A Crisis for Patients of All Ages

 In Nurses Weekly

The pandemic has escalated the need for increased access to mental health care among patients of all ages. And mental health nurses are among the providers who are feeling the pressure.

In 2020 U.S. hospitals experienced a 24% increase in emergency department (ED) visits among children ages five to 11 years for mental health reasons compared to 2019. Mental health visits to U.S. EDs rose 31% from year to year among teens, according to the Children’s Hospital Association. The Children’s Hospital Association also notes that hospital admissions and ED visits for suicide attempts doubled from 2008 to 2015.

Adults in the general population also report mental health issues related to high stress. The American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America: A National Health Crisis” report suggests 78% of adults reported that their stress and stress responses such as disturbed sleep and anxiety had increased due to the COVID crisis.

America is ill-prepared to respond to the population’s mental health needs, due to severe shortages in the behavioral health workforce, according to the American Hospital Association.

“More than 100 million Americans live in areas that have shortages of psychiatrists…. For hospitals and health systems, the pandemic exacerbated existing behavioral health challenges, with many hospitals forced to decrease the size of their behavioral health workforce due to budgetary pressures,” according to the American Hospital Association.

Add to that the number of state-funded psychiatric beds per capita has declined by 97% between 1955 and 2016, which has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of ED visits for behavioral health care services, according to the American Hospital Association.

The American Hospital Association’s letter makes recommendations for strengthening the mental health workforce, which includes addressing reimbursement issues and strategies to reduce burnout. Also recommended is bolstering student loan forgiveness programs to support training for behavioral health professionals at all levels and promoting efforts to reduce variability of scope-of-practice laws and support further changes.

“The [American Hospital Association] supports streamlining licensing and credentialing for federal programs and promoting interstate licensure compact agreements for physicians and allied health professionals,” according to the letter.


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