Some Americans are waiting up to two and a half months for vital mental health care – including appointments that are over videocall, a new study has revealed. 

Access varies wildly by state, with wait times ranging from as few as five days to as many as three months.

In Maine, patients with conditions like depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder are waiting up to 10 weeks for an initial appointment. 

Meanwhile in North Carolina, the majority of people wait for just four days before speaking to a professional.

Even more worrying, one in five services researchers contacted was unreachable – meaning patients would struggle to even enquire about help. 

Policy analysts at the think tank Rand Corporation surveyed nearly 2,000 mental health clinics across the US between December 2022 and March 2023 to determine how long a person in each state would typically have to wait for virtual or phone call appointments.

Southern states had the shortest median wait times for virtual mental healthcare, taking less than two weeks to get an appointment.

States on the coasts, meanwhile, had longer wait times generally, with people in New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Maine having to wait six weeks or longer.

The researchers behind the report said higher wait times in certain states could be linked to shortages of qualified mental health providers, policies governing telehealth, and varied access to high-speed broadband internet.

Telehealth has become an integral part of the healthcare landscape over the past few years, thanks to the global pandemic, which forced millions of people to shift to online platforms for doctor visits.

Spending on telehealth services increased massively from 2019 through 2020, from $306 million to almost $3.7 billion.

Jonathan Cantor, the study’s lead author and a policy researcher at thinktank RAND, said: We tried to replicate the experience of a typical client seeking specialty care from a mental health treatment facility in the U.S.

‘The fact that we could not reach anyone at one in five facilities suggests that many people may have trouble reaching a clinic to inquire about mental health care.’

It comes as the US’ mental health crisis worsens.

Depression and anxiety among young people doubled as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, and general suicide rates have risen by about 30 percent since 2000.

 Roughly one-third of adults in the United States currently experience symptoms of either depression or anxiety, marking a threefold increase compared to the prevalence in 2019. 

The US is in the midst of a mental health crisis, with three times as many adults suffering anxiety or depression compared to 2019

The US is in the midst of a mental health crisis, with three times as many adults suffering anxiety or depression compared to 2019

North Carolina had the shortest wait time for a teledoc appointment at just four days. Maine, however, had the longest wait at 75 days.

Most of the states in the south had a median wait time of two weeks or less. Florida and Georgia were the two exceptions with a median wait of more than two to three weeks, while data for Louisiana and South Carolina were unavailable.

Residents of Missouri, New York, and West Virginia have to wait between three to four weeks. Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Connecticut residents must wait four to six weeks.

And in addition to Maine, residents of New Jersey and Massachusetts have to wait more than six weeks for a teledoc appointment.

Fewer than five clinics were surveyed in several states in the Midwest, so no data was given.

Rural areas have seen a proliferation of telehealth services to deal with a lack of providers, as most new practitioners right out of school gravitate toward urban centers where pay is likely better.

Telehealth eliminates the need for patients to travel, offering a more accessible avenue for timely communication with their healthcare providers.

Southern states also have lower population densities than their neighbors north of the Mason-Dixon line, translating to fewer people overall seeking mental healthcare via telehealth.

What’s more, private facilities were nearly twice as likely to offer telehealth services compared with those that receive government funding to cater to people enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid.

Dr Cantor said: ‘Understanding the availability of telehealth is important for informing policies that maximize the potential benefits of telehealth for mental health care.’

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