Author Affiliation

Department of Social Work, Minnesota State University, Mankato

Document Type

Policy Advocacy Brief

Publication Date


Issue Statement/Executive Summary

Building and maintaining an adequate mental health workforce requires successful recruitment and retention of qualified workers. Identifying recruitment and retention factors specific to behavioral health providers is essential in determining strategies for increasing the rural health behavioral workforce. The World Health Organization estimates there are 1.18 million additional mental health workers needed to end the mental health treatment gap between patients and providers worldwide. In the U.S., there has been a nationwide shortage of mental health professionals, and this shortage is more pronounced in rural communities,with twenty percent of rural areas lacking mental health services, compared to five percent of metropolitan areas.

  • In 2013, there were 45,580 psychiatrists practicing in the United States. About fifty-nine percent of psychiatrists are 55 years old or older, and many are soon to retire, creating even more of a nationwide shortage of experts in prescribing psychotropic medications. By 2025, approximately 20,470 new psychiatrists will enter the workforce, but around the same number are likely to leave the workforce due to retirement in the Baby Boomer generation. Projections indicate there will be approximately 370 less psychiatrists nationwide by 2025 than are currently practicing, increasing the shortage of psychiatrists to approximately 6,080, despite projections for overall mental health patient population growth.
  • By 2025, shortages of mental health professions are projected as follows: 8,220 psychologists, 16,940 mental health and substance abuse social workers, 3,740 school counselors, and 2,440 marriage and family therapists nationwide.
  • The shortage of psychiatrists in the U.S. is driven in part by a growing need for behavioral health services. Table 1 below demonstrates why it is “imperative to consider the availability of psychiatric services, particularly because the entire subject of mental illness has for so long been avoided by both policy makers and the public.”


Social Work



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