Today is World Mental Health Day.
Did you know that around 25% of widows and widowers will grapple with clinical depression and anxiety within the first year of their loss?
According to the NIH, that percentage drops to about 17% by the end of the first year after a loss and continues to lower as time goes on.
But how do we help those who are hurting from a loss with a shortage of mental health professionals?
THE BURDEN OF HELP: The Numbers
According to the World Economic Forum,
"The cost of mental health conditions (and related consequences) is projected to rise to $6 trillion globally by 2030, from $2.5 trillion in 2010... That would make the cost of poor mental health greater than that of cancer, diabetes, and respiratory ailments combined."
Adding on to the financial burden is a shortage of workers in mental health care.
In the US, more than 160 million people are living in areas where there is a shortage of mental health professionals. The Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) estimates the US needs at least more than 8,000 mental health professionals.
In the UK, The Committee of Public Accounts, a select committee of the British House of Commons, reports that "staff vacancy rates in acute inpatient mental health services are at approximately 20% or more".
In the US, the cost of therapy ranges from $65 per hour to $250 or more. In the UK, the average cost of a 50-minute session with a counselor is £40-70.
For many people, the burden of the cost of mental health care is immense. NPR spoke with a family who had depleted their savings spending tens of thousands of dollars to treat their son for depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.
The Commonwealth Fund points out that people covered by Medicaid and Medicare have trouble finding providers that accept their insurance.
I found a similar issue with my insurance company, Connecticare. This is my first year using this insurance company, and I've had nothing but good experiences with them so far for my regular care.
But trying to find a mental health care provider is a different story.
First, I have to sign in to my Connecticare portal. I can't search for a mental health professional that is in-network on the portal. Instead, I need to create an account on another platform, Optum.
There are options on Optum to search for in-person or virtual visits. I decided to search for both, figuring that I would be able to find an in-network provider easily.
I was wrong.
704 pages of results for providers popped up. After a few hours of going through as many results as I could, I came up with only a handful of providers who did accept my insurance. However, there's no guarantee that they will be taking new patients.
Out of the providers that would not have worked, some:
Were too far away for in-person and did not offer virtual care
Did not have any phone number or website listed on the platform, and when searching for their name, I couldn't find further information to look into making an appointment
Were not actually in-network
Would not have an appointment available for weeks (if not months)
None of this is necessarily a problem with Optum. This is a problem with the state of the shortage of mental health care professionals and insurance coverage in the US.
Low pay, burnout, high caseloads, and not enough help are just some of the reasons mental health care workers are leaving the industry.
What do we do now?
Whether or not you have the means to do so, you shouldn't have to jump through hoops to see a therapist, psychiatrist, or another mental health professional who could help you.
No mental health issue is too small to get help, but when you can't get help, where are you supposed to go?
The Commonwealth Fund has a few suggestions for policymakers, including:
Better pay for mental health professionals, especially when comparing their pay and work to those in the medical or surgical fields
Making approval for mental health needs part of the necessary care for insurance companies to approve
Organizations providing a clear pathway for mental health professionals to advance in their career
Providing more scholarships and loan forgiveness for those in the mental health field, especially those in underserved communities