The shortage of physicians in the United States is no secret. The U.S. faces a projected shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. And, the Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker reports that only 12 percent of U.S. doctors are generalists. 

The shortage goes beyond primary care physicians (PCPs) and specialists. In 2023, 160 million Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. There are 350 individuals for every one mental health provider. It’s estimated that within a few years, the U.S. will be short between 14,280 and 31,109 psychiatrists

The problem is worse in rural communities. Even though 53 percent of rural adults reported that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected their mental health, more than 25 million rural Americans live in a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area. 

If you still don’t believe that mental health conditions are a widespread problem in the U.S., check out these numbers from the 2023 State of Mental Health in America Report from Mental Health America (MHA):

  • 21: percentage of adults — more than 50 million Americans — experiencing a mental illness
  • 15: percentage of adults who had a substance use disorder in the past year; 93.5 percent did not receive treatment
  • 55: percentage of adults with a mental illness who receive no treatment
  • 11: percentage of uninsured adults — more than 5.5 million — with a mental illness
  • 28: percentage of adults with a mental illness who reported that they were not able to receive the treatment they needed
  • 16: percentage of youth who report suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past year. More than 2.7 million youth are experiencing severe major depression.
  • 60: percentage of youth with major depression who do not receive mental health treatment

Understanding Mental Health Conditions 

According to the American Hospital Association, mental illnesses, commonly referred to as mental health conditions, are specific, diagnosable disorders characterized by intense alterations in thinking, mood and/or behavior over time. Mental health is included under the category of behavioral health. For both youth and adults, mental health conditions include:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide and suicidal behavior

The National Institute of Mental Health NIMH lists two broad categories to describe mental illness: AMI and SMI. Any Mental Illness (AMI) consists of all mental, behavioral and emotional disorders, ranging in severity, and Serious Mental Illness (SMI) is a subset of AMI with disorders that result in serious functional impairment. Factors that contribute to mental illnesses include biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry; life experiences, such as trauma or abuse; and family history of mental health problems. 

The Lack of Mental Health Treatment and Its Impact on America 

If so many Americans deal with mental health conditions, why don’t more receive the appropriate treatment? Only about 10 percent of mental health patients are treated by a psychiatrist, and they face disproportionately high rates of poverty, housing and employment discrimination and criminalization. 

Barriers to mental health treatment are numerous, from a fear of stigmatization and discrimination to long wait times to see a provider. Race and income are other obstacles; Individuals in racial-ethnic minority groups not only have less access to healthcare, but they also are 20–50 percent less likely to initiate mental health service use.  

Socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than peers with higher socioeconomic status. Psychologists list common barriers to mental healthcare for youth as:

  • Self-reliance and resistance
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Fear of judgment
  • Instability
  • Need for confidentiality
  • Possible repercussions

In addition to multiple reasons individuals with a mental health condition do not seek treatment from a trained healthcare professional, there are copious consequences of this lack of treatment, including increased mortality and more chronic disease. People with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. Those with serious mental health conditions are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions. Research also shows that patients with severe mental health conditions have more medical illnesses and receive worse healthcare than those in the general population. 

Poor mental health has a substantial impact on employees — even an individual’s ability to get and keep a job. More than 60 percent of employees divulge that their productivity is affected by their mental health. Across the U.S. economy, serious mental health conditions cause $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually, and unemployment is higher among U.S. adults who have a mental health condition. 

The direct and indirect costs of mental health conditions are estimated to total up to four percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), exceeding the burden of cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease combined. One study estimated a $210.5 billion annual cost to the global economy from major depression alone. 

Deploying Technology to Improve Access to Mental Health Care 

Technology can be employed by providers and integrated with other medical care to better serve the mental health needs of their patients — if it is utilized correctly. It’s been found that advances in technology offer the potential for greater access to mental health care at lower cost with better outcomes. 

By using digital health tools such as HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging, providers offer their patients both convenience and anonymity. This enables patients to securely communicate with their provider in a confidential way that meets their specific needs. Patients who otherwise might avoid mental health treatment may reach out for help. The key for providers is tailoring messaging to provide personalized care to those patients. 

These digital health resources are also beneficial for providers. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that physician practice leaders reported positive effects of mental and behavioral health integration on their practices, such as creating an increased sense of providing high-quality patient care and meeting more of their patients’ needs. 

How can Providertech’s HIPAA-compliant two-way text messaging solution help you improve communication with your patients to ensure their mental health needs are adequately met? Schedule a demo with us to find out!