Behavioral Health: The Real Cost of an Unfilled Position

If you think you’ve broken your leg, everyone, including yourself (hopefully), would agree that you should go straight to the emergency room to get help, and there would be zero amounts of shame associated with seeking out that kind of help. The same applies for any issues related to your arms, hands, feet, legs, skin, or anything else attached to your body. However, seeking or being open about needing help for anxiety, depression, psychosis, or any symptoms that stem from the brain has long been met with undue shame within the person experiencing those symptoms or perceived shame from others. Thankfully, though, things seem to be changing, and the puzzling, harmful dichotomy between physical and mental health in the United States shows serious signs of dissolving. 

A variety of factors have lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people in the U.S. seeking treatment for all matters of issues related to their mental health. As unfair stigmas surrounding mental health treatment steadily break down, people have begun to treat their mental health, much like their physical health. As we mentioned in a previous blog, demand for Board Certified Behavior Analysts alone between 2010 and 2017 grew by an incredible 800% nationwide.

While this trend is indicative of something overwhelmingly positive for the health of the overall population, there remain still significant barriers with the potential to stymie the rate of progress. Unfortunately, hospital systems around the country are woefully understaffed to meet this surging demand for behavioral health services. Two-thirds of primary care physicians report difficulty referring patients for mental health care, twice the number for any other specialty. Furthermore, the number of patients going to emergency departments seeking psychiatric services over a recent three-year period increased by 42%, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health. 

Revenue Loss

The systemic and chronic staffing shortages can carry heavy financial losses for many organizations across the country. In 2016 alone, the mental health and substance abuse industry in the United States had a combined annual revenue of over $50 billion with 14,000 facilities nationwide, and the global behavioral health market size is expected to balloon to $240 billion by just 2026. However, this expected growth running headlong into a severe talent shortage—the Health Resources and Services Administration predicts that the United States will have to generate approximately 250,000 additional behavioral health professions to properly meet demand by 2025. Having open positions remain unfilled can potentially cost a facility thousands of dollars daily in lost revenue.