There is a national shortage of mental health professionals, and it's being felt locally.
Southeastern North Carolina is seeing a shortage of all mental health providers. But the shortfall is particularly acute among psychiatrists, mental health providers who are medical doctors and can prescribe medicine.
Nationwide, the number of psychiatrists fell 10 percent from 2003 to 2013, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health, even with the opioid crisis unfolding and suicide rates on the rise.
One challenge is getting medical students to choose psychiatry, a field that pays less than other medical specialties — it's near the bottom — while often taking an emotional toll on its practitioners.
Providers ... that receive public funding and take Medicaid patients must be on edge in these budget-cutting days, hoping the government will come through with the resources they need to serve patients.
Allowing mental health problems to go untreated is an individual tragedy, but it's also a risk for the larger population.
Letting jails and emergency rooms become the default treatment centers is a costly and unsatisfactory approach. Letting folks with addictions and unresolved issues roam the streets without help or prescribed medication puts us all at risk. It's not only compassionate to help the mentally ill, it's safer for everybody.
Some very serious mental health problems can be successfully managed with medications, but that requires ongoing medical oversight.
... Next time you encounter someone working in the mental health field, thank them. It's difficult, important work — and too often misunderstood and thankless.
REPRINTED FROM THE JACKSONVILLE DAILY NEWS