Mental Health Treatment: Past and Present

Before we explore the various approaches to therapy used today, let’s begin our study of therapy by looking at how many people experience mental illness and how many receive treatment. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2013), 19% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2012. For teens (ages 13–18), the rate is similar to that of adults, and for children ages 8–15, current estimates suggest that 13% experience mental illness in a given year (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], n.d.-a)

With many different treatment options available, approximately how many people receive mental health treatment per year? According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2008, 13.4% of adults received treatment for a mental health issue (NIMH, n.d.-b). These percentages, shown in Figure, reflect the number of adults who received care in inpatient and outpatient settings and/or used prescription medication for psychological disorders.

A bar graph is titled “U.S. Adult Mental Health Treatment, 2004–2008.” Below this title the source is given: “National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.-b” The x axis is labeled “Year,” and the y axis is labeled “Percent of adults.” In the years 2004, 2005 and 2006, the percentage of adults who received treatment hovered at 13 percent or just below. For the years 2007 and 2008, the percentage rose slightly closer to 14 percent.
The percentage of adults who received mental health treatment in 2004–2008 is shown. Adults seeking treatment increased slightly from 2004 to 2008.

Children and adolescents also receive mental health services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that approximately half (50.6%) of children with mental disorders had received treatment for their disorder within the past year (NIMH, n.d.-c). However, there were some differences between treatment rates by category of disorder (Figure). For example, children with anxiety disorders were least likely to have received treatment in the past year, while children with ADHD or a conduct disorder were more likely to receive treatment. Can you think of some possible reasons for these differences in receiving treatment?

A bar graph is titled “U.S. Child Mental Health Treatment (Ages 8–15).” Below this title the source is given: “National Institute of Mental Health, n.d.-c” The x axis is labeled “Type of disorder,” and the y axis is labeled “Percent with disorder.” For children diagnosed with “Anxiety disorders,” around 32 percent receive treatment. For “Mood disorder,” around 42 percent receive treatment. For “Conduct disorder,” around 46 percent receive treatment. For “ADHD,” around 48 percent receive treatment. For “Any disorder,” around 50 percent receive treatment.
About one-third to one-half of U.S. adolescents (ages 8–15) with mental disorders receive treatment, with behavior-related disorders more likely to be treated.

Considering the many forms of treatment for mental health disorders available today, how did these forms of treatment emerge? Let’s take a look at the history of mental health treatment from the past (with some questionable approaches in light of modern understanding of mental illness) to where we are today.

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