Matters of Mental Health: Where the U.S. Needs More Mental Health Professionals

Access to mental healthcare in the U.S. isn’t equal. Here’s where the U.S. is in need of more mental health professionals.

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If you needed mental health resources, support, or care, would you know where to look for help? Most Americans don’t. Or, even more worrisome — would you be able to afford the care you need? 

Many Americans, and realistically many individuals worldwide, either cannot afford mental healthcare or they do not have access to mental health resources, tools, or support. According to NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, over half of the 60 million Americans living with  mental health issues or conditions cannot afford treatment and their health suffers the consequence. 

Unfortunately, mental healthcare can be very expensive. Alarmingly, 14% of Alabama adults under the age of 65 cannot afford healthcare or insurance, which is to say that they have additional obstacles to conquer if residents want quality mental healthcare — or any mental health support at all. In DeKalb county, over 20% of adults aren’t insured. 

There is no way to tiptoe around it. Mental healthcare in the United States, as well as in many other nations, needs attention and needs evolution. Accessibility of treatment is less widespread than many people even know… which is why the organization, United Way of the Nation’s Capital Area, delved into the data behind mental health accessibility in 2020. 

The disparities between groups of people who can access mental health care when they need it are only growing; although stigma has been reduced, somewhat, there is still so much work to be done. For instance, there are many areas in the United States — regionally and state-by-state — that are considered mental healthcare deserts, meaning that there either aren’t enough resources for the population who need them, or there aren’t enough professionals for the number of people who need them. 

The southern region of the United States sees some of the highest numbers in the mental health to resident ratio, in terms of the number of professionals to local residents who may need their care. For instance, Alabama mental health professionals are at 990:1. Texas comes in second when it comes to their ratio of providers to people at 880:1. And finally West Virginia is the third state with such a high ratio of people to providers with 770:1. 

In other areas of the country, the ratio of mental health providers to residents isn’t as stark. For people living in New England the number of mental health professionals, in great contrast, is much higher than it is in the south. The state with the best access to mental healthcare is Massachusetts, where there are only 160:1. Exploring the number of uninsured residents is another great contrast to Alabama, too. Even in the most densely populated counties, less than 5% of residents have trouble obtaining health insurance. 

Another startling takeaway from this study on mental healthcare access by state is that a high volume of Americans are actually uncomfortable reaching out for help for themselves or a loved one struggling with their mental health. Over 1 in 5 Americans surveyed responded that they were uncomfortable reaching out for help. Respondents in the D.C. area reported they felt the most uncomfortable — with over 25% of locals saying they’re “very uncomfortable” reaching out. 

It’s clear something needs to be done in order to diminish the stigma of reaching out for mental health support. That isn’t the only area that needs improvement, of course. The inequality of resources, providers, and cost-related barriers prevent so many people from receiving the treatment or support they need. 

If you’re looking for ways to help, you can find them here:

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