Sounding the Alarm: Behavioral Health Services are at Capacity

Even before the pandemic, mental health services in the United States were approaching capacity. A brief prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services in March 2020 concurred. The report examined trends in this field from 2014 to 2018 and found that:

  • Utilization rates were increasing 
  • There were not enough providers to meet the needs of the growing population that was seeking mental and behavioral health services

More than two years of pandemic-related anxiety, stress, and depression have led even more people to search out mental health services and have stretched resources to a breaking point. With all these factors in mind, the current capacity of our behavioral health services definitely warrants critical attention. 

To help explain what all of this means for clinicians and practices offering mental health services, Eric Meier, the President and CEO of Owl (a behavioral health data insights platform) recently joined our podcast. 

How do we know that Behavioral Health is at Capacity?

There is one stark trend that makes it very obvious that behavioral healthcare is at capacity: waiting lists. Right now, it’s typical for behavioral health clinicians or facilities to have a 6-8 week wait list. Essentially, there are not enough providers to treat all the people who want or need care. When demand exceeds supply in this way, people cannot get care when they need it. This can lead to catastrophic outcomes.

What’s Contributing to Capacity Challenges in Behavioral Health?

There are many contributing factors that have pushed behavioral healthcare capacity to the brink in this way. Here are just a handful of the more common reasons:

  • The last few years have been characterized by a growing appreciation and awareness of behavioral health. This includes role models like Simone Biles and Michael Phelps who have begun speaking about it publicly, giving others in similar situations the courage to confront their challenges.
  • There is a high degree of staff turnover in this field, with some larger clinics averaging a 25% attrition rate yearly. This results in a serious loss of institutional knowledge and puts pressure on the remaining staff to serve more patients than is simply possible.
  • More health plans are starting to pay for behavioral healthcare, leading to greater overall utilization of these services.

While many of the reasons why behavioral healthcare is in increased demand are the result of positive cultural shifts, the field’s inability to keep pace with demand is troubling.

How Data can Help Support Behavioral Healthcare

Fortunately, there are many businesses and organizations working to address this growing need for mental health care services. Many of the most promising are leveraging technology to ensure consistent care, offering providers the ability to increase capacity without fundamentally changing their available resources. 

The more focused treatment is, the easier it is to offer patients exactly what they need. Plus, these new technologies can also help clinicians screen, track, and monitor patients, then optimize care at both the individual patient level and the overall population level.

Optimizing care for clinicians isn’t the only way that leveraging data through technology can benefit this field. Having access to this stream of data can also help clients by giving them constant feedback on their progress, serving as a positive feedback loop that encourages and supports them as they continue with their treatment. 

18% of the market has already adopted measurement-based care, and there are lots of opportunities for clinicians who want to integrate it into their existing workflow. By facilitating greater alignment between providers, health plans, and patients through technology and data, we can help society as a whole address our ongoing behavioral health crisis.

Want to learn more about integrating these emerging technologies into your practice? Check out the “Behavioral Health Services at Capacity” podcast to hear the conversation in full.

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