedule. However, stress, anxiety, and depression don’t always happen within office hours. Indeed our data show that people experiencing severe depression are often most troubled during the night. There may also be difficulties related to geography, physical disability, or the responsibility of caring for others. There are many reasons people simply cannot leave their homes to access mental health care. That is why digital systems, available 24 hours a day, are essential.

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