COVID-19 has worsened what behavioral health leaders say was already a serious shortage of mental health care providers.
Illinois has only 13.8 behavioral health care professionals for every 10,000 residents. That’s in comparison to the national average of 21.4.
Lawmakers recently passed a bill (SB 3617) meant to address this shortage. It will go into effect July 1.
The Illinois Association for Behavioral Health helped write the legislation; CEO Gerald “Jud” DeLoss says the shortage has only been “exacerbated” by the pandemic.
“We have seen losses unprecedented in the field, in the community-based system,” DeLoss said. “Workers are fleeing because of overwork burnout dealing with COVID. The opportunities for greater compensation are available elsewhere. Fortunately, due to legislative reasons recently, we’re going to see a change with respect to reimbursement and the ability to pay a fair wage to those workers.”
Amid the shortage, the wait period before being scheduled to see a behavioral health care specialist has gotten longer, sometimes taking months.
Dr. Neha Gupta, vice chair of psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center, has played a key role in the collaborative care program aimed to help patients get mental health care faster.
“It brings a team of mental health therapists, social workers and a mental health registry into primary care,” Gupta said. “We are teaching the frontline staff how to ask two basic questions about depression, and to take those pre-screening questions and make them more equitable questions for early detection … at the same time we’re asking questions about their vaccine.”
She also says, amid the shortage, there should be a focus on the therapists and psychiatrists themselves to make sure they’re receiving proper care as they’re treating others.
“The healers and the therapists are burning out themselves,” Dr. Gupta said. “It’s very important we create better strategies to take better care of our providers who are also a part of the 25% population that is experiencing depression and anxiety worldwide.”