America’s mental health needs have climbed dramatically since 2019, with 43% of adults stating that they suffer from anxiety or depression. Unfortunately, there is an alarming shortage of support for individuals and families in need of counseling. During a time when we need human connection the most, online support groups may be a helpful option.
According to the National Council of Behavioral Health, 77% of counties across the US have severe shortages of behavioral health professionals across several specialties. In some large cities, like Chicago, individuals in need of counseling may have to wait up to a year before connecting with a specialist. One study found that only 17% of more than 900 calls to mental health counselors were placed successfully. By 2025, there will be a shortage of more than 15,000 behavioral health practitioners in the US.
There are many additional barriers to obtaining help that Americans face, including financial, geographic, and economic barriers. Forty-two percent of the population saw poor insurance coverage and high costs as the top barrier to seeking treatment, while one in every four Americans stated that they would have to choose between getting help and paying for daily necessities.
Others have cited limited options and long waits are their biggest barrier. 38% of Americans have had to wait longer than a week for mental health treatment. More than half have either had to or know of someone who had to drive more than an hour both ways to look for treatment.
Working from home and becoming more isolated has also contributed to the crisis, as many Americans lost the support of friends and coworkers. More than 60% of individuals surveyed report feeling lonely. Simply being able to talk about your problems can reduce stress and emotional distress, which is why changing societal patterns can have a significant impact on our well-being.
The impact of a lack of access to mental health support
The consequences of not being able to access mental health support are dire, both for individuals and society at large. The lack of access to support has been named the number one reason for the current mental health crisis in America and has been tied to looming societal issues, including unnecessary disability, unemployment, homelessness, poor quality of life, and substance abuse.
It’s no less than a tragedy, considering the fact that conditions like depression and anxiety can be highly effectively managed and treated with the right psychological and psychosocial support in place.
A study by Lieberman, Vago, and Silbersweig found that simply verbalizing emotional pain reduces activation in the amygdala, the part of the brain that triggers the fight-or-flight reaction and stress hormones in our bodies. Giving words to problems moves us away from limbic activity and activates the part of the brain that deals with language and meaning, helping us become far less reactive in stressful situations. Being able to access talk therapy or emotional support from others can go a long way to alleviating anxiety and depression, resources that are sadly out of reach for many Americans today.
Where to find help
Online support services can bridge the gap caused by the shortage of therapists in the US. These groups not only offer an opportunity to speak to someone quickly but can also reduce out-of-pocket costs.
Online emotional support platforms provide a vehicle of support for people who are in distress by linking them to others with similar struggles, improving access and support delivery for thousands, including those who do not want to or are unable to find face-to-face support. It can also greatly reduce the sense of isolation and invalidation that many of us may feel due to changing work structures or geographic limitations.
Speaking to a group that has the same worries, feelings, problems, and treatment decisions that you might face can reduce feelings of judgment, distress, fatigue, and depression and give you the encouragement you need to talk honestly about your feelings in a safe setting.
One platform that is rapidly gaining traction is Circles, a revolutionary emotional support platform that connects people to others in their lives that are going through the same issues, such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, work stress, or parenting issues. Individuals are connecting to a private, safe group led by both professional facilitators and community peers who have the same lived experience. They can even remain anonymous if they prefer, as the conversations are voice-based.
Groups can drop-in in to “rooms” according to their topic of interest, and can join live conversations anytime, from anywhere. The app also consists of personalized content, self-help exercises, and special events designed to improve emotional health and well-being at no extra cost.
Circles can effectively provide the psychosocial and emotional support that individuals need without the usual barriers of distance, time, cost, and even the stigmas that prevent them from seeking help.
The shortage of therapists in the US has had a devastating impact on the lives and well-being of millions of Americans, but there is hope. Technology has made mental health far more accessible, even in the midst of this looming crisis. Visit Circlesup.com for more information, or download the app today to get started.