As the holidays approach, Massachusetts faces a mental health crisis



MASSACHUSETTS – As the state enters its second coronavirus pandemic vacation season, a record number of Massachusetts residents are seeking mental health services.

But increasingly they are finding few treatment options as already overworked clinicians are forced to close their practices to new patients.

“I’m busier than I’ve ever been in 25 years and I’m turning down more patients than I’ve ever needed,” said Rachel Smook, a Northborough therapist who specializes in treating adolescents. treat a number of other therapists within my practice, and they and my colleagues are also finding that their practices are overflowing.

Nationally, the number of people seeking mental health care has been relatively stable during the pandemic. But in Massachusetts, there is an increased – and unmet – demand for mental health services.

In bimonthly surveys conducted by the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between September 29 and October 11, 17.2% of Massachusetts respondents said they had received mental health counseling in the previous four weeks. This was up from 13.1% in the same two-week period a year ago.

The percentage of Massachusetts respondents who said they needed advice but couldn’t get it was 12.3% in the same two-week period, up from 8.6% a year ago. Smook said the increase in unmet need is largely caused by a system that ties health insurance to employment.

“The CDC actually reports that people’s use of mental health services has not increased during the pandemic, which is not good news. The need has skyrocketed, but access to care has skyrocketed. has remained constant or has declined, ”said Smook. “Healthcare providers of all types also suffer from burnout, and studies estimate that one in three is considering quitting. It’s a mess.”

State legislature tackles clinician shortage

Several bills to address the shortage are before the state legislature, including one that would increase the rates MassHealth pays to licensed mental health clinics and community behavioral health centers, and another that would allow patients to ” be referred more easily to mental health care providers through their care physician.

“We are in a mental health crisis,” Association for Behavioral Healthcare president Lydia Conley told the state legislature’s health care funding committee in a hearing in September. “The on-boarding of emergency services reaches unprecedented heights, [and] people who need behavioral health help are unable to find it. “

At the same hearing, Karin Jeffers of Clinical & Support Options told the committee that all of her clinical staff had left in the three months leading up to the hearing. In the fiscal year ended Sept. 1, Clinical & Support hired 248 people, but its workforce size fell to 596 from 661.

I have “never seen such a significant workforce crisis, directly related to the funding of mental health clinics,” said Jeffers.

If you need help

The state’s Emergency Services / Mobile Crisis Response (ESP / MCI) program is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Anyone can contact ESP / MCI for assistance by calling (877) 382-1609.

If you are looking for long-term therapy, you can check your insurer’s listing or use the following online resources to search for a therapist in your area.

Other resources available to residents of Massachusetts:

  • Mental Health America offers a toolkit on mental health, with separate links to different pages focusing on key topics such as trauma and stress coping, anger and frustration management, treatment for big changes, etc.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness continues to be a great local resource for mental health support. Be sure to check out the NAMIwalks virtual event on May 22 and the May 2021 mental health awareness page to share your story.
  • City employees have free access to the Boston Navigate Wellness Portal, which offers wellness resources, healthy recipes, seminars and more to help you maintain your sanity.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline provides free 24/7 telephone support to anyone in distress, as well as prevention and crisis hotlines for friends and family. The number is 1-800-273-8255.
  • The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance continues to offer online support groups for people with depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. They also offer groups for friends and families of people struggling with these mental health issues. Registration is free, completely anonymous and confidential, and no webcam is necessary.
  • Care Dimensions is a hospice palliative care organization that also hosts many support groups for people dealing with grief and loss. Check out their calendar of events for topics, dates and times.

Dave Copeland is Patch’s regional editor for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island and can be reached at [email protected] or by calling 617-433-7851. Follow him on Twitter (@CopeWrites) and Facebook (/ copewrites).


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