Image: A row of chairs pushed against a yellow wall, like you might see in a waiting room. Image courtesy of pixabay, pixabay license.

Today, more people are seeking mental health treatment than ever before. Some have attributed the rise in treatment seeking to greater psychological distress among young people due to the influence of social media and other cultural changes. But a new article by sociologist Amy Johnson finds mental health treatment seeking has increased for people of all ages, despite little change in mental distress over time. 

Johnson uses data from the National Health Interview Survey to examine how general psychological distress and mental health treatment seeking have changed over time. Johnson leverages statistical techniques that allow her to separately examine the influence of a respondent’s age, generation, and the historical moment. This allows her to conclude that treatment seeking is increasing for people of all ages and generations, despite no significant increase in psychological distress among any group.

Johnson’s finding is important because it focuses attention on how broad cultural changes have affected treatment seeking among people of all ages. For example, she points to the destigmatization of mental illness and major policy changes, such as the Affordable Care Act, which mandated that insurance companies cover mental health treatment, as potential drivers of treatment seeking.

Despite Johnson’s finding that treatment seeking has increased across the board, some people still lack access to mental health treatment, particularly non-white and non-college-educated people. Even as the broader social context reflects more comfort with and availability of mental health treatment, it is important to recognize and address remaining disparities in access to this care.