Shortage of mental health professionals persists as need grows

PITTSBORO, N.C. (WTVD) — When the school year started, Dr. Karen Barbee knew she was going to be busy.

Barbee operates Renaissance Wellness Services, which primarily provides mental health services in public schools.

“I remember warning my staff at the beginning of the school year in August that we were going to see an increase in services, but I don’t think any of us were prepared for the number of referrals or the demand that actually showed up,” Barbee said.

Her business went from getting 10 referrals from students a week to 10 a day.

“We were kind of sitting there like, ‘Oh my gosh, what do we do? This one school system has already referred 10 kids and it’s not even lunchtime on Monday morning,'” Barbee said.

The need she saw echoed across the nation as students returned to the classroom in fall 2021.

Emergency room visits for mental health among children increased early in the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported mental-health related visits for children from 5-11 years old increased by 24% and by 31% for kids 12-17 years old.

It’s not just children.

Mental Health America’s 2022 ‘State of Mental Health in America’ report found nearly one in five adults experienced a mental illness and the percentage with unmet need for treatment has increased year over year for the past decade.

As need rises across the nation, many North Carolina providers and communities struggle to keep up.

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Categories: NC, News, Top Stories, US