Image Credit: Pixabay

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past two years, you don’t need anyone telling you that the 2020s have been tough so far. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about the worst public health crisis in modern history. And with it have come not only the fear of the virus, but also the anxiety surrounding the global economic recession, and the depression deriving from prolonged lockdowns and social isolation.

But the lingering pandemic has by no means been the only issue affecting mental health. The ongoing physician shortage continues to take a toll on psychiatric care. And, for men, those impacts can be particularly devastating. 

A Worsening Crisis

The physician shortage did not begin with the pandemic, nor, unfortunately, will it end with it.  Indeed, in 2017, it was estimated that, by 2030, there would be a shortfall of as many as 105,000 physicians in the US alone. 

And though the data are not yet in on the exact impact of the pandemic on the physician shortage, preliminary research suggests that the outbreak has only accelerated its pace. In the wake of the pandemic, physicians are reporting significant burnout, many choosing to retire early.

That means that patients most in need of care may face prolonged appointment wait times if they can succeed in procuring a healthcare provider at all. 

The Impact on Men

The physician shortage is negatively impacting all patients, but men in need of mental healthcare may well be suffering most. This is due to the simple reality that men, historically, have been more reluctant than women to seek care for mental health issues. Such reticence to seek help is particularly problematic insofar as the prevalence of mental illness among men is no less than rates of illness for women. 

Thus, when you combine the lack of easy access to care brought about by the physician shortage with a patient population that is already resistant to care, you have a perfect storm. Men in need of mental healthcare simply may be unwilling to endure the prolonged wait times or to put in the effort required to find an available physician.

The Impact of Environment

Even as men struggle with access to care in the face of both social stigmatization of male mental illness and the negative impacts of the physician shortage, they may also find themselves in physical environments that only exacerbate their mental health challenges. 

Indeed, since the outbreak of COVID-19 nearly two years ago, Americans have spent more time than perhaps ever before in their homes. And when your home environment is not set up to support mental wellbeing, depression can easily set in, especially in this era of lockdowns and social distancing. 

These effects are only amplified when those in need of care are forced to wait weeks or even months for an appointment. Rather than getting out into the world, meeting their mental healthcare provider face-to-face, men suffering depression or anxiety may find themselves waiting out that period in a home environment that simply is not conducive to their psychological wellbeing.

What Is to Be Done

The global shortage of healthcare providers, in general, and of physicians, in particular, is affecting patents worldwide. However, the shortfall is especially acute in the field of mental health, and those most negatively affected by the shortage are often men.

There are, however, things that can be done to ensure that men in need of care receive it in a consistent and timely manner. On the level of the patient, for example, men may look to alternative sources for their care. 

Family nurse practitioners (FNP), for instance, are increasingly being turned to mitigate the effects of the physician shortage. FNPs can often provide the same type and level of care as the general practitioner or primary care physician, including providing medications as needed. In instances where a patient’s mental health needs may exceed the FNP’s expertise, they can provide referrals which may reduce the patient’s wait times.

On the systemic level, substantial changes are needed, particularly regarding healthcare worker recruitment, to help address the physician shortage. This should include concerted efforts to attract medical students to mental health specializations, such as offering student loan forgiveness for those who choose to practice in areas where the need is particularly acute.

The Takeaway

The worsening shortage of physicians in the US and around the world poses a profound risk for patients in need. However, it is men who require consistent, accessible, and high-quality mental healthcare who may be the most negatively affected. These patient populations have historically been reluctant to seek out mental healthcare care. And in the face of long wait times and few options, men may opt to forgo the care they need entirely. But men do not need to suffer. By turning to alternative sources for the care they need, such as FNPs, and through a concerted effort by healthcare administrators to recruit talent to the field of mental health, it is, indeed, possible to ensure that male patients receive the care they deserve.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.