This past week has been a difficult time as our entire nation grieves yet another school shooting. Putting aside any political views or finger pointing, I have to ask; are mental health services readily available and accessible enough?
Many health organizations call on my company to assess the patient experience as it relates to appointment access. By making mystery shopping calls to various clinics within their systems or on their provider panels, we help to assess the patient experience with access. Not only do we document the number of days or weeks that a patient must wait to be seen, we also assess the patient’s perception of the wait time.
The question is; what is a reasonable wait time when a person is reaching out for help with depression or anxiety? What about the parent who is struggling with a teen engaging in self-harm? It’s not unusual so see wait times between 4-8 weeks. A lot can happen in 4-8 weeks when a person is suffering from mental health issues. In many situations, there is short window of opportunity when people are willing to reach out for help. If they don’t get the help they need during that time, the situation can escalate.
So what should we do?
Emergency rooms are not the answer either. They are not equipped to handle many mental health issues and it isn’t a long term solution.
In many communities long wait times for mental health services isn’t due to a shortage of providers. It’s due to a limited number of providers covered on the insurance panels. We have to take a closer look at how we have normalized long wait times for appointments with mental health providers and ask ourselves who is benefiting. Then, we have to continue to de-stigmatize mental health so that more people seek and receive timely care.