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As demand rises for mental health care, staffing falls short

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Posted at 2:44 PM, May 24, 2023

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — By all projections, a shortage of staff in social work and mental health had already loomed before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the pandemic, however, those issues haven’t changed, and the demand has exploded.

Bella Levitt is a second-year graduate student at Oakland University, just north of Detroit.

“My last internship was out of a high school," she said, "and even with the high schoolers, there were so many people on me and my supervisors’ caseload that we couldn't give everyone the adequate care that we wish we could have.”

A survey by the American Psychological Association showed 79% of those working in the field reported an increase in patients with anxiety. Sixty-six percent reported an increase in patients with depression. But just as instructive was what they said about themselves. Nearly half said, “I have not been able to meet the demand for treatment from my patients.” Almost as many said, “I feel burned out.”

Brent Wirth is the CEO of Easterseals MORC, which offers mental health services.

“Fifteen years ago, all we talked about was how we best can support individuals," he said. "Now, the same conversation is, 'How best do we support our own team members?' They don’t want to just change lives. They want to save lives. And so, when they’re seeing so many different people, and their caseloads are 30% too high, that takes a toll on their own mental health.”

Easterseals MORC and Oakland University recently announced a partnership. They will offer paid internships for OU students at Easterseals MORC, in addition to 10 full scholarships for OU grad students.

“Many students will kind of get that real-world exposure and experience," said Maria Beam, who runs the social work program at OU.

“We're going to get people excited and want to work in this field," Wirth added. "And if they want to commit to us, we're committing to them."

The collaboration might add a few more names to the social work roles. Similar plans in Congress aim to fund hundreds of residencies for new psychiatrists each year.

“One of my professors asked me, 'What do you really want to do?'" Levitt said. "And all I could say was that I wanted to help people. To me, people who reach out for social work services often just need somebody to listen.”