The State of the Behavioral Health Workforce: A Literature Review

In 2015, the American Hospital Association (AHA) reaffirmed its commitment to improving access to, and coverage and quality of behavioral health care by providing hospitals best practices and tools to assist them in navigating the changing behavioral health care system and understanding national, state and local activities affecting them.

There are many factors driving this need for change. One of the most significant is the aging U.S. population—which is growing at a rate that is unprecedented in modern history. For example, by 2030, analysts predict that, if no workforce changes are made and other trends continue, that there will be only one geriatric psychiatrist for every 6,000 older Americans with mental illness and substance abuse issues.Furthermore, the U.S. Bureau of Health Professions estimates that, in 2020, 12,624 child and adolescent psychiatrists will be needed, far exceeding the projected supply of 8,312.

Four key focus areas that affect workforce planning and development were identified during this review.

They are:

  • Education and training
  • Practice environment
  • Financing
  • Recruitment and retention

It is evident that the workforce challenges within behavioral health care are significant, and that they touch on many of the challenges that face the evolution of the way behavioral health is and will be administered, financed and provided in the near future.

The literature review and findings described in this paper are designed to be a first step in an evolving process of developing a better understanding of, as well as tools and resources for, the behavioral health workforce in the context of the care continuum.

Population: Everyone

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Date: 2021