Demand for Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment Has Increased Nearly 80% in Three Months

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate demand for mental health and substance use treatment, while organizations providing care face major staffing hurdles that limit the delivery of service.

Demand for mental health and substance use treatment has increased nearly 80% over the past three months, continuing a steady rise that began more than a year ago, according to a new poll by Morning Consult and released today by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The poll coincides with World Mental Health Day on October 10 and highlights the need to improve our nation’s response to mental health challenges and overcome workforce shortages.

While demand grows, workforce shortages have made it increasingly difficult for mental health and substance use treatment organizations to keep pace. Recruiting and retaining employees is the primary barrier organizations face, with 97% saying it has been difficult to recruit employees, and 78% of them calling it “very difficult.”

“The pandemic has exacerbated our nation’s mental health and substance use crisis. It has also made it more difficult for treatment organizations to provide clients the care they need and deserve,” National Council for Mental Wellbeing President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia said. “This crisis demands that we find solutions that allow clients to get the treatment they need and provide organizations the resources they require to attract and retain staff in a competitive marketplace.”

The new poll shows that demand for mental health services, specifically, has grown 42% in the past three months. Demand for all other services also has grown during this time including: 

  • Substance use treatment (27%) 
  • Youth mental health and substance use (36%) 
  • Crisis services (37%) 
  • Social services (37%) 

Like people in search of treatment, the organizations providing services continue to feel the impact of the pandemic on their operations. In addition to difficulty with recruitment and retention, organizations surveyed said staff burnout represents a major problem. 

A shortage of workers has resulted in longer wait lists at 62% of organizations surveyed over the past three months and forced some to reduce services at a critical time.

“At a time when people and communities have demonstrated the need for more mental health and substance use caregivers, more programs and more services, too many organizations remain unable to meet this historic demand. That does not bode well for our collective wellbeing, and it has exposed the profound shortcomings in our nation’s funding for mental health and substance use treatment,” Ingoglia said. 

In the new poll, mental health and substance use treatment organizations said continued funding for telehealth services and increasing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates would provide organizations with significant relief and allow them to add staff and boost services.

“Reimbursement rates for mental health and substance use treatment haven’t been revised in decades and don’t reflect the cost to provide service,” Ingoglia said. “We look forward to working with the administration to raise awareness about this oversight that harms so many small businesses, which includes organizations that provide mental health and substance use treatment.”

While many organizations struggle with workforce challenges, data released yesterday by the National Council found that adopting the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model enables clinics to hire more staff. However, in order for clinics everywhere to have the option to apply for CCBHC status, the program must be expanded.

Morning Consult conducted the polling between September 8-23, 2021, among a national sample of 260 members of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The interviews were conducted online. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 6%.

Founded in 1969, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing is a membership organization that drives policy and social change on behalf of nearly 3,500 mental health and substance use treatment organizations and the more than 10 million children, adults and families they serve. We advocate for policies to ensure equitable access to high-quality services. We build the capacity of mental health and substance use treatment organizations. And we promote greater understanding of mental wellbeing as a core component of comprehensive health and health care. Through our Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program, we have trained more than 2.5 million people in the U.S. to identify, understand and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges.

Sophia Majlessi
[email protected] 
(202) 856-5099

SOURCE National Council for Mental Wellbeing

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