It first occurred 64 years ago. That’s when, in 1949, the month of May was first officially designated as Mental Health Month. This year, the focus is on the mental health of young people. Some of the stats are staggering: An estimated 22.1 percent of Americans ages 18 and older-about 1 in 5 adults-suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.1 Mental disorders can also affect children. According to the National Mental Health Association (NMHA), mental health problems affect one in five young people. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find alarming national and global mental health projections like this from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA): The World Health Organization has identified mental illness as a growing cause of disability worldwide and predicts that in the future, mental illness—specifically depression—will be the the top cause of disability… In response to this trend, as part of AOTA’s Centennial Vision, we have identified mental health as a vital practice area for 21st century practice. Increasing emphasis will be placed on mental health treatment and prevention services for children, youth, the aging, and those with severe and persistent mental illness.
The point is, there is no substitute for awareness, but it must be matched by treatment availability and options and therein lies a potential problem. Here’s just one example from U.S. News & World Report in which the focus is on mental health counselors alone: In 2010, there were 120,300 mental health counselors employed, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). With psychiatrists and psychologists charging higher rates for therapy, insurance companies are directing patients toward the affordable alternative of mental health counselors. That trend will contribute to employment in the field growing by 36 percent over the next decade. By 2020, 43,600 new positions will need to be filled.
Can educators and students interested in this field keep pace? Well, there’s no doubt that health education is becoming a top priority at universities and colleges nationwide. Everyone sees the crunch coming ahead and UMass isn’t alone in this view and in the development of timely, practical program offerings. For us, at least, these also include online and blended learning options which can be especially useful for working professionals wishing to advance or change careers while working. If the need and the growth potential in a mental health occupation interests you, one place to start your search for educational options is here.