The need for healthcare professionals specializing in mental health is soaring as society becomes aware of the importance of mental health. Recent trends indicate a rapid increase in the demand for mental health nurse practitioners, and this need is only set to grow. This is because more adults have mental illnesses now than ever before.

Various strategies are in the works to tackle this pressing issue, including the increase of online programs. One is the online PMHNP programs offered by Marymount University. The course provides a flexible and accessible path to becoming a mental health nurse practitioner because the industry needs more of you. There, you can connect with classmates and teachers who will help you through each step of the curriculum to achieve your academic goals. You’d also get a placement site free of charge through the university’s placement team. If you would like to be one of the essential nurses or mental health practitioners changing the narrative of the American mental health system, sign up for the PMHNP course to effect changes in mental health care.

This article will explain why this is the best time to be a mental health nurse and why the demand is so high. It’ll also explore what is being done to meet the demand.

The demand: by the numbers

Recent statistics show a concerning trend. Mental Health America states that 19.89% of US adults live with mental illness (about 50 million people), and 4.9% experience severe mental health issues. Of this number, 54.7%—approximately 28 million people with a mental illness—have an unmet need for treatment. This figure keeps increasing because the current care system is not sufficient to treat everyone. More than 80% of the population in some states is located in a region with a lack of mental health specialists, according to data from March 2023. This number represents approximately 160 million Americans. The Commonwealth Fund adds that 8,000 mental health providers are needed to fill the gaps​ in some places.

Several factors contribute to this demand. One cause for concern is the rising incidence rate of mental health disorders. According to the CDC, by December 2020, 42% of American adults will have experienced at least one episode of anxiety or depression, up significantly from 2019’s 11%.​ Also, from June 2019 to June 2020, suicidal ideation among US adults doubled​.

Meeting the demand: Six efforts to increase mental health practitioners in the US

The following are steps taken to meet the need for mental health professionals in the country.

President Biden’s 2023 budget proposal

The budget proposal has outlined substantial investments in behavioral healthcare. The budget allocates $51.7bn over ten years to improve mental health services in the United States. There will also be a new $7.5 billion mental health system transformation fund available through Medicaid. This money will be the impetus for expanding mental health care nationwide. So, what does this entail for you as a nurse practitioner, healthcare provider, or individual receiving medical attention?

This investment will go towards workforce development and service expansion in the mental health field. It aims to develop non-traditional health delivery sites and integrate quality mental health and substance use care into primary care settings. It means more job opportunities if you are a mental health nurse practitioner. You, the patient, will have improved access to mental health care in previously underserved or disregarded communities. This might be your family doctor’s office or a community health center. Another critical focus is on the dissemination of evidence-based practices. As a healthcare professional, you’ll be trained and educated in the latest, scientifically backed methods and strategies in mental health care. If you’re a patient, you’ll receive this best-practice care to improve treatments for your challenges.

A proposal to invest $397m in HRSA

The health resources and services administration (HRSA) behavioral health workforce development programs are set to receive $397m from the federal government. This sizable investment is targeted at the heart of the supply issue: training new behavioral healthcare providers. The goal is clear: the country needs more experts in the sector to keep up with the rising demand for mental health care. The more trained professionals the government has, the better its ability to address mental health needs nationwide. If you’re considering a career in behavioral healthcare or are already on this path, this initiative directly affects you. The investment will open up more opportunities for education and training and increase your chances of getting the skills needed to succeed in the field.

Moreover, the funding aims to develop a specific track for health support workers, which includes peers and community health workers. This is an important acknowledgment of the varied roles that contribute to effective mental healthcare. Community health workers, for instance, would have improved access to resources and education to provide enhanced patient care. As a consequence of this funding, those needing mental health services will have easier access to these services. Wait times for appointments may decrease, and service accessibility in underdeveloped areas may also improve if more skilled professionals join the workforce. This is a significant step towards ensuring that all individuals have access to mental health care, regardless of their residence or financial circumstances.

The budget for SAMHSA

Substance abuse and mental health services administration (SAMHSA) operations receive significant funds from the president’s budget. This means an increase of $2.5bn above the fiscal year 2022 enacted level. The primary goal of this investment is to expand access to crucial services like crisis intervention and early prevention, particularly for vulnerable populations. In practice, this means that when you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, you will have greater access to resources and support. It could be as immediate as the availability of hotlines for urgent mental health issues or as proactive as community outreach programs for at-risk populations.

