A growing number of New Jersey residents are seeking treatment for mental health issues.

Unfortunately, there’s already a shortage of psychiatrists in the Garden State, and experts say the problem is getting worse

“The demand for mental health services has been growing exponentially, and the lack of psychiatrists is also growing,” said Debra Wentz, president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies.

She said there are many reasons for this, including the fact that “much of the current psychiatric workforce is aging out, there were many baby boomers.”

At the same time, Wentz pointed out in New Jersey “nearly 1 in 5 adults have a diagnosable mental disorder and the condition is serious enough to affect their ability to function every day.

In 2015 the Association of American Medical Colleges did a study and concluded the shortage of psychiatrists in New Jersey and nationwide will continue to get worse.

She said while the shortage of psychiatrists for adults is bad, it’s even worse for children and adolescents.

“The shortage is most severe in New Jersey in Warren, Cumberland, Salem and Cape May counties,” said Wentz.

She noted there are also shortages of mental health professionals for children in many northern counties as well.

Another reason for the psychiatrist shortage is better coverage.

“The Affordable Care Act expanded eligibility and coverage for treating mental illness and addiction. This was very positive but we just don’t have the workforce to meet that need,” she said.

To help attract more psychiatrists, Wentz said one recommendation is to reimburse providers more for the use of tele-psychiatry, where the doctor and their patient are hooked up via a video connection in real-time.

Another recommendation is to forgive student loans for those who become psychiatrists, especially in more rural areas where the shortage is worst.

She noted because of this shortage people must book way in advance for psychiatric services, and one study found “appointment wait times were two months for 25 percent” of patients.

Wentz noted on the positive side of things, we’ve made a lot of headway in fighting stigma and discrimination, but “as more people feel comfortable seeking treatment, and they should, there’s also more of a demand on a limited industry.”

She said it is going to take time to develop more psychiatrists but the bottom line is “we need psychiatrists in order to fulfill the need for those who have serious mental illnesses.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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