News and Commentary

Two Major Studies Focus On Mental Health

Two major studies on mental health say that while strides have been made in awareness of the problem and the willingness of patients to seek help, much more needs to be done.

One study, by the National Institutes of Health and published in the New England Journal of Medicine [Vol. 352:2515-2523, No. 24, June 16, 2005], shows that health insurance coverage and the intervention of primary care physicians are two of the main reasons for a significant increase in treatment rates over the last 10 years.

The other study, the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry [Vol. 62, No. 6, June 2005], says that while more people are indeed seeking help, most fail to get adequate care.

The NIH study, funded in part by that agency's National Institute of Mental Health, says that those treated for an emotional disorder increased from 12 percent in the early 1990s to 20 percent between 2001 and 2003.

PCPs prescribing more medications for depression and other mental disorders account for the showing that the largest increase in treatment rates happened at those doctors' offices.

"Probably the most positive message out of the paper is the amount of true increase in treatment that is documented here," psychiatrist Darrel Regier, research director for the American Psychiatric Association, tells the Las Vegas Sun. "I think that is the result of a decrease in the stigma."

The newspaper adds that "experts also tied rising treatment to broader insurance coverage and more treatment programs, especially among corporations."

The NIH study notes that "The prevalence of mental disorders did not change during the decade (29.4 percent between 1990 and 1992 and 30.5 percent between 2001 and 2003 ....)" The data for that study were collected from 5,388 U.S. residents in the early 1990s and 4,319 people from 2001 to 2003.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the National Comorbidity Survey Replication shows that "only one-third of affected people received even 'minimally adequate' care — which was defined by researchers as getting at least two months of appropriate medication and seeing a doctor at least four times, or undergoing at least eight psychotherapy sessions of 30 minutes or more."

The article notes that there is some debate about the broad criteria used to describe mental illness. For instance, some worried that including milder symptoms such as panic attacks inflates the overall numbers and alerts payers to a "bottomless pit of possible demand." Data for that study were collected through face-to-face interviews with 9,282 U.S. residents from 2001 to 2003.


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