Nationwide Shortage of Mental Health Professionals Especially Severe in the IE

Feb 28, 2018

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A new report from the University of California, San Francisco says California is experiencing a statewide shortage of mental health professionals -- and the problem is especially bad in the Inland Empire. KVCR's Benjamin Purper has the story. 

Researchers at UC San Francisco’s Healthforce Center found that the Inland Empire and San Joaquin Valley have the lowest ratio of mental health professionals to population in California. That means there aren’t enough Marriage and Family Therapists, Social Workers, Psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals in these areas.

I talked to Dr. Janet Coffman, an associate professor of health policy at UCSF, and one of the report’s authors.

Coffman: What we found is that California is projected to have a pretty substantial shortage of behavioral health professionals between now and 2028. Particularly among psychiatrists and psychologists, because large numbers of them are reaching retirement age within the next decade and the pipeline of newly trained psychiatrists and psychologists isn't large enough to replace them.

She says one reason the shortage is particularly bad in the Inland Empire is that the region has a relatively lower income than surrounding areas like Los Angeles and Orange County.

Coffman: It's also been a part of the state that's been growing pretty rapidly, and so I think in all your areas of health there's a struggle to catch up.

Coffman says another issue with mental healthcare in California is the lack of diversity and representation of underserved communities among healthcare professionals. And that problem is even more severe in the Inland Empire, which has high immigrant and minority populations. If a patient feels like they can’t relate with their doctor due to differences in language or culture, that person’s going to have a hard time getting the treatment they need.

Coffman: Some people don't speak English well, and in other cases even when people speak English, it may be they're just fine in most of their routine activities of daily living but when it comes to talking about their mental health, their feelings, they may not have the words in English or they may just conceptualize things a little bit differently because of their cultural background. And so having someone else who understands that can be very important.

Coffman says one way to address this shortage is by encouraging young people who want to become mental health professionals to stay in the Inland Empire through things like scholarships and loan forgiveness. Another is increasing diversity and representation in the field, so that minority groups feel represented.

Unless we start investing in mental healthcare and taking some of these measures to increase access, Coffman says, this shortage is only going to get worse.