Mental health professionals in North Carolina are working to combat the growing demand for mental health care, even as they try to maintain their mental well-being.
The average share of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders in the United States jumped from 11% in 2019 to 41.1% in 2021, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics and the United States Census Bureau.
A variety of inequities and accessibility issues stand in the way of receiving the mental health care North Carolina needs, such as the difficulty of accessing insurance and paying for mental health services, and the high demand for available providers.
In 2019, according to a 2022 report on the State of Mental Health in America, there was one therapist available for every 390 North Carolina residents who need mental health services.
According to the report, more than half of adults in North Carolina with mental illness, as well as more than half of young people with at least one major depressive episode, said they had not received mental health care.
“When I was trying to refer children to therapists, there could be from four weeks to three months of waiting list,” said Alyssa Draffin, assistant clinical professor at the UNC School of Social Work.
The increased demand for care has caused a “bottleneck in the system,” Draffin said. He added that mental health professionals are sacrificing their time and rest in an effort to alleviate this problem.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Draffin said patients canceled fewer sessions because they were conducted online. She said having these back-to-back sessions left no time for patients to decompress.
“You have to somehow find within yourself the ability to be fully present – not distracted – and open yourself up again to that person’s problems and hurts and desires and victories, and be ready and present to do something with that. , so that they leave with something meaningful, and then do it again for the next person, then the next person, then the next person, ”he said.
During the pandemic, some mental health professionals increased their willingness to hire new clients. Often, in the end, they have had to downsize to take care of their mental well-being.
Kristi Webb, a Chapel Hill clinical psychologist, added an extra day to her work week during the pandemic to care for more people.
After a while, she made the difficult decision to significantly reduce the number of clients she saw by matching them with new therapists due to the burnout she experienced.
“I had a lot of guilt, I still do, because I know the needs are so great,” said Kristi Webb.
Angela Annas, a clinical social worker and therapist, also hired multiple clients to help care for the urgent need she saw.
After about nine months with multiple patients, she said she started feeling overwhelmed and chose to stop accepting new clients.
Despite wanting to provide support for the immense need around them, some mental health professionals have come to understand that they need to take care of themselves in order to care for others.
“There is a high burnout rate even in the field of counseling if we don’t take care of ourselves, especially those who work day after day with trauma,” said Sharon Webb, professor of psychology and program coordinator at Gardner. – Webb University.
Sharon Webb is also a volunteer with The Emotional PPE Project, a nationwide nonprofit organization where mental health professionals provide free assistance to healthcare professionals in their state.
A similar service, UNC’s Taking Care of Our Own program, offers mental health care, education and support to doctors and staff at the UNC Medical Center and departments within the UNC School of Medicine.
Crystal Schiller, assistant professor of psychiatry at UNC and director of program development for the Taking Care of Our Own program, said it was an honor to work with healthcare professionals during the pandemic.
“We have really increased the number of people we are serving who are contacting us for support at the start of the pandemic,” Schiller said.
Despite everything, many mental health workers agree that their hard work is worth it, said Kristi Webb.
“We love hearing people’s stories,” said Kristi Webb. “And it’s important for us to be able to provide that sacred space where people share their most vulnerable moments with us. It takes tremendous courage to come to therapy and we take it very seriously.”
Ultimately, mental health professionals agree that setting boundaries and healthy habits is important for continuously providing quality care.
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