One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it brought the conversation about mental health to the forefront of health conversations. The topic has historically been considered taboo, but many, largely young people, have long fought for its de-stigmatization.
Whether grief, addiction or trauma, therapists across the U.S. helped clients navigate many mental health issues even before the pandemic. After the height of the pandemic, the need for professional help has increased significantly as populations of people are dealing with high levels of anxiety and post-traumatic stress. However, as new patients are quick to find out, the U.S. still faces a huge demand for mental health professionals and a difficult time filling that demand.
According to a screening by Mental Health America, “35% of the people they screened had depression while 20% had anxiety from January-September 2020. The proportion with moderate to severe anxiety rose from 71% in January to 80% in September.”
The University of Wisconsin-Superior’s online Master of Science in Education – Counseling Clinical Mental Health Track program equips graduates with the necessary skills to fill this national need and help individuals navigate their mental well-being in a number of clinical settings.
“The National Council for Behavioral Health reports that 77 percent of counties across the country have severe shortages of behavioral health professions,” notes Kerry Nenn for Recovery.org. “Nationwide, we’re currently 6.4 percent short of the psychiatrists we need, and this shortage is predicted to nearly double by 2025. In 2013, the demand for behavioral health practitioners reached nearly 57,000, yet, there were less than 46,000 available. By 2025, the expected demand will top 60,000, creating a shortage of over 15,000 professionals.”
This shortage is increasing due to many factors, including the average age of professionals in the field (who are mostly close to retirement), not enough graduates coming into the profession and payment/affordability challenges, among others.
Different populations are also affected in different ways. “The best ratio is in Washington, D.C. (190:1) and the worst is in Pennsylvania (450:1),” writes Dr. Ashley Castro for Therapy 4 the People. “Rural areas have a worse shortage of mental health providers.”
Therapists who are Black, Latino or queer are few and far between in the field, as are specialized professionals, such as those caring for children and teens. Not enough therapists accept insurance, creating an extra hurdle for low-income patients. Additionally, youth mental health continues to worsen, and it poses a question for those working in the field of counseling: what are some long- or short-term ideas to cover this gap for young adults?
As Therapy 4 the People notes, support groups are a short-term and non-therapy resource ideal for those in a crisis who can’t find an adequate professional. Whether in schools or a community group focusing on trauma and addiction, support groups that are either self-guided or led by an experienced mediator can be quite helpful.
Mental Wellness Apps
Another resource is mobile apps that help users build a healthy and mindful routine and monitor their mental well-being. Yoga, breathing exercises, routine development and task organization practices are just a few of the topics covered by these apps. There are a handful of available apps for needs like meditation, stress, addiction, OCD, sleep and more.
Collaboration With Primary Care Providers
It’s also possible for behavioral care managers to work together with primary care providers to optimize access to mental health treatments. Stacy Weiner, a senior staff writer for AAMC, describes how this works: “A PCP screens a patient for anxiety or depression. Following a positive result, the physician can walk the patient down the hall to a behavioral care manager (BCM) — usually a psychologist or social worker — who can further explore the patient’s symptoms. Generally, the care manager provides therapy, monitors patients’ progress, and proactively reaches out to those who aren’t improving. The PCP team consults regularly — usually once a week — with the affiliated psychiatrist to get such inputs as medication management.”
This model, called the evidence-based Collaborative Care Model, is favored and often effective.
Training More Professionals
Ultimately, a shortage in the number of professionals can only be overcome by encouraging new professionals to enter the field. Counselors and therapists with adequate training and specializations are needed in all areas. When choosing this area of focus, students of advanced degree programs know there is an existing and expected pool of patients in need of their help.