Removing Potential Barriers to Mental Health Care: Social Stigma and Insurance

Posted on November 09,2013 by aliatmspp

They say when students are in medical school, they sometimes begin to diagnose themselves with rare and horrible diseases that they’re learning about. Most of the time, these diagnoses are unfounded and devoid of any real meaning, but the prevalence of self-diagnosis is due to the fact that the students are immersed in this newly discovered (for them) medicalization of the world. My experience in studying psychology isn’t necessarily the same; I’m not scribbling and erasing a new Axis I or II diagnosis for myself on the regular. However, this week, I came across three interesting story lines that made me wonder if suddenly I was more attuned to mental health and news thereof (similar to our med students) or if this was a moment in history that mental health was finally getting the attention it merits.

The first story line was about mental health parity in insurance. Good ole’ NPR provided food for thought yet again. It seems as though the mental health parity law that was signed in 2008 finally is going to be upheld with some regulations. What this does is guarantee that people with mental health and substance abuse issues will be covered by insurance the same way that someone with a “medical” issue would. According to NPR’s story, with these new rules now “most health insurance plans offer the same amount of coverage for mental health and substance abuse claims as they do for medical and surgical coverage. That means insurers can't charge someone more for mental health services than for other services.” This may seem like a minor victory, and although we should be cautiously optimistic (some big plans still may be allowed to skirt the system), this could be a real step forward to helping the insurance and sometimes medical field reduce the financial barriers to accessing care for mental health issues.

The second story line that’s been popping up more frequently directly confronts the social stigma around mental health. You may have already seen the “I have a therapist” Tumblr page, started by Elad Nehorai of New York. If you haven’t, the idea is that people post up pictures of themselves proudly identifying as someone who is seeing or has seen a therapist in order to inspire pride in others. An article on the NY Daily News website claims that as of Monday, November 4, “more than 5,400 people have checked out the site since Oct. 16.” This is a creative use of social media to promote destigmatization of seeking support for mental health issues.

The third story line hits even closer to home as a PsyD student. In addition to this wave of stigma-fighting activism, I came across a blog article written in August of last year, entitled “Do Psychology Students Perpetuate the Stigma Surrounding Therapy?” on This posting addressed a study by Diguini, Jones, and Camic in 2012, which examined social stigma around therapy amongst psychology students from three nations – Argentina, America and Britain. The results, from the American participant data set, are a bit of a bad news/good news situation. The bad news: out of the three, American students had the highest scores of perceived social stigma for receiving therapy. The good news: Americans’ positive attitude toward seeking therapy was significantly higher than the English participants’ (Argentinian participants also scored high on the “positive attitude towards seeking therapy” variable). No, this is not a competition. But it is interesting to note the higher scores for both the perceived social stigma in conjunction with the positive attitude toward receiving some kind of mental health care.

So what does all this mean? What these three pieces signal to me is opening a discourse on accessing mental health care – from the personal level and the perceived social stigma that goes along with walking through the clinician’s door to the system-wide level of insurance coverage. And this discourse, I believe, is the start of what could be a beautiful thing: more people seeking out support with fewer financial barriers and without shame.

Digiuni, M., Jones, F. W., & Camic, P. M. (2012, August 13). Perceived Social Stigma and Attitudes Towards Seeking Therapy in Training: A Cross-National Study. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028784 (2012, August 29). Do Psychology Students Perpetuate the Stigma Surrounding Therapy? [Web log from]. Retrieved from

I have a therapist. Retrived from

Rovner, J. and Cornish, A.. (2013, November 8). White House Releases Long-Awaited Rules On Mental Health. National Public Radio. Retrieved from

Weichselbaum, S. (2013, November 4). Brooklyn man encourages everyone to proclaim ‘I Have a Therapist’!. New York Daily News. Retrieved from