REVEALED: The state where you’ll be waiting two months for therapy – even if it’s just over Zoom, according to study
Some Americans are waiting up to two and a half months for essential mental health care — including appointments that are over video calls, a new study has revealed.
Access varies greatly by state, with wait times ranging from as little as five days to as much as three months.
In Maine, patients with conditions such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder wait up to 10 weeks for an initial appointment.
Meanwhile in North Carolina, the majority of people wait just four days before speaking to a professional.
Even more worryingly, one in five services researchers contacted were unreachable – meaning patients would struggle to even inquire about help.
Policy analysts at the think tank Rand Corporation surveyed nearly 2,000 mental health clinics across the U.S. between December 2022 and March 2023 to determine how long a person in each state would typically have to wait for virtual or phone call appointments.
Southern states had the shortest average wait times for virtual mental health care, taking less than two weeks to get an appointment.
Coastal states, meanwhile, had longer wait times overall, with people in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine waiting six weeks or longer.
The researchers behind the report said higher wait times in certain states may be linked to shortages of qualified mental health providers, policies governing telehealth, and disparate access to high-speed broadband Internet.
Telehealth has become an integral part of the healthcare landscape in recent years, thanks to the global pandemic, which has forced millions of people to move to online platforms for doctor visits.
Spending on telehealth services increased massively from 2019 to 2020, from $306 million to nearly $3.7 billion.
Jonathan Cantor, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at thinktank RAND, said: We sought to replicate the experience of a typical client seeking specialty care from a mental health treatment facility in the US.
‘The fact that we were unable to reach anyone at one in five facilities suggests that many people may have difficulty reaching a clinic to inquire about mental health care.’
It comes as the US’s mental health crisis worsens.
Depression and anxiety among young people have doubled as the COVID-19 pandemic has continued, and overall suicide rates have risen by about 30 percent since 2000.
About one-third of adults in the United States currently experience symptoms of either depression or anxiety, marking a threefold increase compared to the prevalence in 2019.
The US is in the midst of a mental health crisis, with three times as many adults suffering from anxiety or depression compared to 2019
North Carolina had the shortest wait time for a teledoc appointment at just four days. However, Maine had the longest wait at 75 days.
Most of the states in the South had an average wait time of two weeks or less. Florida and Georgia were the two exceptions with an average wait of more than two to three weeks, while data for Louisiana and South Carolina were not available.
Residents of Missouri, New York and West Virginia must wait between three to four weeks. Residents of Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon and Connecticut must wait four to six weeks.
And in addition to Maine, residents of New Jersey and Massachusetts must wait more than six weeks for a teledoc appointment.
Fewer than five clinics were surveyed in several states in the Midwest, so no data were given.
Rural areas have seen a proliferation of telehealth services to cope with a shortage of providers, as most new practitioners gravitate straight out of school to urban centers where pay is likely to be better.
Telehealth eliminates the need for patients to travel, and provides a more accessible way for timely communication with their healthcare providers.
Southern states also have lower population densities than their neighbors north of the Mason-Dixon line, meaning fewer people overall seek mental health care via telehealth.
What’s more, private facilities were nearly twice as likely to offer telehealth services compared to those receiving government funding to cater to people enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid.
Dr Cantor said: ‘Understanding the availability of telehealth is important for informing policies that maximize the potential benefits of telehealth for mental health care.’