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Guide to Finding Mental Health Professionals in Washington D.C.
Given the fact that Washington D.C. currently ranks as the 20th largest city in the country and is home to our federal government, as well as a large number of research institutes and think tanks, it is easy to assume that everyone who is living in Washington, D.C. is well educated and is earning at the very least a middle to upper middle-class salary. Unfortunately, this assumption is overly simplistic and fundamentally flawed. Even though there are countless professional jobs available in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, the most recent available data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates that just under 19 percent of the area’s population are living in poverty. This figure is undeniably high. Yet, this concerning data point is offset, at least in part, by the fact that the D.C. population in general is highly educated. Again, according to the census, more than 55 percent of the local population has at least an undergraduate college degree. This figure is significantly above the national average.
The Impact on Mental Health
In general, poverty plays a significant causal role in a variety of mental health issues. Research shows that poverty, all else equal, increases the risk of a person developing depression, anxiety, and/or suicidal ideation. Although the statistics are undeniable, the exact pathway of this relationship is still open for debate.
In addition to high poverty figures shaping Washington, D.C. residents’ mental health needs, it is also important to look at the other end of the demographic spectrum. Many area residents hold high powered jobs in the federal government. These work situations may also lead to depression, anxiety, and an overall sense of frustration. In addition, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the divorce rate in Washington, D.C. is just over 8 divorces per 1,000 population . This figure is slightly above the national average. Given the fact that divorce can be a stressful experience for involved parties, people in Washington, D.C. may benefit from having access to marriage counseling and family therapy.
The relatively high cost of living in the area, particularly high rental and property prices, may also contribute to high stress levels and a variety of mental health concerns.
In a 2017 study conducted by Mental Health America (MHA), researchers determined that residents in the District of Columbia had above average mental health needs, as compared with other states. These mental health needs were assessed by looking at the number of patients who have been diagnosed with mental health issues, the number of people with addiction challenges, and the number of people who have experienced suicidal thoughts. Washington, D.C.’s ranking is largely shaped by the fact that it leads the nation in the percentage of residents with substance abuse problems, currently clocking in at more than 12 percent of the population.
Mental Health Resources in Washington, D.C.
Given the significant mental health needs that exist for the Washington, D.C. population, it is important to assess the mental health resources that are available in the community to see if they’re enough to meet the needs that are present. Recognizing the serious challenge that mental health and addiction issues may pose to large numbers of the local population, the city government has established a Department of Behavioral Health. This Department offers a hotline service that provides information about where people can get help, either for immediate crisis psychiatric care or for more long-term consultations.
Mental health issues often do not happen during standard office hours. Mental health emergencies can and do happen. To address these emergencies, Washington D.C. offers around-the-clock psychiatric care at its DC General Hospital, including in-patient observation beds. The Center also offers mobile crisis response services. These mobile response teams can provide medication as needed, or recommend hospitalization if appropriate.
There Are Other Weakness with This Approach
The hotline simply provides a person with information about where they can seek out support services to address his/her mental health and/or substance abuse issues. It does not help a person decide which provider may be more (or less) appropriate for their needs. Nor does it provide more specific information that a patient may be interested in. This requires a patient to do more research on their own.
Additionally, a patient may experience long waits for appointments at a center that they are referred to. This is particularly true for children and adolescents. The Hospital for Sick Children has a department dedicated to behavioral science. However, the wait list for appointments can be long.
Cost is another challenge. Although some providers offer free or sliding scale services, many providers do not. And, if a patient does not have insurance or their insurance does not cover mental health services, then they may be priced out of care.
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