The chances of you or someone you know being impacted by mental health challenges are very high. According to Mental Health America, 18% of adults in the United States have a mental health condition. That’s one out of five people--or over 43 million Americans. In addition, nearly half are also struggling with substance abuse. However, about 9 million people report having an unmet need. In California specifically, over 65% of people struggling with a mental health challenge are not getting the resources they need. Part of the issue is that there aren’t enough behavioral health professionals (i.e., psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, counselors, marriage and family therapists, and advanced practice nurses specializing in mental health care). Even in Massachusetts, ranked #1 for best population to mental health service provider ratio, there are 189 people per mental health service provider. In California, it’s 320 people per service provider. In Alabama, the last-ranked state, the ratio is 1,180 individuals to one provider. Often, even if mental health service providers are available, there are still major barriers to getting help--such as not having adequate insurance, having to travel a great distance for care, or not having access to culturally appropriate services.
There are several different ways to get involved in helping to promote awareness about mental health, prevent mental disorders and suicides, and reduce mental health inequalities. You can join advocacy groups or organizations that focus on mental health challenges, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), volunteer as peer support if you or a loved one has struggled, or pursue a career in behavioral health. However, with so many options and so much information, it can seem intimidating to even know where to start. You can check out websites such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Active Minds, or the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for more information.
If you’re a high school senior or a community college student and want to pursue a career in behavioral health, you can apply to the Loma Linda University Mental Health Pipeline Program. This program is a two-week, full-time program that features shadowing of mental health experts in the field, seminars on various mental health topics, activities that strengthen skills that are critical for a successful career in mental health, and working with mentors.