Thursday, April 26, 2018

Low pay for mental health professionals in rural areas contributes to opioid epidemic, Ball State study finds

Though the opioid epidemic hits both rural and urban areas, low pay for mental health professionals exacerbates the problem in rural areas. Agencies and governmental programs don't or can't pay rural mental health professionals the competitive wages usually offered in larger communities, or offer professional development opportunities. That results in a severe shortage in rural areas, according to a report from Ball State University presented at the Annual Society for Public Health Education Conference this month.

Some background info: The researchers interviewed 100 practicing mental health professionals in rural Indiana in late 2017. Indiana has one of the lowest ratios in the nation of mental health care providers to total population (one full time provider for every 750 citizens), serving less than 25 percent of the nearly quarter of a million individuals living with a serious mental illness in the state. The state also has a consistently higher than the national average percentage of people reporting living with mental illness.

So mental health professionals in rural Indiana are stretched thin: 95 percent surveyed said they can't meet mental health needs in their communities, and 90 percent said it was difficult to hire and keep qualified professionals. Most of the respondents also said that mental health issues in their rural communities aren't well researched, that the number of mentally ill people in their area hasn't been accurately assessed, and that local health departments aren't adequately involved in providing mental health care services. The average mental health professional sees nine clients per day and most of them pay with Medicaid; many of the patients have to travel more than 25 miles to access mental health care. And many mental health professionals reported that drug abuse is a high need area, with more than one-third saying it's the biggest concern in their community.

Respondents said they wanted more funding for public mental health systems and outreach, statewide reform for private and government-sponsored mental health care, and better recruitment, retention and training practices.

No comments: