America’s mental healthcare system is in disarray. The demand for resources far outpaces the availability of the limited help American practitioners can offer. Young people are suffering from depression at greater rates than ever, a majority of whom are not receiving treatment for their illness. Securing access to mental health professionals is often difficult. In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the United States only had 156,300 mental health counselors, leaving almost 90 million Americans in federally designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas.
With approximately 353,000 clergy serving their communities in the United States, they dedicate roughly 10-20% of their work week to counseling individuals suffering from emotional or marital problems. This amounts to roughly 138 million hours of mental health services per year; services provided at little to no cost to those who seek them.
With at least 1 in 5 Americans suffering from mental illness, America’s congregations are stepping in to fill yet another gap society has left open. Local congregations frequently provide counseling and other mental health and social services to both their members and their communities at large. With approximately 353,000 clergy serving their communities in the United States, they dedicate roughly 10-20% of their work week to counseling individuals suffering from emotional or marital problems. This amounts to roughly 138 million hours of mental health services per year; services provided at little to no cost to those who seek them. This staggering amount of work is provided by chaplains, pastoral counselors, Catholic Sisters, Brothers, and clergy from Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim traditions. These dedicated servants reach Americans from all walks of life, who are able to receive help that is too often difficult to find, but is offered when they look to their religious communities for guidance.
Both the House and Senate have dedicated resources to exploring and investigating the country’s mental health system and its current deficiencies. Lead by the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee in the Senate and the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House, members have explored increasing access to mental health care services in rural areas, addressing the current mental health care provider shortage and streamlining the current patchwork of services available. Competing bills in both chambers have been introduced with varying avenues for addressing reforms. Although differences are still being worked out, leaders on both committees have committed to reforming the federal mental health system to better address the growing and complex need to services in this country.