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Why Is There a Shortage of Mental Health Professionals?

2 Minute Read

The imbalance between supply and demand has permeated across industries, with the pandemic being a big catalyst. The shift to remote work led to an increased demand for digital technologies and a shortage of electronic components to produce devices like laptops. At the same time, the spike in home renovation projects contributed to a lumber and construction material shortage.

While we can see the impact of this imbalance in many aspects of life, the mental health care system is also part of that list. As the Association of American Medical Colleges notes, “The U.S. had too few psychiatrists even before COVID-19 increased anxiety and depression rates.” As more individuals sought support for mental health concerns, the stretched-thin nature of the workforce became even more pronounced.

To paint a fuller picture of why there’s a shortage of mental health care professionals, we’ll look at some of the pre- and post-pandemic factors that have led us to this point.

Looking at the Shortage Through a Pre-Pandemic Lens

Compared to other medical specialties, mental health services have been marked by notably lower reimbursement rates. While there has been progress toward closing this gap, there is still a long way to go. This disparity in reimbursement often translates into lower salaries. That  can deter individuals from pursuing a career in mental health counseling — and simultaneously drive people out of the profession. 

While on the topic of finances, mental health treatment providers have typically been underfunded. Having limited access to resources over the years has created a more challenging work environment for professionals with an already emotionally-demanding job.

As they provide mental health services, a licensed mental health counselor that offers mental illness support has to access and update patient records manually

Looking at the Shortage Through a Post-Pandemic Lens

The American Psychological Association’s 2022 COVID-19 Practitioner Impact Survey offers insights into just how over-extended the mental health workforce is today. With mental health treatment remaining high and substance use disorders growing, 72% of providers have longer wait lists than before the pandemic. Faced with continued demands, four in ten psychologists reported feeling burned out.

As the survey underscores, the increased demand for mental health services during and after the pandemic has overwhelmed an already-strained workforce. When dealing with the emotional distress and trauma of their clients, mental health professionals are prone to absorb some of these experiences and their related stress. Administrative efforts and menial processes only tack onto this stress while directing efforts and energy away from patient care.

A behavioral health care provider that helps patients with mental health issues shows signs of burnout on the job, which is a concern that can be tied to the mental health provider shortage

Technology Can Fill Current Gaps & Improve the Outlook

As an aging workforce exits the mental health profession, technology’s role becomes even more critical in making mental health services accessible.

With EHR software, mental health professionals spend less time accessing and updating patient records. Streamlined documentation processes leave more time to see patients. Automated appointment reminders, another common feature of EHR software, reduces the likelihood of no-shows, which helps providers make the most of their time.

Telehealth capabilities, meanwhile, allow mental health professionals to serve patients in any location. This is particularly beneficial in rural areas with otherwise-limited access to mental health providers. While convenient for patients, virtual sessions also save time for providers, allowing them to make more efficient use of resources and reduce wait times.

Beyond helping address the current shortage of mental health professionals, technology will be influential in shaping the future of the profession. Consider this stat: 70% of Gen Z employees would leave their job for better technology. The more mental health providers invest in EHR software, telehealth capabilities, and other key technologies, the better positioned they’ll be to attract (and retain) the right people to their workforce. They’ll have the means to be more efficient, earn more, and focus on why they got into the profession in the first place: to deliver patient care and change lives for the better.

As a behavioral health EHR provider, we’re proud to help our partner clinics boost their productivity and enhance their overall management. Request a demo to see how.