Mental health workers are overburdened as the nation faces an opioid epidemic and COVID-19.
As coronavirus cases die down, the opioid epidemic is far from being over. The pandemic caused a spike in substance use as people all over the world turned to opioids and other addictive drugs to cope with uncertainty and grief brought on by the passing of loved one. Those who do not have healthier coping mechanisms in place turned to the only solution they know while others picked up for the first time. And because there is such as insatiable demand for opioids, illicit manufactures and dealer have taken full advantage of users’ vulnerabilities by introducing even stronger drugs into the market. Reports of fentanyl use have skyrocketed and now there are even stronger variations being sold on the streets. Lawmakers and advocates believe the number of overdose deaths will continue to rise, and are hoping to increase the mental health workforce to address the issue.
Other secondary effects brought on by the pandemic, including compromised mental health, will continue to be a problem for many years. And mental health workers are overburdened. Once able to effectively manage their caseloads, they’ve witnessed these loads double and even triple in a little to no time. They’re struggling to keep up with service demands, wondering if their plight will continue to be unnoticed by higher ups and state representatives.
Well, Illinois has taken notice and the state recently issued a law designed to boost the mental healthcare workforce. Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) signed the legislation, which took effect this month. The new law seeks to attract psychologists, social workers, and counselors who have left the workforce within the past 5 years by temporarily ending relicensing requirements, including the need for continuing education credits, passing exams, and fees associated with licensure. It also makes the process for obtaining licensure in Illinois easier for clinicians practicing in other states.
State legislators said, “There is currently a crushing need for mental health providers,” and they surmise that there are only “14 behavioral healthcare professionals for every 10,000 Illinois residents.”
“We need a mental healthcare workforce that is robust enough to get people help when they need it – not after months on a waiting list,” Pritzker said. “This legislation invests in mental health infrastructure, and that infrastructure is people. “
“Being told you have to wait weeks or months for care is extremely discouraging,” added State Senator Laura Fine (D) who was a lead sponsor for the new law. “We need to support people struggling with mental and behavioral health issues, as well as address difficulties our mental health providers are facing trying to see as many patients as possible.”
Marvin Lindsey, CEO of the Community Behavioral Healthcare Association, explained that the law is designed to “accelerate the process for out-of-state professionals to obtain their Illinois licensure and by increasing the pipeline and diversity of the behavioral health workforce by implementing a funding mechanism that supports new or existing licensure training of interns.”
The legislation establishes a grant system for community mental health facilities. The system would provide funding to create or improve training and supervision of interns and behavioral health providers. It would also establish tax credits for employers who hire those in recovery from a substance use disorder or a behavioral disorder. In these ways, Illinois is hoping that all practitioners will join together in a united front to help combat mental illness and the growing need for care.