Just as psychiatrists are retiring at record rates, Americans’ need for mental health support is reaching historic highs. This imbalance between supply and demand is fueling new ways for people to get the help they need from qualified professionals.
What’s driving demand for more psychiatrists?
The rising demand for mental health services is driven partly by expanded coverage made possible for millions of Americans by the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured population has historically had significantly higher behavioral health needs for conditions like substance abuse and serious mental illness.
The rise in demand may also be the result of broad scale efforts to eliminate the stigma of people admitting they need help.
Just like physical health, mental health conditions can fall anywhere on a spectrum from mild to severe. Depression alone is estimated to cause 200 million lost workdays each year. Beyond the impact to individuals and families, the cost to employers is close to $44 billion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What’s affecting the supply?
Only four percent of medical school graduates are choosing psychiatry in their residency programs, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Compounding this issue, the psychiatry specialty is often times overlooked in policy and public physician supply discussions.
Nationwide, only 51 percent of the total mental health provider need is being met, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. More than 2,700 mental health providers are needed to fill this gap.
Growing need fuels new approaches
The lack of access to and availability of professional care by psychiatrists is fueling a broad set of solutions including encouraging more med students to consider psychiatry and using technology to expand patient access to mental health care.
The gap is also bringing organizations like Aetna and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) together to support a new collaborative model of care. Both the APA and Aetna have shared goals of increasing access to mental health care, reducing health care costs and improving the quality of mental health care in primary care practices.
In addition, Aetna is turning to technology to increase access to care via telepsychiatry. Psychiatry visits offered via televideo can increase appointment times for Aetna members, create more access for both members and doctors and expand consumer choice of available psychiatrists.
Mental health awareness more important now than ever
My hope is that solutions like these will help close the gap between the supply of care and the need for care. Mental health issues do not take the day off, they do not just go away if we ignore them.
Remember, if you are concerned about any aspect of your health, you should seek further evaluation from your doctor. And if you are worried about a friend or family member, learn to recognize the warning signs that it’s time to get involved.