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The Cost of Delaying Treatment

The cost of healthcare, medical treatments, and the healthcare system in the United States is an ongoing problem. Despite the prevalence of mental health rising at alarming rates, just six percent of the federal budget in healthcare spending is allocated for mental health services and treatment. It’s disheartening that in a country where mental illness is so rampant, more funds and support aren’t used to support the treatment and recovery of its people.

More than half of adults living with a mental health disorder do not seek treatment, and that number is even higher for those who struggle with a substance use disorder. Delaying mental health treatment puts lives at risk, but people don’t have a lot of options when it comes to affordable, accessible medical care. Let’s discuss the dangerous cost of Americans delaying medical treatment and what the long-term effects may be.

Why are so many Americans delaying medical treatment?

There are significant implications for people forgoing medical care, but it’s important to understand the obstacles that American adults face when trying to find adequate treatment.

1. Healthcare costs

According to Kaiser Family Foundation, 17% of adults who delayed care in 2021 were related to mental health care. As we know, many mental health conditions are highly treatable, but treatment is essential for recovery.

In the US, the average cost of therapy is between $100 and $200 per session. With premiums, copays, deductibles, and out-of-pocket maximums, healthcare costs are staggering for average Americans, even for those with health insurance. If a specialty therapist is out of the patient’s network, they will have to pay out-of-pocket (the entire fee).

Staying in a residential treatment facility for recovery is another significant cost, even when insurance providers cover some of the costs of treatment. Residential treatment can cost tens of thousands of dollars for one person’s stay.

2. Insufficient health insurance coverage

Many adults have basic health insurance coverage, meaning their insurance plan only covers emergency medical treatment, and therapy may not fall in that category. Some insurance providers require a diagnosis before paying for claims related to therapy, which can be discouraging for individuals who need to receive treatment.

Additionally, while some insurance providers may offer mental health care within their plans, they may cap the number of visits per year.

3. People don’t have the financial cushion to pay for treatment

Lower-income households in particular don’t have substantial savings accounts that they can use for out-of-pocket insurance costs, let alone dip into in the event of a medical emergency or hospitalization costs.

Unfortunately, medical care takes a back seat when there are bills to be paid, like mortgages, utilities, groceries, gas, and more. Demographic factors play a role in receiving medical care, with more women than men delaying treatment or hospitalization because of healthcare costs.

4. Lack of access to adequate medical treatment

A lack of resources and access to medical care plays a significant role in why more Americans don’t seek treatment. Depleted resources come from a variety of factors, mostly due to high costs and insufficient insurance coverage, limited treatment options, lack of treatment in rural areas, long waits, a lack of awareness, and the damaging social stigma surrounding mental health care.

All of these factors contribute to people delaying medical care despite the side effects and symptoms they live with on a daily basis.

5. Social stigmas and negative stereotypes

Social stigmas play a major role in delayed mental health care and medical care in general. When communities, families, and friends are not supportive of treatment and buy into the negative stereotypes of mental illness, those who are struggling may delay care because they fear being judged or mistreated. These individuals also have a significant fear of job loss, trouble finding housing, and even losing custody of their children should they decide to get professional help for their condition.

What are the negative impacts of delaying medical care?

The ripple effects of delaying mental health care are detrimental to patients, their family members, and their communities.

The negative effects of delayed medical care for mental health can be long-lasting and affect many aspects of a person’s life, including physical and financial stress. Delaying medical care also has ramifications for the economy and healthcare system.

Worse Health Outcomes

For those that live with mental illness or chronic conditions, delaying treatment can result in more serious physical health issues.

For example, untreated anxiety can lead to increased panic attacks. Other chronic mental illnesses left untreated can lead to unexplained physical aches and pains. In contrast, chronic stress from mental health can lead to a higher risk of strokes, heart attacks, and obesity.

Daily Insecurities and Challenges

Delayed care for those with chronic conditions or mental illness can make coping with the challenges of daily life more difficult. Keeping a job, securing housing, and maintaining positive relationships can be challenging.


Untreated mental illness and its serious symptoms can make it difficult for individuals to assimilate into society. Misconduct is common and can lead to negative actions and potential arrests. Delayed care should never be at the foundation of why someone with a mental illness gets arrested. Still, the unfortunate truth is that nearly three-quarters of federal and local female inmates have a mental illness, and one-half of male inmates do as well.


Delayed medical care or failure to get treatment can unfortunately end in suicide or suicide attempts. People who fail to get the appropriate treatment face the risk of their symptoms worsening and experiencing feelings of hopelessness and feeling like there’s no way to save themselves. Research shows that nearly 90% of suicides are fueled by an untreated mental illness, concluding that suicide is preventable with the appropriate treatments.

Inadequate Resources for Emergency Departments

Delays in medical treatment can have implications for the emergency departments in local hospitals. By failing to seek treatment, more individuals may end up requiring emergency care, which causes stress on those departments that aren’t adequately prepared for the influx of patients. This can directly impact patients who require emergency care who may not be guaranteed hospital admission because of overcrowded hospitals. Delayed care results in more delayed care, but this time, your life could be on the line.

Can Preventative Health Care Help Your Mental Health?

Americans living with serious conditions and delaying medical treatment are extremely unfortunate, but many people don’t have any choice. There are preventative steps that can be taken in physical and mental health to avoid emergency treatment and substantial medical bills.

Establish routine care check-ups

It’s important to establish care with a primary care physician, so you have someone to contact in the event that you fall ill or suspect you are struggling with mental illness. Additionally, maintaining good physical health can positively impact your mental health. Physical injuries or sickness can often impact mental well-being, so taking care of your body is crucial to your mental wellness.

Early intervention saves lives

It’s no secret that therapy sessions have a serious health and cost impact on Americans’ well-being. Increased healthcare costs make it challenging to seek medical care, but there are affordable and accessible options for therapy, particularly in the online setting. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness or you experience depression or anxiety, early intervention of any magnitude will improve your overall mental health.

Don’t Put Off Treatment. Clear Behavioral Health Can Help.

If your reluctance to seek treatment stems from a lack of resources or access to care, Clear Behavioral Health’s Virtual IOP program may be the perfect solution for you.

If you are limited by schedule, transportation, geography, or time constraints, you can participate in Clear Behavioral Health’s virtual IOP. We are proud to now offer telehealth services in the form of a virtual IOP so that all our clients can get the help they need and deserve. Our specialized program is individualized to fit each client’s needs and offers the flexibility required for attendance. Contact us for more information.

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