America Faces Major Shortage Of Mental Health Professionals

June 16, 2021

Mental health concerns have reached a critical level, as more and more Americans seek mental health support in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.  Far too many patients cannot access care due to provider shortages and insurance challenges, but this is not a new problem.  There simply are not enough professionals to care for Americans seeking mental health support. 

Dr. Vaile Wright, the senior director of health care innovation at the American Psychological Association, stated in a recent piece from The New York Times that “there’s always been more demand for services than there are mental health providers. I think what the pandemic has done is really laid bare that discrepancy.”  The article goes on to cite a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which “found that there was an unequal distribution of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurse practitioners across the United States, with more pronounced deficiencies in nonmetropolitan counties.”  Research suggests that many Americans who seek help are unable to find affordable options and that even when they do, they may come up against very discouraging waitlists. 

The advent of telehealth, and its major expansion during the pandemic, has allowed support seekers more access to mental health services.  However, the conversation about ethical and effective treatment remains vital and urgent.  In an April 2021 CNBC report, Dr. Mary Alvord of Alvord, Baker & Associates in Rockville, MD, suggests that “a silver lining of the extreme challenges faced globally over the last year is the conversation around mental health has come to the forefront.”

Fortunately, it seems that students are taking note of the shortage of mental health professionals and are seeking programs accordingly.  Gray’s Student Inquiry database shows that inquiries for programs in mental health have grown considerably in the past few years. Inquiries in 2020 were particularly notable, up 23% from 2019. 

Total Student Inquiry Volume for Programs in Mental Health

total student inquiry volume for programs in mental health

Student inquiries also hit a new high in January of 2021, showing a 29% increase over the previous January high in 2019.  Inquiries through the first quarter of 2021 were on pace with or above 2020 inquiry volumes each month. April volumes were down slightly YoY but still high relative to previous years.

Gray’s job postings data shows that demand for mental health professionals is extremely strong.  Postings have increased 99% since January 2021, and this trend is expected to continue in light of the more focused awareness of the critical shortage of mental health professionals in the USA. 

Job Postings for Mental Health Professionals by Month

Job Postings for Mental Health Professionals by Month

Further scrutiny of job postings data reveals that demand for Mental Health Counselors is soaring: there’s been a 186% YoY increase since May 2020. Demand for Substance Abuse/Mental Health Social Workers is also substantial, at a 55% YoY increase since May 2020. 

As the stigma associated with mental health decreases, and awareness and acceptance increase, many more people are seeking care and support.  Hastened by the pandemic crisis, the field of mental health counseling has entered a new era, and the need for qualified practitioners is more crucial than ever.

Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. provides the best available data, software, and facilitated processes to help higher education institutions make high-stakes decisions regarding academic programs, pricing, and locations.

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