There’s a reason telepsychiatry is becoming so popular: There’s a national shortage of psychiatrists, and for some places – specifically rural areas – telepsychiatry is the solution to the desperate need for doctors.
One in five adults in America experiences some form of a mental illness, and nearly one in 20 adults live with a mental illness. To make it worse, 60 percent of adults with mental health issues received little or no treatment for their illness in the past year. The demand for psychiatrists is higher than it’s ever been. Nationally, the average amount of need met in any given area is just 44 percent – meaning the majority of individuals suffering get undertreated or receive no treatment at all.
Mental health services are lacking nationwide. It’s expected that between now and 2024, healthcare employment will grow another 19 percent. Though there’s always a need for more doctors, this national shortage of psychiatrists has come on fairly recently. According to Health eCareers, there could be several reasons (both good and bad) for the recent increase in the need for psychiatrists.
One reason the demand for psychiatrists has increased so drastically is because more Americans are gaining coverage of healthcare. Though the healthcare plan may change, the Affordable Care Act has a law which states that insurers can no longer deny coverage to people who have diagnosed mental illnesses. Furthermore, increased awareness for mental health has affected how access to quality healthcare is addressed in many states.
Another reason that there is such a demand for psychiatrists is because fewer medical students specialize in psychiatry. This could be because psychiatry jobs generally don’t pay as well as other fields or because of generational differences. Psychiatry was very popular in the 60s and 70 and has since declined in popularity, despite increased conversation about the importance of mental healthcare.
Many who suffer from mental health issues and seek help can receive the care they need from a counselor or therapist – but for other patients, seeing a psychiatrist is vital for their care. There is a void in mental healthcare everywhere, and it’s especially felt in rural areas. In some towns with smaller populations, the wait to see a psychiatrist can be months – if there even is a psychiatrist in the area. On some college campuses, the wait for an appointment with a counselor can be three weeks or more. In the case of someone suffering from substance abuse, addiction or compulsion, the need for psychiatric help is dire. This lack of professionals available to provide care leads to overall public health suffering.
So what can be done? Discussions about the importance of mental healthcare must continue, and young students entering medical school ought to be informed of this national shortage. Fortunately, developments in telemedicine have allowed telepsychiatry to begin providing services in areas with a tremendous need for them – but there is still much work to be done.