How to Meet the Skyrocketing Demand for Mental Health Services

How to Meet the Skyrocketing Demand for Mental Health Services

Demand for mental health services has never been higher than it is today — and not just in the clinical setting, but also places like schools, correctional facilities, and senior care communities. As the need for these critical services continues to grow, how can healthcare employers ensure they have access to the staff they need to provide quality care?

Uncover five booming trends fueling today’s skyrocketing demand for mental health services. Plus, learn how facility leaders can tackle the critical shortage of mental and behavioral health professionals.

Trends Driving the Demand for Mental Health Services

A post-pandemic survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that demand for their services was so great that six in 10 practitioners could no longer accept new patients. Almost half (46%) of respondents said they were struggling to meet demand from existing patients.

Even before the pandemic, demand for mental health services was steadily rising. According to a 2022 issue brief from the Research and Action Institute, a think tank of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the number of adults in need of mental health services rose almost 30% from 2008 to 2019.

But why is demand for mental services growing? There’s no single answer, but rather a number of ongoing industry trends. These include the rise in substance use disorders, better access via remote care technologies, and an escalating shortage of mental and behavioral health professionals in key places like schools and correctional facilities.

Trend #1: A Greater Need Among Patients

One of the reasons for the demand cited by the APA survey is a growing number of patients with anxiety, depression, and “trauma- and stressor-related disorders and substance use disorders.” Almost four in five (79%) survey respondents noted an increase in patients with anxiety disorders. And two-thirds said that the symptoms they’re seeing are more severe since the pandemic.

Trend #2: A Shortage of Mental and Behavioral Health Professionals

According to the AAMC issue brief, only 28% of Americans lived in places with adequate behavioral and mental health services in 2021. In addition, “most states” had less than half of the professionals needed to deliver those services, while “more than half (51%) of counties in the United States have no practicing psychiatrists” at all.

Trend #3: The Rise of Telehealth

Another driver of patient demand is the growing familiarly with — and demand for — telehealth services. According to the APA survey, 58% of psychologists now use telehealth or remote care technology to treat patients. Almost one-third (31%) do so exclusively — a number that reached almost 80% during the pandemic. Telehealth is now firmly a part of the mental health services suite, and an expectation among many patients. (It’s also a potential solution to the shortage, as we’ll see below.)

Trend #4: Increased Need in Non-Clinical Settings

Making matters worse, demand is surging not just in clinical settings but also in other places that must provide mental health services, like schools and correctional facilities.

For instance, according to the APA survey, 46% of mental health practitioners said their fastest-growing patient group were aged 13 to 17. And the AAMC brief found that the number of high school students with “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” increased by 41% from 2009 to 2019. And many schools struggle to find and keep the mental health professionals they need to cope with these rising numbers.

At the same time, administrators of jails, prisons, detention centers, and other correctional facilities are hiring more mental and health professionals not only to serve the needs of their populations but also help meet other important goals like reducing recidivism (and thus overcrowding).

5 Ways to Meet Rising Demand for Mental Health Services

How can leaders of organizations that must provide behavioral and mental health services cope amid a shortage of qualified professionals? The good news is that a number of solutions are available to meet the skyrocketing demand for mental health services.

Solution #1: Delegation and Automation

Some experts advise maximizing the value from their staff workers by letting them focus more on direct services with patients. Additionally, some of these tasks can be carried out by aides and support staff, and some can be automated for even greater efficiency.

“Psychologists, social workers, licensed therapists, and other mental health professionals who can be trained more quickly than psychiatrists play a critical role in expanding access to mental health care,” write the AAMC authors.

ACTION ITEM: Consult a healthcare managed services provider (MSP) to find out how to source support staff or automate key aspects of your workforce management system.

Solution #2: Expanding Skill Development Programs

Another way to maximize workers’ value while boosting job satisfaction is by offering more robust skills development programs. This can help engage existing staff and make a workplace more attractive to new hires. It also helps develop skills that benefit the entire facility and patient population.

LEARN MORE: 3 Reasons Why Clinical Professional Development Matters

Solution #3: Investing in Technology

For facilities that haven’t already done so, investing in the technology needed to provide adequate telehealth services may be a necessity. In addition, leaders may consider expanding that investment — both to reach more patients, and to hire professionals who may live in other areas from their patients, reducing the risks of shortage.

PRO TIP: Thanks to the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC), some facilities may be able to hire mental health nurses to support remote care from other states.

Solution #4: Understanding Funding

The U.S. government recently boosted funding to expand the use of telehealth, train new residents, and source new professionals in underserved areas. One new law even requires CMS “to provide technical assistance and issue guidance… on how to improve access to services delivered via telehealth.” The details on just what’s available vary from state to state and organization to organization, with different funding options available to schools.

ACTION ITEM: Leaders should consult a healthcare workforce expert to understand just what funding is available to their organizations, and how to access it. 

Solution #5: Accessing Additional Staff

Perhaps the surest way for facilities to meet the rising demand for mental and behavioral health services is through a dedicated staffing provider. Partnering with a recruitment specialist with a nationwide footprint gives employers access to a range of clinicians. These critical professionals are available as contingency staff, travel workers, permanent hires, per diem help, and much more.

PRO TIP: Make sure any staffing provider you choose is Joint Commission-Certified.

Meet the Demand for Mental Health Services with CareerStaff

Need to meet the rising demand for mental health services in your facility? Whether you need psychologists, nurses, mental health coordinators, social workers, or other behavioral health support roles, you can trust CareerStaff to connect you with the healthcare professionals you need, and the strategy to put them to the best possible use.

Contact us today to learn more about our Joint Commission-Certified solutions, or request staff now.