HB 166: Addressing the Shortage of Mental Health Professionals
Mental illness is a pressing issue in Utah with a quarter of the adult population reporting experiencing a mental health condition, nearly 7 percentage points higher than the national average. The shortage of mental health professionals in the state exacerbates this issue, with all twenty-nine counties experiencing a deficit according to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
This shortage has serious consequences for individuals and families in Utah. Many people face long waitlists for treatment, and for some, care becomes completely inaccessible. As a result, 62 percent of adults with mild mental illness in Utah do not receive treatment, and nearly half of the state’s youth aged 12 to 17 with depression did not receive any care in the year 2020.
Currently, state law in Utah only allows for short-term, transitional mental health care to be provided via telehealth and imposes strict regulations on the licensure of clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and clinical mental health counselors. This hinders the development of a fully qualified and competent mental health workforce in the state, particularly in underserved communities that may not have access to mental health care due to a lack of professionals in their area.
House Bill 166, sponsored by Representative Stephanie Gricius, aims to address this issue by easing these restrictions and expanding the number of mental health professionals available to Utahns. The legislation removes barriers to remote mental health therapy and substance-use disorder counseling, allowing these professionals to provide more permanent assistance rather than just short-term, transitional care. It also modifies regulations on the licensure of clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists, and clinical mental health counselors. It repeals language that requires training hours to be completed in at least two years and reduces the required number of hours of direct supervision for clinical mental health counselors from one hundred to seventy-five hours.
This legislation presents a valuable opportunity to increase the number of mental health professionals in Utah and to improve access to care for those in need. By lowering barriers to entry and making it easier for professionals to gain licensure in their desired field, House Bill 166 will help attract more qualified individuals to these vital roles and address the shortages that have plagued the state. It is crucial that this legislation be supported and be passed in order to address the significant mental health challenges facing Utah and provide better care for its citizens.