However, threats to treating mental health issues do not all originate outside the community. In fact, people with mental health issues may refuse treatment themselves. According to a recent study conducted by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada and published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, men with chronic physical illnesses may be more reluctant to seek treatment for their mental health issues than women with the same conditions.
Examining the data
Flora Matheson, M.D., scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and lead author of the study, reviewed the medical data of more than 17,000 Canadians who had submitted information to the 2000-2001 Canadian Community Healthy Survey. Matheson and her colleagues tracked the subject over a 10-year period, noting the instances of physical and mental injuries across the population. The study followed occurrences of four chronic conditions in particular: high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Matheson found that among the number of people who developed a chronic physical illness, 55.6 percent of women sought treatment for co-occurring mental conditions. Only 44.7 percent of men with chronic physical illnesses put themselves in contact with mental health professionals.
Both men and women accessed mental health services less often – 36.7 percent and 48.1 percent, respectively – if they did not have physical conditions.
“Chronic physical illness can lead to depression,” Matheson said in a statement. “We want to better understand who will seek mental health services when diagnosed with a chronic physical illness so we can best help those who need care.”
Fighting through stigma
While Matheson wants to adapt mental health care to patients’ needs, her point is irrelevant if people never seek treatment in the first place. While it is usually better for patients and health care provider alike if people voluntarily choose to seek mental health care, many states have provisions for friends and family members to commit loved ones into a medical facility against their wills.
Known as “involuntary commitment laws,” the Treatment Advocacy Center explained that there are three general ways to get someone into a mental health facility as soon as possible:
- Emergency hospitalization for evaluation: In the most temporary option, patients are admitted to a hospital for a period of no longer than 72 hours. Doctors and medical professionals may perform some tests and develop a more detailed course of treatment, but the patient must be released after the 72-hour window.
- Inpatient civil commitment: People with longer histories of unusual behaviors caused by mental illnesses may be brought before a judge for a hearing on inpatient civil commitment. If a court orders that a person meets the state’s criteria for mental illness, patients can be admitted into a mental health facility for an extended period of time. The benchmarks used to determine mental health varies from state to state, but each one has some form of inpatient civil commitment laws on the books.
- Outpatient civil commitment: In situations where a patient has a clear but nonviolent mental illness and poses little threat to himself or herself, families can get a judge to rule in favor of an outpatient treatment program. Patients may check into with a probation officer every week or so, while also maintaining a regular schedule of appointments with mental health professionals. These laws are active in 45 states with varying criteria.