Investing in the Future
of Health Systems

Siloed systems, stigma and discrimination, and dramatic underinvestment have left Americans with a health system workforce far too small and equipped with far too few tools to meet the current needs. We must ensure better systems for future generations.

Percent of US counties that do not have any practicing mental health workers


Percent of US counties that report unmet mental health needs due to lack of providers

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Solutions for Better Mental Health

Building the Workforce of the Future

Currently, there are not enough mental health providers to meet the needs of the public, not to mention a serious lack of diversity within the small workforce. “According to a 2004 study, non-Hispanic Whites accounted for 76% of all psychiatrists, 95% of psychologists, 85% of social workers, 80% of counselors, 92% of marriage and family therapists, and 90% of psychiatric nurses in marked contrast to the composition of the U.S. population, which is nearly one-third Latino, African American, Asian American, or Native American/Pacific Islander and also undergoing growth.”1Angela J. Beck, PhD, MPH; Jessica Buche, MPH, MA; Phillip M. Singer, MHSA, “Moving Toward a More Diverse Behavioral Health Workforce” University of Michigan Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center. With the growing prevalence of mental health conditions, these gaps will only widen over time.

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  • The federal government should fund a campaign to educate high school, college, and graduate students on the need for people to enter the mental health workforce, the diverse and changing opportunities it presents, and the increasing pay associated with parity and other regulatory changes.
  • The federal government should expand funding programs that build institutional capacity to offer mental health specialties, such as the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program, and include incentives in other funding sources, such as Graduate Medical Education and Graduate Nursing Education.
  • The federal government should expand programs that provide direct incentives for individuals to enter the mental health workforce, such as the National Health Service Corps or the Minority Fellowship Program.

Investing in Research for the Future

Innovations in mental health treatment have been slow, and most people receive the same treatments that have been used for decades (with a few notable exceptions). Chronic public underinvestment and weariness from private investors has caused progress to be slower than in health conditions with comparable burdens of disease.

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  • The federal government should expand mental health research funding so that it is commensurate with the burden of disease
  • The federal government should initiate a public-private partnership to communicate the opportunities for investment in mental health research and development to private investors and collaborate on ways to de-risk investments in the area.

Innovative Technologies

Waves of new technologies are being developed and tested for addressing different aspects of mental health. From wearable sensors to applications on phones to new kinds of medical devices, they attempt to improve the prevention, diagnosis, care coordination, and treatment of mental health conditions. Policy can ensure that effective technologies have a way of reaching communities – including those with the least resources. Further, the lines between standard consumer technologies and health are blurring. Many young people who report symptoms of depression are using digital tools to learn about and help address their problems before seeking therapy. Policy incentives could more systematically ensure that consumer technologies become a constructive part of prevention, screening, and recovery.

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  • CMS should delineate clear coverage pathways for the diverse new technologies being developed for mental health and should update Medicare and Medicaid statutes as necessary to create additional pathways.
  • CMS should provide guidance on how new mental health technologies intersect with existing insurance regulations, especially as the technologies develop a stronger evidence.
  • The federal government should fund public-private research collaboratives to better understand the impacts of consumer technologies on mental health and how to ensure that technologies best support mental health. The federal government should create a pot of funding to allocate awards to technology companies that ultimately adhere to what evidence-based guidelines emerge for developing technologies that most effectively promote mental health.

Tailored Policies for Unique Needs

To be effective, mental health solutions need to address individuals' range of identities based on race, ethnicity, language, gender, or gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, veteran's status, or life circumstances. We recommend meaningful policies to combat a harmful legacy of one-size-fits-all solutions.

Explore our recommended policies for focus populations

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