Lack of access to mental health care becoming a crisis


A lack of mental health professionals is pushing the US mental health system to a crisis point. And even if a psychiatrist commits someone to a facility, there may not be a bed for them. A startling 55 percent of all US counties have zero psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers to provide mental health services. [1] Meanwhile, the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC) has tracked a 14% drop nationwide in the number of state psychiatric beds from 2005 to 2010.

These problems threaten access to timely and effective care for those with mental health needs.

In addition, the shortage of psychiatric beds and obstacles to care have been connected to increases in homelessness and incarcerations for mentally ill citizens. Aside from building more facilities or training more mental health professionals, what can be done to combat this problem? There is data available now in current systems to improve mental health access and get these people the care they need.

What are the mental health service needs?

Simply put, analyzing the right data can tell us where, what and how good the available mental health care services are. The use of advanced analytics can help tell us:

  • Where providers/facilities/services are currently located
  • What the current capacities are, and what future demand will be, using trend analysis
  • The quality of care based on actual outcomes

This is obviously valuable information in the effort to provide services to those struggling with mental health issues, but how else can it help? Policy changes have a tremendous effect on mental health services. Also, there are many enhancements mental health programs are considering, but it can be difficult for them to understand the cost vs reward. Analytics can help mental health organizations:

  • Ameliorate provider shortages caused by policy changes,
  • Develop provider/facility expansion incentive programs
  • Support telemedicine infrastructure initiatives that target underserved areas
  • Improve campaigns encouraging people to enter the mental health profession
  • Design patient/community mental health awareness campaigns

These are all potential benefits to a mature mental health data system. So what goes into that? Data from existing Medicaid/Medicare systems, hospital inpatient/outpatient systems, current and future Health Information Exchanges and current and future All Payer Claims Databases would be essential to the success of such a project, and significantly increase our analytic capability. The good news is, many states are in the process of making this a reality. For instance, most states have Medicaid claims data readily available and could pilot an analytic needs assessment just using that data.

Just having that information in hand could help the mentally ill gain access to quality care, and keep this crisis from growing. What is your state doing? Please share in the comments section.



About Author

Jeremy Racine

Healthcare Strategy Consultant

Jeremy draws on more than 20 years of experience in data science to evangelize the benefits of advanced analytics – including AI – in health care. He helps lead SAS health care initiatives for data, AI and analytics, ensuring solutions align with health care market needs. He's passionate about applying analytics to health care modernization and executing new strategies within complex global health systems. Jeremy's work focuses on the essential interdependencies between healthcare policy, programs, and providers, payers and patients.


  1. In Canada, the Mental Health Commission has been doing many survey's and focus groups over the past decades. Recovery is possible. No longer does a diagnosis mean the end of one's useful life.

    One solution that I volunteer at is much cheaper than hospitalization and proving effective at reducing re-hospitalization. This is peer support. My community mental health group for instance hires only consumers of mental health or those with lived experience. We work in partnership with hospitals to have consumers with lived experience to meet with in-patients and family members with lived experience meet with patient's families and help them with the experience they share. Helping people transition back to the community.

    We also use programs that are proven successful like Wellness Action Recovery Plans (WRAP) by Mary Ellen Copeland and other consumers she works with that help an individual manage their own symptoms and crisis and more importantly their own wellness. Another good program that helps one set goals and use one's own strengths to get places is the University of Kansas School of Social Welfare's Pathways to Recovery program also written mostly by consumers with lived experience.

    Empirically these programs and peer support are proving very effective.

    • Jeremy Racine

      Thank you Peter for your insight here , it is very useful! As public health organizations continue to better understand the mental health needs of their populations it will no doubt be important for them to fully be aware of programs such as these and others. In addition, it will be vital for them to employ an analytics strategy which allows them to measure the programs effectiveness and potential ways government (and others) can help to support the sustainability and enhancement of such programs. The application of analytics can help to ensure that programs such as these are helping to enrich access to care for more mental health patients who need it and make a positive impact overall in the mental health community.

  2. Pingback: Early identification and treatment of mental illness is critical - State and Local Connection

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