Needs for Behavioral Modification

In essence, we are stuck in a vortex of sorts with millions of Americans suffering from mental illness or substance abuse disorders combines with a shortage of qualified mental health providers to address these issues. The numbers speak for themselves.

  • An estimated one in four adults (about 60 million Americans) experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • About 14 million people live with a serious mental illness.
  • Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year.
  • 7 percent of American adults live with major depression.
  • An estimated 18 percent of American adults live with anxiety disorders (e.g., panic disorder, OCD, PTSD).
  • About 9 million adults have co-occurring mental health and addiction disorders
  • 20 million Americans suffer from substance abuse.

In addition to the high numbers described above, there is a critical mental health provider shortage creating significant access to care issues. Here is a snapshot:

  • Only 40 percent of Americans with mental illness report receiving treatment.
  • One mental health provider exists for every 790 individuals.
  • Approximately 4,000 Mental Health HPSA (professional shortage areas) exist which is based on a psychiatrist to population ratio of 1:30,000 -- meaning it would take approximately 3,000 additional psychiatrists to eliminate the current mental health HPSA designations.
  • A report to Congress found that 55 percent of the nation's 3,100 counties have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers.

You get the idea. And even with mental health parity laws, cost of care remains an issue -- not to mention the social stigma and mistrust of mental health providers that exists in many communities.

Telebehavioral health is bridging the gap. Numerous studies have shown the effectiveness of telebehavioral health services. For example, a recent study showed that providing telebehavioral health services to patients living in rural and underserved areas significantly reduced psychiatric hospitalization rates. Another study concluded that the effects of telebehavioral health on low-income homebound order adults were sustained significantly longer than those of in-person mental health services. Many other studies arrive at the same conclusion. Note, however, obstacles remain, including how to properly assess non-verbal cues by video, technical difficulties, and the lack of proper training of many providers regarding telebehavioral.