The attention on mental health continues to grow, but data for Michigan shows that the State is lacking in several aspects. First off, Michigan only has five inpatient, state operated psychiatric hospitals. Furthermore, access to mental health care is lacking for many in the state. While each Michigan county has a Community Mental Health authority, board or facility the number of individuals who could benefit from their help outnumber the amount of time and programs offered through these organizations. Of course there are also private mental health care providers to assist with mental health disorders, but as research shows that availability is also lacking.
According to Kaiser Family Foundation, there are 235 Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Areas in Michigan, ranking it third in the nation with the highest number of such shortage areas. To move out of such a shortage area rank and designation the state needs a 23.5 percent increase in psychiatric help. The percent of need met is computed by dividing the number of psychiatrists available to serve the population of the area, group, or facility by the number of psychiatrists that would be necessary to eliminate the Mental Health Care Professional Shortage Area (based on a ratio of 30,000 to 1). More plainly speaking, 207 practitioners are needed to remove that designation; this is the number of additional psychiatrists needed to achieve a population-to-psychiatrist ratio of 30,000 to 1.
Such a shortage can lead to individuals utilizing their primary care physicians as their mental health doctor, or not seeing one at all. According to the “Understanding the expanding role of primary care physicians (PCPs) to primary psychiatric care physicians (PPCPs)” study, a third of primary care physicians’ patients are mental health patients. Furthermore, according to research from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, the number of primary care physicians accessible to residents varies greatly by county in Michigan. Regionally, Washtenaw County had the highest rate of primary care physicians accessible to residents at 167 per 100,000 in 2015; Oakland County was the only other county in Southeastern Michigan with a rate above 100 at 150. Livingston County had the lowest rate of accessible primary care physicians at 46 per 100,000 residents.
While there is clearly a shortage in the number of psychiatrists needed to assist those with mental disorders there are other barriers as well. For example, access to health care also plays a role in the help an individual can receive. According to 2019 Census data, 6.4 percent of Wayne County residents had no health care coverage; the highest in the region. Monroe County had the lowest percentage of residents in the region without access to healthcare coverage at 4.1 percent.
Access to mental health programs and trained professionals can be life or death for some. This is why we not only need additional funding for mental health care in Michigan, and the country, but also a revamped look at mental health in general. Those with untreated, and even treated, mental health disorders can end up in the criminal justice system, living on the streets or in homeless shelters, suffering from substance use disorders or experiencing other day-to-day life difficulties due to lack of consistent access to care. An overhaul in the system is needed, and to further prove this point we will dig further into some of the worst case scenarios lack of access to mental health care can lead to.