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Demand for mental health care putting strain on Missouri providers

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The Stress in America survey has been tracking the mental health toll of the past year. More patients, longer wait times and overloaded practitioners add up to a system on the brink of failing.

The pandemic has been a stressful, anxiety-inducing time for a number of us.

Now, as we approach the end of a second year of upended home, work and school lives, mental health care providers are getting a sense of just how extensive the need for care has become.

In 2020, the American Psychological Association surveyed psychologists to find out how COVID-19 impacted mental health treatment and the work of practitioners.

Fast forward to October 2021, a follow-up survey showed an increase in the treatment of anxiety and depression. It also displayed how psychologists have increased workloads, longer waitlists, and low capacity for new patients.

"We have a very unsustainable system right now," says Dr. Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation at the APA.

Most surprising to Wright is how consistent the data has been over the past year, indicating a mental health crisis. "These are really frightening statistics, and again it seems to be across the board, it's not just an anomaly, this is what is really happening in this country right now."

The survey revealed how patients are feeling, but Dr. Arnie Abels with the University of Missouri-Kansas City notes that the care and state of mind of the providers is very important as well.

"We really have been trying to focus on elements of self-care, really monitoring the flow of clients and how case loads are looking for each individual therapist," Abels says.

Abel stressed the importance of "really taking steps to encourage leave time, taking breaks, taking lunch, getting out of the office, setting boundaries, a wide range of things."

As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
Elizabeth Ruiz is a freelance producer for KCUR’s Up To Date. Contact her at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz
Reginald David is an assistant producer with Up To Date. You can reach him at reginalddavid@kcur.org.