Demand for Mental Health Services Continues to Soar

March 1, 2022
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The number of mental health and behavioral health services providers cannot keep up with surging demand. Like many other verticals in non-acute healthcare, mental and behavioral care were impacted by COVID-19, which exacerbated an already growing problem. The pandemic caused more people to need professional mental healthcare.
That’s because COVID-19 caused an increase in:

  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Financial instability
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Stress  

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that surveyed adults in the U.S. in late June of 2020 found that:

  • 31% of respondents reported symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • 26% reported stress-related symptoms
  • 13% started or increased substance use
  • 11% had serious thoughts of suicide in the past 30 days

These numbers are nearly double the rates the CDC would have expected before the pandemic. However, the pandemic is only one driving factor for the increased need for mental healthcare services. The demand for treatment for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues was growing even before COVID-19.
“What was a serious concern before the pandemic has now transformed into a major public health crisis,” according to The Century Foundation.
In addition, businesses are now paying more attention to the mental health and wellbeing of their employees as staff shortages are becoming commonplace. As noted in an article by Axios, “employees’ mental health is quickly becoming a top concern for companies as they try to hold on to workers through the pandemic.”


The demand for mental and behavioral healthcare services cuts across many demographic groups, including college students. Student demand for mental health support has led to many therapists and directors at college counseling centers feeling overworked.
“The increase in student demand for mental health services, which was already occurring before the pandemic was declared last March, has skyrocketed at some college mental health centers, as has the severity of the conditions for which they are seeking care,” according to an article in Insider Higher Ed. “This has meant a heavier workload for the therapists who work in college counseling centers and the directors who oversee them.”
The personal isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is partially to blame for the spike in mental health issues, while many people who suffered from the virus are in need of mental healthcare.  
One underlying problem with providing the appropriate level of care is a current shortage of mental health service providers for all types of patients, especially those in rural areas who don’t have access to a nearby facility. The provider shortage is so severe in some areas that it’s difficult for many people to even get an appointment. This, in turn, is placing additional stress on the providers.
The outlook does not look favorable. Morning Consult noted that a shortage of adult psychiatrists and addiction counselors is expected by 2030. Integrating primary care with mental and behavioral healthcare is one step toward reducing the impact of the shortage.


The White House recently announced $2.5 billion in funding to address mental health and substance use disorders. The funding includes $825 million toward state grants for community services that seek to fill current gaps in treatment.
In addition to much-needed funding, mental and behavioral healthcare providers are benefitting from telehealth services. These virtual healthcare services are removing barriers between providers and some patients by allowing them to connect outside of traditional in-office environments. Patients can talk with their healthcare professional from any location—including their home. This makes it easier for some patients to access mental health treatment.
Behavioral health visits via telehealth were “hundreds of times higher during several months of 2020 than a year earlier,” according to the Morning Consult article. Telehealth services for online therapy or phone therapy are being used for existing patients, and they’re also proving to be particularly beneficial for new patients who haven’t been to the facilities yet, those who don’t feel comfortable visiting offices in-person and patients in rural areas.


The need for mental and behavioral services will likely continue to grow, placing ongoing pressure on providers who are already stretched thin. Government funding will provide some much needed help, but it doesn’t solve the issue of patients who are currently unable to see a service provider.
One solution is for primary care physicians to help their patients form healthy eating habits, engage in regular physical activity and get treated for sleep disorders. It’s one step to help patients reduce the effects of mental health issues and receive treatment from providers who may be more accessible than those in mental and behavioral care.
Likewise, primary care physicians can provide treatment and medications for some mental health issues, or screen patients for issues like anxiety or depression. This allows the physician to provide a treatment plan or recommend a specialist, which can start the patient on the road to appropriate care. 


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