State of Mind: Psychiatrist shortage affects access to mental healthcare

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Parents in search of mental health can wait weeks to months for an appointment with a psychiatrist. (WWMT/Matt Loughrin)

Studies show in Michigan about 330,000 people live with a serious mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and nearly 60% don't receive treatment because help can be hard to find.

Like most of the country, Michigan is in desperate need of more psychiatrists - especially for children.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, the state had just 239 psychiatrists trained to treat children in 2017, which is 11 psychiatrists for every 100,000 children across the state.

Parents in search of mental health can wait weeks to months for an appointment with a psychiatrist.

"It's projected by 2030, Michigan will be one of the top three states with the most pronounced shortage of psychiatrists and child and adolescent psychiatrists as well," said Dr. Michael Redinger, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Chief of the Program in Medical Ethics, Humanities and Law at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine.

Redinger said getting access to help depends on where you live. The majority of counties in Michigan don't have a single psychiatrist to help kids and teens.

According to a 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan needs 890 psychiatrists, including 100 child psychiatrists by 2030.

A 2017 study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry showed 52 of Michigan's 83 counties don't have a single child or adolescent psychiatrist.

"If your child had a significant heart condition you wouldn't want to wait a month or three months to see a specialist in that area, you'd want to intervene earlier on and it's the same thing with mental health," Redinger said.

Redinger said all too often it falls on the physicians and pediatricians to treat children and teen's mental health needs.

Studies show more than 100,000 kids live with depression, anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, statewide.

Mental health experts say untreated mental health needs early in life can lead to serious, even life-threatening consequences.

"That can lead to unintentional harm or risk to the patients. Either they're being misdiagnosed or mistreated or inadequately treated because that expertise isn't available," Redinger said.

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