Access to mental healthcare and the psychiatrist shortage

Access to mental healthcare and the psychiatrist shortage

Reviewed by:
Talkiatry staff
at Talkiatry
July 28, 2021
In this article

Taking care of one's physical and mental health has become more critical than ever. The increase in mental health needs triggered by the pandemic has highlighted a serious problem: the United States is experiencing a psychiatrist shortage. Lack of access to care is one of the reasons over 50% of American’s with a mental health condition don’t receive treatment.  

Examining the psychiatrist shortage 

In 2022, about half of US counties lacked a psychiatrist. This shortage is projected to increase with one study estimating that in 2025 there will be a shortage of between 14,280 and 31,091 psychiatrists, depending on population size. This estimation is based on the increasing demand for mental health services, the decline in the number of new psychiatrists entering the field, and the quickly approaching retirement of 60% of active psychiatrists.  

This shortage presents challenges both for psychiatrists trying to provide care and for patients who seek it.  

The problem for patients

Despite the number of people needing psychiatric care, various factors can make accessing it impossible, from a shortage of psychiatrists who accept insurance to the inaccessibility of care in rural areas.

  • Lack of physical access to care 

Individuals seeking care in rural or underserved communities are likely to find very few providers, if any. 37% of the U.S. population lives in an area with a shortage of mental health providers. That means a staggering 122 million Americans are without access to or have limited access to mental health care. While an increase in telemedicine services has expanded access to mental health care, some mental health conditions require in-person treatment.  

  • Lack of affordable, in-network providers

There’s no doubt that mental health care is expensive. While over 90% of general health services are billed through insurance, only about 55% of psychiatrists accept insurance. Out of this 55%, many accept only a limited set of plans. This lack of in-network care can create a significant barrier for individuals seeking mental health treatment. While many Americans are left unable to afford any mental health care, those who can afford it are four-to-six times more likely to pay out-of-pocket for mental health care than they are for physical health care.

The problem for psychiatrists

While patients feel plenty of consequences from this shortage, psychiatrists are also negatively impacted in many ways.

  • Demanding schedules and burnout

With fewer physicians available, psychiatrists are juggling demanding schedules and consequently shorter appointment times. This increased strain may lead to a lower quality of care as well as a higher rate of burnout and turnover.

  • Lower compensation models and less coverage for psychiatrists

Although psychiatrists go through the same rigorous education as other medical doctors, they are compensated at a lower rate- even if they are treating the same condition as a general doctor. A 2015 study revealed that insurance companies reimbursed mental health providers 83 cents for every $1 they gave to primary care physicians.

The inequities created by this system have the potential to discourage mental health providers from accepting insurance thus making it hard for patients to access care.  

  • Lack of technological innovation

Psychiatrists are also disadvantaged by the lack of innovation in their field. While telehealth appointments have increased since the start of the pandemic, there are still significant strides that need to be made to provide psychiatrists with the tools they need to improve clinical outcomes. Roughly 60% of psychiatrists don’t use a certified electronic health record system, and 40% don’t use digital records at all. Customized software and integrations would allow psychiatrists reduce their paperwork burden and improve their quality of care.

Doing our part: How Talkiatry works to solve the problem

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 60 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and more. Get started with a short online assessment.

The information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Our team of professional healthcare writers work closely with our clinical staff and are trained in scientific research methods. As a medical practice, we adhere to principles of evidence-based medicine and are dedicated to bringing you accurate, accessible, and up-to- date information.

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