Emerging Behavioral Health Care Trends for 2024

Behavioral health care is a rapidly evolving field that is gaining more recognition and importance in the healthcare industry. As mental health concerns become more prevalent and accepted, the demand for behavioral health services is growing.

This post explores the current landscape of behavioral health care, highlighting key trends and demands that are shaping the industry. Whether you are a healthcare professional or an employer, this blog will provide valuable insights into the future of behavioral health staffing.

Understanding Behavioral Health Care

Behavioral health refers to mental health disorders, substance use disorders, stress-related symptoms, and life stressors or crises. Behavioral health care providers assist patients by helping prevent these conditions, diagnose them when they’re present, and treat them as necessary.

What Specialties or Disciplines Work in Behavioral Health?

There are many different disciplines and specialties within the scope of behavioral health. It’s important for all disciplines to be able to work together for patients’ best outcomes. Some common roles in behavioral health staffing include:

  • Psychiatric nurses
  • Social workers
  • Counselors
  • Therapists
  • Registered behavior technicians (RBTs)
  • School psychologists
  • Case managers
  • Psychiatrists 
  • Psychologists
  • And more

In What Settings Do Behavioral Health Care Providers Work? 

Behavioral health care professionals can work in a variety of settings including within:

  • Hospital and inpatient care settings
  • Psychiatric care settings
  • Addiction and eating disorder facilities
  • Mental health care clinics
  • Outpatient clinics
  • Schools
  • Autism programs

While working within these settings, behavioral health care providers may work with conditions such as eating disorders or depression. They may also specialize in alcohol and substance use disorders, dual diagnoses, ADHD, autism, and more. Behavioral health professionals have varied educations and specialties — not all providers will work in all spaces or with all patient populations.

Expansion of Behavioral Health Care

The behavioral health industry is growing thanks to increased demand and decreasing supply. According to Becker’s Behavioral Health, a quarter of Americans need to have behavioral health treatment by the year 2026. That’s a 1.2% increase in demand based on 2021’s data. 

Unfortunately, the number of healthcare workers in the industry is expected to decline rather than increase to meet this need. The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration projects that there will be a 62% increase in demand for behavioral health services by 2036 but a 13% decline in the total full-time equivalent healthcare staff. 

The demand for behavioral health professionals is obvious among staffing agencies. In fact, behavioral health staffing experienced 121.2% year-over-year revenue growth in 2023, identifying a growing need for specialized behavioral health staffing.

Mental Health Concerns

In the United States, more than one out of every five adults currently lives with a mental illness. For those between the ages of 13 and 18, at least one in five have dealt with a debilitating mental illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Despite more recognition of the need for behavioral health care to treat conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, there is a shortage of healthcare providers in this segment of the healthcare industry. 

Since nearly half of all people in the country will deal with a mental health condition during their lifetime and the stigma of seeking help has lessened, the lack of mental health staffing has a negative impact on how quickly people can get the care they need. 

For those looking to make a difference, going into behavioral health care could be a great choice. There is a high need for psychiatric nurses, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other providers, creating opportunities for those hoping to get specialized training and work with specialized patient populations. 

Current Challenges in Behavioral Health Care

Knowing the need for behavioral health services is growing, the real question is why these roles are not being filled and what’s being done to overcome increasing challenges in this space.

Staffing Shortages

This segment of healthcare faces a significant challenge, like many others: staffing shortages. As the demand for mental health and behavioral health services continues to rise, the availability of qualified professionals to meet this demand has become a pressing issue. Despite the growing demand, the number of individuals pursuing careers in behavioral health has not kept pace.

The nature of the work in behavioral health can be challenging and emotionally demanding as well. Healthcare professionals in this field often face burnout and compassionate fatigue, leading to high turnover rates and further exacerbating the staffing shortage.

Accessibility Issues

Another concerning trend is the accessibility of behavioral health services. Today, there are several underserved communities including:

  • Communities of people of color (POC)
  • Non-English speaking communities
  • LGBTQ+ communities
  • Those in rural areas or economically stressed cities

It is difficult to find people to take roles in these areas, largely because of low reimbursement rates. These communities, which may be more likely to use Medicaid or Medicare, may also find it near impossible to schedule with a provider who accepts those services, adding to the complexity of seeking behavioral health care. 

New Policy Initiatives

Behavioral health care should be available to all, and policy changes are aimed at identifying at-risk populations sooner. For example, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s fall 2022 recommendations to screen children and a proposal to screen all adults for anxiety and depression can help identify patients in need sooner. However, with a lack of providers available, getting those patients the screenings they need is more difficult than ever. 

For all of these challenges, however, there are solutions. Working with behavioral health professionals and healthcare providers to create opportunities for better-paying jobs and advancement within the field is a start. For underserved communities, engaging with these vulnerable populations and analyzing data to identify their unique healthcare needs help better identify gaps and create a pathway for improved strategies. 

Behavioral Health Care at SHC

Improving behavioral health opportunities and services for all is our goal at Supplemental Health Care. At SHC, we were founded by two psychiatric travel nurses and are marking 40 years of caring in behavioral health this week.

As the longest-tenured and most experienced staffing company in behavioral health staffing, we help fill healthcare roles in many settings and disciplines including nursing, allied health, counseling, and schools. For more information about our behavioral health opportunities, search our open jobs and apply today!