Of the health profession workforce shortages projected over the next 10 years, none is more dire than behavioral health. It's estimated that by 2020, mental health and substance use disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide.
The Affordable Care Act importantly expanded protections mandated by the 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act to eliminate disparities in coverage for mental health and substance abuse care. With “repeal and replace” off the table for now, the ACA will continue to extend parity protections to greater numbers of individuals and ensure coverage for behavioral health services as one of its designated essential health benefits.
Along with these protections has come society's growing acknowledgment of the inextricable link between the mental and physical components of illness, and the need to treat patients holistically to most positively impact overall health and well-being.
Today's behavioral health clinicians are increasingly recognized as skilled team members who are critical to the front lines of primary care, providing much-needed diagnosis and intervention, preventing further illness and disease, and helping maintain the long-term health of patients.
Indeed, training health professionals to work on cross-disciplinary teams is a key objective of the growing emphasis on interprofessional education. IPE provides the knowledge, learning experiences and skill development that are essential for delivering the comprehensive care that patients need and now expect.
However, a staggering shortage within the behavioral health workforce looms large. In his article Seeking solutions for behavioral healthcare shortage, (Jan. 9, p. 18) Modern Healthcare reporter Steven Ross Johnson portends a very real and tenuous future scenario: 70,000 additional providers will be needed by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand. What's more, it's estimated that over half of today's behavioral health providers are age 55 or older and will soon retire.