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How Physicians Can Help Ease Mental Health Provider Shortages

Jacqueline Fellows, for HealthLeaders Media, April 17, 2014

Services for behavioral health in North Carolina mirror shortages that are found in the rest of the country. According to the federal government's last count in 2013, thirty-six of the state's 100 counties are designated as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA), and another report estimates 28 counties are without a psychiatrist.

Martha Whitecotton, senior vice president for Behavioral Health at CHS says the organization is providing a behavioral health team to its primary care practices for a couple of reasons. One is that patients are less likely to feel the societal stigma of mental illness in their primary care doctor's office.

Equipping Physicians
Another important, and potentially overlooked reason, is that while primary care doctors often prescribe medications addressing common behavioral health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, physicians are not adequately supported to initiate a conversation about mental healthcare and/or follow up with those patients.

"When a patient does speak up to their primary care doctor, if intervention doesn't happen, no one knows it doesn't happen," Whitecotton told me.

And if there is no intervention, the likelihood of a crisis with that patient increases. Those crises can be scary for the patient, their families, and the public.

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