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Best (and Worst) Conditions for Accessing Mental Health Care: How Does Yours Compare?

Her reports on shortages of mental health professionals in the US – fizkes // Shutterstock

Jessica Yu

A leading academic psychologist published an article in 2011 that shed light on “the person power problem” in mental health: there are far too many people in need of mental health care and far too few professionals who can provide these services.

The author called for a dramatic shift in the development and dissemination of evidence-based mental health interventions, away from the traditional model of one-on-one, weekly psychotherapy (the article focused on psychological interventions), and to new solutions that use technology. , special institutions, self-help, media and more.

Her report notes that more than a decade later, the problem still persists: According to the Health Resources Service Administrators, nearly a third of the U.S. population lives in an area with a shortage of mental health professionals. These are the states most affected.

3 states with the largest shortage of mental health professionals

In the states with the largest shortages, less than 11% of the population’s mental health needs are met (on average).

3 states with the most access to mental health professionals

In the states that do best, about 60% of the population’s mental health needs are met (on average).

  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah

That’s a dramatic difference.

The shortage of mental health professionals is mainly based on the availability of psychiatrists.

HRSA estimates indicate that there will be a shortage of between 6,080 and 15,400 psychiatrists by 2025. It is likely that hundreds to thousands of psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and mental health professionals are also needed.

Mental health needs are only increasing, with more than 20% of American adults suffering from a mental illness. The inability to meet their needs becomes a matter of life and death.

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control shows that deaths by suicide last year were the highest on record — surpassing the previous record by more than 1,000 deaths.

How to access mental health care now

Although shortages still exist, mental health care has come a long way in the past decade. It has expanded the range of interventions to include self-help, peer support, group therapy and coaching. There are tiered care delivery models that direct individuals to use the least resource-intensive but effective intervention available. Care is based on individual preferences and clinical severity, allowing licensed and specialized healthcare providers to focus on those with higher acuity and severity.

It is now also possible for individuals to receive care via telehealth. And legislative changes, such as the Psychology Interjurisdictional Compact (PSYPACT), allow providers to practice telepsychology across state lines.

People in need can currently find help:

  • By talking to their doctor about their symptoms and treatment options.
  • By asking their insurer about mental health coverage and in-network options.
  • By seeking out reputable mental health providers for convenient, personalized and clinically rigorous care.

What you can do if you live in a location with limited access to mental health care

If you live in a location with limited access to licensed mental health providers, there are still ways to access evidence-based support:

  • Participate in digital self-help. There are hundreds of apps available to teach you evidence-based skills to manage your anxiety, depression, stress, and more.
  • Consider telehealth. Telehealth is an increasingly available option that gives people in need access to timely, convenient, evidence-based care. With telehealth, you have access to a greater number of available providers because you don’t have to worry about distance and transportation.
  • If you want to pursue therapy, check whether your condition is covered by PSYPACT. If this is the case, you may want to consider treatment by a provider licensed in a PSYPACT state, even if that provider is not in the same state as you.

What more can be done to increase access to mental health care

It’s complicated, but here are some ideas.

  • Increase adoption of telehealth services. Two-thirds of the shortage areas are in rural parts of the country. Telehealth would make it more likely that individuals in those areas would have access to care. Additionally, telehealth services are well positioned to overcome the barriers that often prevent people from getting the care they need, such as long wait times and stigma.
  • Expand the existing workforce of healthcare providers by creating incentives for individuals to specialize in mental health care. Incentives can range from scholarship and loan repayment programs to mentorship programs and relocation programs.
  • Expand the pool of unlicensed professionals (coaches, community health workers, peer support specialists, etc.) who can be trained to educate and support individuals with mental health needs.
  • Continue to develop robust, easy-to-use, evidence-based self-help tools that can help people with mild to moderate mental health problems manage their problems.

Everyone deserves access to quality care. You may be in the middle of a mental health crisis and live in an area with a dire shortage of mental health providers, but there are options.

Mental Health Care Professional Shortage by State: Ranked from highest percentage of needs met to lowest

How is your state performing?

  1. New Jersey
  2. Rhode Island
  3. Utah
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Nebraska
  6. Georgia
  7. Virginia
  8. Wyoming
  9. Massachusetts
  10. Mississippi
  11. District of Columbia
  12. Wisconsin
  13. Pennsylvania
  14. Iowa
  15. Colorado
  16. Arkansas
  17. Oklahoma
  18. South Carolina
  19. Michigan
  20. Indiana
  21. Ohio
  22. Texas
  23. Idaho
  24. Nevada
  25. Oregon
  26. Minnesota
  27. Montana
  28. South Dakota
  29. Louisiana
  30. Kansas
  31. Alabama
  32. Kentucky
  33. California
  34. North Dakota
  35. Illinois
  36. Florida
  37. Maine
  38. Connecticut
  39. Maryland
  40. New Mexico
  41. Washington
  42. Tennessee
  43. New York
  44. Hawaii
  45. West Virginia
  46. Missouri
  47. North Carolina
  48. Alaska
  49. Delaware
  50. Arkansas

Notes: Based on data from July 2023. Data for Vermont is not available.

Jessica Yu has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University