MUST READ: Experts Move to Halt Crisis in US Psychiatry

By Pauline Anderson

March 30, 2017

This article has been re-shared from it’s original source, Medscape.com

An expert panel have released a new report containing recommendations to rectify the severe psychiatrist shortage and the dearth of mental health services in the United States.

Released by the National Council Medical Director Institute, which advises the National Council for Behavioral Health on issues strongly related to clinical practice, the report, The Psychiatric Crisis: Causes and Solutions, contains a wide-ranging set of recommendations that touch on every area of the specialty, including training, funding, and models of care delivery.

Lead authors Joe Parks, MD, medical director, National Council for Behavioral Health, and Patrick Runnels, MD, co-chair, Medical Director Institute, discussed the report’s recommendations at a press briefing on March 28, where they were joined by Saul M. Levin, MD, CEO and medical director of the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

The number of psychiatrists is plummeting – down by 10% from 2003 to 2013. The average age of practicing psychiatrists is the mid-50s, compared to the mid-40s for other specialties, said Dr Parks.

Furthermore, approximately 55% of counties across the United States currently have no psychiatrist, and 77% report a severe shortage – a situation that is partially due to an increase in demand.

“People want psychiatric services. They know treatment works, and it’s less stigmatizing than it used to be, so people are more willing to accept and seek treatment,” said Dr Parks.

But their search is often in vain. Two thirds of primary care physicians report having trouble getting psychiatric services for patients, so patients often end up in the emergency department.

“There has been a 42% increase in patients going to ERs for psychiatric services in the past 3 years, but most of them aren’t staffed with psychiatrists,” Dr Parks noted.

“So people end up stuck in the ERs for hours and at times days – two to three times as long as for general medical conditions.”

To make matters worse, some hospitals are closing inpatient psychiatric units because they cannot find psychiatrists to staff and run them.

The lack of services and long wait times for these scarce services are taking a toll on patients.

“These are people burdened and suffering from anxiety, from depression. Some of them feel suicidal, and some of them have hallucinations,” said Dr Parks.