America's mental health care professionals are drowning in patients as we enter Pandemic Year 3. Just as the nation's hospitals are overrun with COVID patients, social workers, counselors, clinical psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists are overloaded to the point of turning people who truly need help away.
As Americans head into a third year of pandemic living, therapists around the country are finding themselves on the front lines of a mental health crisis. Social workers, psychologists and counselors from every state say they can’t keep up with an unrelenting demand for their services, and many must turn away patients — including children — who are desperate for support.
“All the therapists I know have experienced a demand for therapy that is like nothing they have experienced before,” said Tom Lachiusa, a licensed clinical social worker in Longmeadow, Mass. “Every available time slot I can offer is filled.”
The New York Times asked 1,320 mental health professionals to tell us how their patients were coping as pandemic restrictions eased. General anxiety and depression are the most common reasons patients seek support, but family and relationship issues also dominate therapy conversations. One in four providers said suicidal thoughts were among the top reasons clients were seeking therapy.
“I regularly wished aloud for a mental health version of Dr. Fauci to give daily briefings,” said Lakeasha Sullivan, a clinical psychologist in Atlanta. “I tried to normalize the wide range of intense emotions people felt; some thought they were truly going crazy.”
The responses to our survey, sent by Psychology Today to its professional members, offer insights into what frontline mental health workers around the country are hearing from their clients. We heard from mental health providers in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. (You can learn more about how we conducted our survey at the end of this article.)
While there were moments of optimism about telemedicine and reduced stigma around therapy, the responses painted a mostly grim picture of a growing crisis, which several therapists described as a “second pandemic” of mental health problems.
“There is so much grief and loss,” said Anne Compagna-Doll, a clinical psychologist in Burbank, Calif. “One of my clients, who is usually patient, is experiencing road rage. Another client, who is a mom of two teens, is fearful and doesn’t want them to leave the house. My highly work-motivated client is considering leaving her career. There is an overwhelming sense of malaise and fatigue.”
The mental health effects of a multi-year pandemic are just starting to be understood, and it's going to take years, if not decades, to treat the country's serious emotional issues.
We're burned out, folks. We need help.
Help is in short supply. Take some time out of your day to be nice to yourself and to others. We all need to pitch in.