Every teen and young adult who is struggling—regardless of background, economic status, or geographical location—deserves the highest-quality treatment available. Meanwhile, the data on lack of access to mental healthcare is devastating: 2022 statistics from Mental Health America show that 60 percent of youth with depression—and in some states, more than 70 percent—receive no mental health services at all. Even among the states with greatest access for youth, 1 in 3 young people are still not receiving the care they need.
What Prevents Families from Accessing Care?
The cost of treatment is one of the biggest obstacles in accessing care—and it doesn’t have to be. Many families don’t seek treatment because they don’t realize that affordable mental healthcare is an option.
As recently as 20 years ago, clients were forced to pay out of pocket for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Today, many insurance payers cover outpatient and residential treatment programs, and they are much more willing to provide coverage when they know a program offers safe, effective, and clinically driven treatment. Moreover, young adults can now stay on their parents’ healthcare plan until age 26, meaning that their mental healthcare is also covered.
Stigma around seeking help is a factor, as well as limited treatment programs or providers in some regions of the country. A study published in early 2022 found that 85 percent of primary care practices found it difficult to obtain advice and evidence-based services for children with behavioral health disorders such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and other mental health conditions.
On the other end of the spectrum, families are sometimes overwhelmed by the range of residential options in particular, and don’t know how to tell which programs will provide safe and effective treatment for their child.
The 5 Top Indicators of High-Quality Care
A major obstacle to accessing care, for teens in particular, is the difficulty in determining which treatment program to choose. As the youth mental health crisis intensifies, demand has led to a proliferation of residential programs that operate with minimal regulations, licensing requirements, or oversight—collectively known as the “troubled teen industry.” Adolescents who have spent time in these programs report experiences of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, exacerbating the trauma for which they sought care in the first place.
As a result, families are often confused about how to identify programs that will provide safe, effective, and compassionate treatment. However, there are critical signifiers that demonstrate a company’s commitment to the highest-quality care. Here are five all-important factors to look for when seeking treatment.
1. Accreditation: A program’s recognition by national accrediting bodies is a clear signifier of treatment quality. Look for accreditation from organizations such as The Joint Commission, the nation’s oldest and largest healthcare accreditation body, which sets the highest standards for healthcare quality; and LegitScript, the only certification available for top-rated treatment centers, granted only after completing a rigorous application process.
2. Partnerships with leading organizations and companies: Affiliations and partnerships with respected organizations indicate that a treatment program is trustworthy and is held accountable. These include relationships with national insurance payers, including top providers such as Anthem, Kaiser Permanente, and Blue Cross Blue Shield; and with respected organizations in the field, like the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
3. An evidence-based clinical model: The best treatment programs take an integrated approach that includes both medical and behavioral healthcare. Moreover, they provide trauma-informed care utilizing scientifically validated treatment modalities, such as CBT, DBT, and family therapy. Experiential modalities, such as Adventure Therapy, are provided with the utmost attention to clients’ safety and sense of security.
4. Outcomes research: The highest-quality mental healthcare programs rigorously track and analyze their treatment outcomes, utilizing a third-party research organization—ideally affiliated with an educational institution. Moreover, these programs publish their outcomes results annually, and use them internally to continually uplevel their treatment approach.
5. Licensed and credentialed staff: Clinical staff at the highest-quality treatment programs hold up-to-date licensure and advanced degrees from reputable educational institutions, while experiential therapists have appropriate credentials and accredited training. Healthcare leadership should have demonstrated and extensive experience guiding top-tier companies in the delivery of successful, safe, and compassionate care.
A Brief History of Access to Care
It is only in recent decades that high-quality mental healthcare has been financially accessible for the majority of young people and families. Here’s a brief look at some of the legislative milestones that, over the years, have substantially increased access to care via insurance coverage.
- 1996: The Mental Health Parity requires p health plans to provide benefits for mental health conditions that are equal to those provided for physical illness. However, treatment for substance use disorder is not covered under this act.
- 2008: The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, an amendment to the 1996 legislation, includes substance abuse disorders among the mental health conditions to be covered on an equal basis with physical health conditions.
- 2010: The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires individual and small-group health plans to include mental health and substance use disorder treatment as essential benefits, and extends benefits to young adults under their parents’ health insurance plans until age 26. Following passage of the ACA, people with mental health conditions are nearly three times as likely to be insured, and unmet mental health needs have significantly decreased among young adults ages 19–25.
- 2016: Parity regulations are applied to Medicaid managed-care plans, providing greater access to mental healthcare for people around the country who are covered by this federal health program.
- 2020: The Strengthening Behavioral Health Parity Act gives the Department of Labor new powers to regulate and audit health plans to determine if they are in compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. The Act effectively gives the government more avenues to ensure that health plans do not discriminate against people with mental illness. The legislation also includes funding for other mental health and substance use-related programs and initiatives.
- 2022: President Biden announces that his fiscal year 2023 budget will propose that all health plans cover robust behavioral health services, including three behavioral health visits each year without cost-sharing. The budget will also invest $700 million to provide training, access to scholarship, and loan repayment to mental health clinicians committed to practicing in rural and other underserved communities.
It’s essential that policymakers, insurers, and treatment programs continue to work together to create greater access to affordable mental healthcare, as the need will only increase. Annual US mental health spending is more than $200 billion, and the global cost of mental healthcare is expected to rise to $6 trillion by 2030—greater than the costs of diabetes, respiratory disorders, and cancer combined.
How Newport Prioritizes Access to Care
As the leading provider of teen and young adult treatment, Newport is dedicated to providing access to care to every client who comes to us, through:
- Creating financial access: We build collaborative relationships with a wide range of healthcare payers, and work with them to optimize the benefit coverage for all those who are seeking affordable residential treatment or outpatient care.
- Expanding geographic access: To address the lack of access to care in many areas around the country, Newport is opening new locations in regions where the number of treatment programs and mental healthcare providers fall short of the growing need.
- Reducing stigma: Our mission and vision focus on reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental healthcare, through educational initiatives, outreach, and collaborative campaigns with national organizations.
Ultimately, our goal is to remove as many obstacles to accessing care as possible, so that every young person and family will have the freedom to take the first steps toward sustainable healing.