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Experts say shortage of psychiatrists emphasizes need to address mental health issues

Posted at 11:08 AM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-22 12:08:01-04

What started in his childhood has grown into a passion for Neil Harbison.

“Some of the most pivotal people in my life were psychiatrists. From a very young age of 12 to 13, 14, when I first started going to therapy myself suffering from mental, mental illness, depression, anxiety, things like that, they were pivotal to my, the road that I took in my life. So after getting undergrad, I thought, why not? Why not go for that extra step?” he recalled.

Harbison is studying psychiatry at Liberty University. He says it isn't always easy, but he's making it work.

“Every time I think I'm not doing as well as I should be, I'm making it. I'm still, I'm still doing, I'm still doing it. And I'm actually where I need to be because I'm developing my own thoughts and theories and, and premises based off of what I'm learning," he continued.

It's a field Dr. Israel Liberzon, professor and department head with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Texas A&M University Health Science Center, is also passionate about.

“There's no more gratifying profession than being, being a healer and being a physician. That makes you go home at the end of the day feeling that you have done something worthwhile… It's so challenging and people are in so much pain, and if you can help with that, that makes it feel, it makes it feeling worthwhile even more," he stated.

While there are so many impassioned people, there's a problem growing in the United States. That problem is a lack of psychiatrists.

It's estimated nearly one in five people has a mental health condition. According to 2017 report by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, in 2025, the country may need anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 more psychiatrists to meet demand.

“The issue is that more and more people [are] suffering from psychiatric disorders, more and more people remain untreated. When they remain untreated, they cause further suffering and further stigma because people don't understand that," Dr. Liberzon explained.

Researchers site multiple reasons for the gap, from aging practitioners to burnout. However, a common conclusion is more focus needs to be placed on mental health overall.

“I think now people are recognizing that the invisible illnesses out that are, can be just as profound as the physical ones," explained retired Col. Jeffrey Yarvis, associate professor of social work at Texas A&M - Central Texas. “People are very quick to go to urgent care for physical things now, and you don't see quite that rapidity when it comes to mental health.”

Dr. Liberzon says studying the brain is just as important as studying the heart or any other organ.

“[The] brain is probably the most complicated one, and the disorders are sometimes the most debilitating ones, most causing more suffering… It's a very intimate, very important, our thoughts, our feelings, and if this, there is a problem in the way we think or feel, it changes us.”

As for Harbison, he hopes to help others the same way he was helped years ago.

“If you feel like you have a gift for helping others, you have a gift of understanding how people think in the ways they interact, go do it. Take some time to do that and to better yourself, cause you're gonna be bettering yourself as you go. You're not just bettering others. You're bettering yourself.”

If you or someone you know is in need of help, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The hotline is available 24/7.