Published by CalMatters 9/08/2022 as part of their series on mental health care. Reprinted with permission. Illustration by Chanelle Nibbelink for CalMatters.
The need for therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists is greater than ever. Under relentless pressure from the pandemic and inflation, wildfires and gun violence, racism and war, Californians are crying out for help.
But that doesn’t mean they can get it.
In every corner of mental health right now, a similar story is being told. There simply aren’t enough providers.
Patients receive lists of names from their insurers, only to learn none of the therapists on these so-called “ghost lists” will see them. Clinicians who do offer a spot often only accept cash.
Nonprofit mental health providers report needing to have an offer letter ready at a job interview, fearing applicants will take another position if they wait.
Kaiser mental health clinicians have been out on strike for weeks now in Northern California, describing exhausting working conditions and long delays in care for their patients. Kaiser, for its part, points a finger at a familiar culprit: the mental health provider shortage.
CalMatters spoke with more than two dozen mental health experts, public officials and providers around California to ask about the impacts of the mental health provider shortage, and what can be done about it. Their responses ranged from desperate to hopeful.
All agree we are at a pivotal movement.
In part, that’s because Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is investing heavily in overhauling the state’s mental health system. At the same time, the state has recently enacted laws requiring insurers to provide timely access to mental health care. Some worry a lack of providers could jeopardize these bold new initiatives. Others see this as an opportunity to reimagine how mental health care in the state is delivered.
Here's what the experts (including Healthforce Center's Janet Coffman) had to say....