Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside conducted a survey of Long Islanders that found many found it challenging to access mental health providers. Credit: Chris Ware
Finding a mental health provider on Long Island is difficult, even for people with insurance, according to a new poll.
The findings come as experts have said the number of people — especially children and teens — in need of mental health services has grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
About 36% of Long Islanders said they or their adult family member who sought mental health services said they faced challenges accessing care, such as an inability to get an appointment. Almost half believed schools, government and municipalities should do more to support the community’s mental health needs, according to the latest “Truth in Medicine” poll released by Mount Sinai South Nassau hospital in Oceanside.
And 33% of respondents said they were more likely to seek help for a mental health concern as a result of the pandemic. Anxiety, depression, social isolation and fear of contracting COVID-19 were the top mental health challenges among those who have sought out professional help.
The difficulty accessing providers came despite 92% of respondents saying they had health insurance.
“We kind of intuitively knew, but we never had hard data, that coverage doesn’t equal care,” said Dr. Adhi Sharma, president of the hospital.
The poll showed 41% of respondents said mental health care they or an adult family member sought was not covered by insurance.
Sharma said because reimbursement rates tend to be low, many mental health professionals have found it makes more financial sense to operate outside of the insurance networks.
Another problem is the insufficient number of mental health providers, Sharma said.
“We’re constantly recruiting because it’s very hard to find psychiatrists, mental health specialists, social workers,” he said. “We don’t have enough people entering this space.”
Newsday reported last month that mental health professionals have trouble keeping up with the demand for services. Despite adding to their patient workloads, many still have long waiting lists.
Nationwide this summer, 32.3% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression, nearly triple the rate in 2019 though down from a peak of 42% in November of 2020, according to surveys from the National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau.
The Mount Sinai South Nassau poll of 600 Long Island residents was conducted by phone between July 24 to July 28.
The loss of loved ones during the pandemic’s early days, as well as the impact of restrictions such as social distancing and remote education, has fueled a mental health crisis, said Jeff McQueen, executive director of the nonprofit Mental Health Association of Nassau County.
“When you look at how many people in New York were dying daily … those numbers were equal to that of a combat zone. We were losing 700 people a day,” he said.
Additionally, family members were restricted in how they visited those who were sick and dying. “I just feel that alone created this great deal of trauma in our community.”
According to the poll, 13% of respondents said they or another adult in their immediate family sought mental health care since the pandemic began and 15% of people with children under the age of 18 sought help for at least one of their children over the last year.
When asked if mental health services on Long Island are adequate, 36% of respondents said they are satisfactory, 29% said they are not while 35% said they were unsure.
When parents of children under the age of 18 were asked to rate their child’s mental health telemedicine experience, 61% chose a rating of “only fair” with another 28% saying they were “poor.”
Sharma said better coordination among existing mental health services throughout a community could be key to improving the situation.
And McQueen said some of the pressure on the mental health system can be eased by using peer-run programs and groups to help people who have received clinical care but can benefit from more support.
“That gives you the ability to share your hope with others,” he said. “There’s nothing more meaningful than knowing who you are has been helpful to somebody else.”