Psychologists say they can’t meet growing demand for mental health care

For the third year in a row, many psychologists across the country say they are seeing patients’ symptoms worsening, with many requiring longer treatment.

Those are among the findings of an annual survey released this week by the American Psychological Association. APA first launched this survey in 2020 to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on practicing psychologists.

Most psychologists report that more people are seeking mental health care this year, adding to already long waiting lists. More than half (56%) said they had no openings for new patients. Among those who remain on a waitlist, the average wait time is three months or longer, and nearly 40% say their waitlist has increased in the past year.

“We are still seeing very high demand for mental health services but very limited supply,” said psychologist Vaile Wright, senior director of healthcare innovation at APA. “This is not a sustainable solution to the mental health crisis in this country. ”

The survey also found that more people are seeking help for certain mental health issues, particularly trauma and stress-related conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sleep disorders and addiction. More than half of psychologists said patients needed more time in therapy.

Wright explained that these are the lingering effects of the pandemic on mental health.

“I think there are so many ways individuals are experiencing trauma during the pandemic,” she said. “It could be the loss of a loved one and the grief that comes with it. It could be the effects of a person’s own illness and hospitalization.”

She added that the changes public health measures during the pandemic have brought to people’s personal lives, including changes in their social lives, work and ability to care for loved ones, have also added a lot of stress to people.

Its impact on mental health often manifests itself after the trauma and stress has passed. “When things really started to calm down, the impact of everything we were going through, all the stress, really started to hit us,” Wright said.

She added that mental health care providers themselves have been under significant pressure since the start of the pandemic as they quickly adapted to the restrictions and increased demands for care.

“The past few years have been very difficult, first moving to virtual and now back to in-person and hybrid,” said psychologist Mary Alvord of Rockville, Maryland.

“We’re getting more calls asking for in-person child care,” she added. However, adults prefer to meet virtually after one or two in-person appointments.

More than one-third (36%) of psychologists surveyed said they feel burned out. While this is slightly lower than the peak of 41% in 2021, the report notes that there are still a large number of suppliers struggling to meet their work needs.

But the survey also shows that two-thirds of psychologists are able to cope with work stress and burnout through self-care, and nearly half rely on peer support to improve their well-being.

Alward, who did not participate in the survey, said she and her colleagues rely heavily on peer support. “We have weekly peer advisory groups, which is where we really support each other,” she said. “And then for me personally, I walk three to five miles a day … as a way to relieve stress.”

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