Mental health crisis emphasises access issues: Study

Mental health crisis emphasises access issues: Study
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Massachusetts, US: According to the American Psychological Association's 2023 Practitioner Pulse Survey, the ongoing mental health crisis is posing substantial obstacles for many psychologists as they deal with increased demand from patients coming with increasingly severe symptoms year after year.

The survey, which was completed by 561 licenced practising psychologists between August 30 and September 29, 2023, discovered that not only did more than half of psychologists (52 per cent) report an increase in the severity of symptoms among their patients, but 41 per cent reported an increase in the number of sessions spent treating each patient, which may limit their capacity to accept new patients.

Similarly, more than half (56 per cent) said that they had no openings for new patients. And more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of psychologists who maintained a waitlist said that the average wait was up to three months for a first appointment, while 31 per cent said average wait times were longer than three months. Psychologists reported increasing demand for treatment of certain mental health conditions, including anxiety disorders (68 per cent) and trauma- and stressor-related disorders (50 per cent), among those who treat those disorders.

"As the mental health crisis continues, psychologists are under pressure," said APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD. "These findings underscore the sustained demand for care, led by increased severity of symptoms and extended treatment courses, compounded by increases year after year. This paints a clear picture of psychologists operating at the brink of their capacity. To better meet demand, it is essential that we develop comprehensive public health strategies that reach people throughout their lifespan and robustly address behavioral health alongside physical health."

The survey found that the psychologist workforce is already adapting to meet the changing needs of the population -- for example, as part of integrated care teams or in medical settings. More than 4 in 5 psychologists (86 per cent) said they have worked alongside other health care providers, with 59 pre cent saying they do so frequently or very frequently. Collaborating providers included psychiatrists (76 per cent of psychologists said they worked with them, with 38per cent doing so frequently); other physicians (45 per cent, with 17 per cent doing so frequently); occupational therapists (30 per cent, with 6 per cent doing so frequently); physician assistants (41 per cent, with 11per cent doing so frequently); community health workers (30 per cent, with 4 per cent doing so frequently); and speech language pathologists (28per cent, with 5per cent frequent collaborators). Alongside mental health concerns, psychologists reported treating patients with physical conditions, including 50per cent treating patients with chronic pain, 42per cent treating obesity or weight conditions, 27per cent some symptoms of cancer, and 25per cent high blood pressure.

"Integrated care, where psychologists work on health care teams with other providers, is one way that we can expand access to care, prioritize preventive care and find ways to better meet the biological, psychological and social needs of the patients," said Evans. "We must also support and expand the mental health workforce, foster innovation and technology, and support psychologists in extending their reach in the communities in which they live and work."

Psychologists have shown themselves to be adaptable, changing their work habits during the pandemic to include fully remote or hybrid practices. Only 21 per cent are now offering fully remote practices (down from a peak of 64 per cent in 2020), according to the poll, yet more than two-thirds (67per cent) are now working in hybrid practices seeing some patients in person and others remotely.

More than one-third (36per cent) of psychologists reported experiencing burnout and 1 in 5 psychologists (21per cent) said that they were planning to reduce their practice hours in the next 12 months. Yet nearly three-quarters (73per cent) said that they were able to practice self-care and nearly two-thirds (63per cent) said that they were able to maintain a positive work-life balance.