The funding will also allow for the expansion of early intervention services. Early intervention is crucial in mental health care because addressing issues promptly can prevent escalation. Another critical area the budget targets is children’s mental health. This focus recognizes the crucial need to address mental health issues from a young age. If you’re a parent, this might mean increased access to mental health resources and professionals who specialize in working with children. This could include school counselors and special programs to help children deal with emotional, behavioral, or social issues. The additional $2.5bn in funding for SAMHSA aims to create a broader safety net for mental health nationwide.

Regulations to improve compliance

Navigating the complexities of health insurance can be challenging for mental health services. President Biden’s budget proposal aims to ease this process and make it more equitable. One of the fundamental changes proposed is improving compliance with behavioral health parity standards. In practice, this means that your insurance plan must treat mental health services like other medical or surgical services. For instance, if you need to see a psychologist, your plan can’t impose more restrictive limits on your benefits than it would for a visit to a cardiologist.

The proposed regulations require plans to use medical necessity criteria, which are the standards used to determine if a service is essential, and that they’re consistent with those developed by non-profit medical specialty associations. This consistency ensures that the criteria used to determine whether a mental health service is necessary to align with the professional consensus. This reduces the chance of being denied a needed service under your insurance plan.

The budget also proposes regulating behavioral health network adequacy. This means that your insurance plan would have to provide sufficient mental health providers within its network. You wouldn’t have to travel long distances or wait long to receive care. In addition to the foregoing, the proposal seeks to establish a parity standard for reimbursement rates. It ensures that mental health practitioners are compensated at rates comparable to those of other medical professionals. The latter makes it easy to attract and retain new talents. Considering a career in mental health could mean a more competitive salary and a stronger incentive to enter the profession. These proposed changes ensure that mental health is given the same weight as physical health in terms of insurance coverage and practitioner compensation.

Improving Medicare provisions

If you are a Medicare recipient, President Biden’s proposed budget may make mental health services more accessible. One of the fundamental changes proposed is eliminating the lifetime limit on behavioral health visits. Currently, Medicare has a 190-day lifetime limit on inpatient psychiatric hospital services. If you have Medicare, you might have been unable to receive inpatient psychiatric services beyond this limit, even if you needed them. By removing this cap, you would have access to such services for as long as they are medically necessary.

The proposal also allows certain mental health practitioners to bill Medicare directly. This includes clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, and marriage and family therapists. As a result of this modification, more of these specialists may be able to provide their services to Medicare recipients. An elderly individual seeking counseling, for instance, may have more options and shorter wait times due to the greater availability of service providers.

These changes would have a positive impact on the career paths of mental health practitioners. If you’re a mental health professional, the ability to bill Medicare directly might open up a more extensive patient base for you and potentially improve your earnings. This change is a way to incentivize more professionals to serve Medicare beneficiaries and help address the increasing demand for mental health practitioners.

Addressing staff shortages

The healthcare business is now experiencing a severe shortage of personnel, making this a crucial time to join the profession. Many experienced RNs are nearing retirement, while about 600,000 intend to quit their jobs before 2027 due to work stress. All these contribute to the shortage and high demand for new practitioners.

However, the challenge extends to the need for more educators and resources to ensure that new entrants are adequately trained. Why is this important? Over 90,000 qualified applicants were turned away from nursing programs due to a lack of nurse educators and resources in faculties. So, how can you contribute to overcoming this challenge? If you are interested in healthcare, you should consider becoming a nurse or a nurse educator. This will allow you to address the staffing shortages in the healthcare industry directly.

Also, if you can influence resource allocation, advocating for more resources dedicated to healthcare education can help. This could mean lobbying for increased funding for nursing programs or supporting initiatives that provide resources for nurse educators. At the same time, if you’re a healthcare worker with more work to do because there are not enough people, know that help is coming. Efforts are being made to encourage new practitioners in the field, so you’d be doing a lot of good if you don’t resign due to stress.

Growing Demand

The growing demand for mental health services in the United States is a pressing issue. However, government initiatives are being implemented to bolster the mental health sector. Significant funding is being dedicated to enhancing behavioral healthcare, expanding access to mental health services, and increasing the training of new behavioral healthcare providers. These initiatives are designed to ensure that mental health services are accessible, affordable, and high-quality. This initiative also expands mental health benefits under Medicare and enforces mental health parity requirements. If you’re interested in the field, apply to be trained and help transform the mental health sector.