Pandemic highlights shortfalls of North Carolina’s infrastructure for addressing mental health needs

Coronavirus

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) – The pandemic brought with it a list of issues, including what some refer to as a “mental health tsunami.”

“Well, we know in North Carolina, we have not adequately funded the infrastructure for mental health for years. And it has been a weak spot,” said Dr. Samantha Meltzer-Brody, chair of UNC’s Department of Psychiatry and director of the UNC Center for Women’s Mood Disorders.

“Suddenly, if the prevalence of anxiety and depression goes up three to four times, that’s going to stress a system that was already overwhelmed. There are simply not enough resources for mental health in the state of North Carolina,” Meltzer-Brody said.

As COVID-19 infections have gone down, mental health issues have actually gone up.

“There’s not enough clinicians available. There’s not enough psychiatrists. There’s not enough other behavioral health clinicians available. In addition, there’s not enough psychiatric beds to serve the needs, particularly, of our children and youth across the state,” Meltzer-Brody said.

North Carolina consistently ranks in the bottom 10 nationally when it comes to access to mental health care for children and adolescents.

Hospitals and medical providers across the state are all facing the same dilemma.

“That causes backlog in emergency departments that stresses very much the outpatient primary care providers, and it’s a terrible thing for the patients and the families that are suffering,” Meltzer-Brody said.

She added that while funding is needed to address the critical need to build infrastructure, there are proactive steps being taken.

“We have multiple new partnerships with community and philanthropy partners to expand the reach of telepsychiatry delivered by UNC psychiatrists and other clinicians across the state to areas that don’t have access to mental health specialists,” she said.

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