Stacker analyzed data from the CMS, the Census Bureau, and the CDC to rank the counties with the least access to mental health care.
The country’s mental health is taking center stage in the minds of Americans as the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic fades into the background.
In the U.S., 53% of adults said mental health was their top health concern, according to an Ipsos poll published this fall. They join residents of 30 other countries polled by Ipsos reporting similar concerns about health in their nations. That increase in concern is, in part, a result of the traumatic, isolating effects of the pandemic heightening the attention Americans pay to their own mental health, experts say.
“You have an increased awareness of the importance of it, you have an increase in people seeking it, and you now have an increased number of people realizing they’re having challenges accessing it,” Texas Counseling Association president Katherine Bacon, who holds a doctorate in counselor education, told Stacker.
It’s a challenge felt most acutely by about 30% of the U.S. population which lives in an area with a federally designated shortage of mental health providers, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
To identify areas of the country most in need of solutions for expanded mental health care access, Stacker analyzed data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Census Bureau, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to rank the counties with the least access to mental health care in the U.S.
For Alaska and Louisiana, “county” is used to denote boroughs and parishes, respectively. Counties are ranked by those that had the largest ratio of residents for every mental health care provider. This analysis includes statistics on each county’s uninsured population and the number of poor mental health days per month that residents report, though they did not factor into the ranking.
Counties in Texas make up roughly 1 in every 4 of the top 25 counties in the country with the fewest mental health care providers for the population residing there. But it’s hardly unique. Other states with large rural regions also rank poorly for access to mental health care, according to CMS data. Even in urban areas, those seeking mental health support can face difficulty finding a practitioner close enough to visit between work shifts or family responsibilities, as well as difficulty securing consistent transportation.
Access to care isn’t just a problem for a few. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans lives with a mental health condition of some sort in any given year, according to mental health advocacy nonprofit Mental Health America. Nearly half of U.S. residents will meet the criteria of having a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetimes.
Groups like Bacon’s Texas Counseling Association are advocating at the state level for measures that would expand access to mental health care resources in the wake of a pandemic that emphasized its importance for millions. The Texas association is especially interested in ways to increase the shortage of professionals in the mental health care space, which Bacon identifies as the biggest challenge for accessing care.
That begins, she said, with shoring up insurance reimbursement rates so that practitioners can expect to earn a living wage. Whether the patient is covered by private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, the insurer often doesn’t cover the full cost for b