For quite a while now and especially the last few years, the demand for mental health services seems to have skyrocketed. After much personal observation I decided to survey some of my friends and colleagues regarding their recent experiences providing or receiving mental health services.
Unsurprisingly, it confirmed what I already knew.
Yes we are in a mental health crisis and yes there is a huge shortage of licensed providers.
Common threads included:
Six month waits to connect with a therapist, inability to find an in network therapist or one that has openings, and lack of affordability amongst many other barriers.
What the heck is going on?
A lot more than I will touch on here but these are a few facts and personal observations I can share about where things are today:
· 50 million American adults are experiencing mental illness
· 28 million of them go without treatment
· 12.1 million adults are seriously considering suicide
· 93.5% of adults with substance abuse disorders went without treatment in 2022
· 2 out of 5 adults rate their mental health as “poor”
· 2.7 million youth suffer from major depressive disorder
(National survey data from Mental Health America)
· 350 people for every one provider of services, assuming all those providers are practicing. YIKES.
· Less Community Involvement
· Inflation is having a significant impact on peoples ability to afford therapy unless their insurance covers it. Many therapists do not accept insurance due to the insurance companies frequent failure to accurately pay providers.
What has changed?
There simply aren’t enough providers.
As stated above, 350 people to each licensed provider and that’s assuming they are practicing. According to Dr. Anna Ratzliff, residency program director at the University of Washington (08/09/2022), there is also an issue with hospitals having less spots to train folks. This tells me we will be in this pickle for some time.
Based on my polling of colleagues, the average therapist sees 20 clients, has a four to six month waitlist for new clients and does not accept insurance. When a spot does open up in their practice, they are likelier to give the space to a former client who would like to come back than a new client.
What you can do to get help:
· See a therapist in training: All programs prepping students for licensure have a mandated practicum, this is often where you can gain affordable access to good treatment, start with the universities in your area.
· Flexible scheduling: There is absolutely a therapist shortage right now and if a therapist who you want to see gives you a random slot like 7-8pm or 12-1pm, take it.
· Remember, they may also be giving up their lunch break or parts of their evening to try and accommodate you so don’t be overly picky.
· Support groups: Often free and can be found in your local community. You might be surprised by the variety of support groups available for different challenges.
· Workbooks, CBT, Journaling, Apps
· Utilize employers EAP or Schools counseling center
Lastly, don’t get discouraged by a 3-4 week wait. When in crisis that can feel like a long time but that is a low wait time compared to most waitlists. I have observed many people decline a 3-4 week waitlist who end up going six months or longer without treatment.