The Behavioral Health Care Workforce

Published on: June 08, 2023.

49% of Americans live in

a mental health workforce shortage area

About this infographic

The United States is facing a significant shortage of mental health professionals, with nearly half of the population living in mental health workforce shortage areas. Additionally, the behavioral health care workforce suffers from a lack of diversity. Many individuals have limited access to mental health care and the COVID-19 pandemic has further intensified the demand for these essential services.

To address these challenges, our new infographic presents various strategies to enhance the behavioral health care workforce. These include partnering with communities, expanding the paraprofessional workforce, and addressing burnout. By implementing these initiatives, we can bolster the capacity of the mental health care system and improve access to quality care for all individuals.

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Behavioral Health Provider Numbers: Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity at the George Washington University. “About the database.” March 28, 2022.

Provider Shortages & Increasing Demand
  • Workforce shortage areas: Bureau of Health Workforce, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Designated Health Professional Shortage Areas Statistics: Designated HPSA Quarterly Summary, as of April 21, 2023.
  • Projected shortages: Health Resources and Services Administration/National Center for Health Workforce Analysis; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/Office of Policy, Planning, and Innovation. 2015. National Projections of Supply and Demand for Behavioral Health Practitioners: 2013-2025. Rockville, Maryland.

  • Increased demand during the pandemic: Kiley, Jocelyn. "At least four in ten U.S. adults have faced high levels of psychological distress during COVID-19 pandemic." Pew Research Center. December 12, 2022.

  • Psychologist openings, waitlist, and demand for services: American Psychological Association. (2022, November 17). COVID-19 exacerbates mental health care strains.

  • Telehealth: Using Telehealth to Meet Mental Health Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis, Commonwealth Fund, May 14, 2020.

Challenges in Recruiting & Retaining Providers
Workforce Diversity in Behavioral Health Care
  • Psychologist diversity: American Psychological Association. (2022). Demographics of U.S. Psychology Workforce [Interactive data tool]. Retrieved April 20, 2023.

  • US demographics: United States Census Bureau. "QuickFacts: United States.", United States Census Bureau. (NOTE: White [including Hispanic] - 75.8%, American Indian or Alaskan Native - 1.3%, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander - 0.3%, two or more races - 2.9%)

Barriers to Accessing Behavioral Health Services
  • Black Americans emergency department statistics: Peters, Santo, Davis, and DeFrances. Emergency Department Visits Related to Mental Health Disorders Among Adults, by Race and Hispanic Ethnicity: United States, 2018–2020. National Health Statistics Report. Number 181. March 1, 2023.

  • Specialized care & LGBT: Williams ND, Fish JN. The availability of LGBT-specific mental health and substance abuse treatment in the United States. Health Serv Res. 2020 Dec;55(6):932-943.
  • Culturally appropriate care: Boston Community Health Needs Assessment Advisory Committee 2022.
  • Stigma: Kirsten Rogers, People of color face significant barriers to mental health services, CNN, October 10, 2020.

Strategies to Expand the Behavioral Health Care Workforce

Address barriers in education:
Improve diversity in the workforce:
  • Diversity: National Academy for State Health Policy. "State Strategies to Increase Diversity in the Behavioral Health Workforce." National Academy for State Health Policy, Jan 5, 2022.

Leverage the existing workforce:
Expand the paraprofessional workforce:
Support providers:
  • Address burnout: SAMHSA. "Addressing Burnout: Workforce Strategies." Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2022.

  • Support trainees: Leckman-Westin, E., & Hannigan, M. (2022). Addressing The Behavioral Health Workforce Shortage: The Role Of Health Systems. Health Affairs.

  • Financial incentives to address the workforce’s needs and pipeline: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. Creating a Robust, Diverse, and Resilient Behavioral Health Workforce in Massachusetts. September 2022.

  • Payment and administrative burden: Kaiser Family Foundation. A Look at Strategies to Address Behavioral Health Workforce Shortages: Findings from a Survey of State Medicaid Programs. Jan 10, 2023.

  • LGBTQ+ training: Lelutiu-Weinberger, C., Clark, K. A., & Pachankis, J. E. (2022). Mental health provider training to improve LGBTQ competence and reduce implicit and explicit bias: A randomized controlled trial of online and in-person delivery. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity.

  • Diversity training: Loeb TB, Ebor MT, Smith-Clapham AM, Chin D, Novacek DM, Hampton-Anderson JN, Norwood-Scott E, Hamilton AB, Brown AF, Wyatt GE. How Mental Health Professionals Can Address Disparities in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Traumatology (Tallahass Fla). 2021 Mar;27(1):60-69.

  • Cultural competence & trauma-informed care: Rural Health Information Hub. Mental health toolkit - Training. Retrieved April 20, 2023.

This infographic was reviewed in April 2023 by Randl Dent, PhD, an Equity Scholar working with the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity Program at the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity and Clese Erikson, MPAff, Deputy Director of the Health Workforce Research Center on Emerging Health Workforce Issues at The George Washington University and a member of the senior leadership team of the Fitzhugh Mullan Institute for Health.


April 27, 2023. Updated on: June 14, 2023.

The Mental Health Workforce Crisis


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