PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — If you're having trouble finding a counselor, you're not alone. The demand for therapists is so great, it's forcing some of them to turn away patients. "I have friends and family members that are really struggling to get in, and they're booking six to eight weeks out, and some of these issues cannot wait," said youth mental health advocate Katey McPherson.
While this affects all ages, numbers from Teen Lifeline show it saw a nearly 40% increase in calls and texts from January to August this year, compared to those same months last year. Counselors say the pandemic is causing depression, anxiety and relationship issues. "Demand has been crazy," said licensed psychologist Dr. Melissa Estavillo. "I would guess we have four times as many people asking for mental health resources than we have had in the past five years."
Over the summer, it broke her heart when demand got so high, it forced her practice to turn away 100 people within a three-week time-span. "Back in June, there was like a four months waiting list because all of our clinicians were full, and people were willing to be on the waiting list for that length of time," said Dr. Estavillo.
A recent Arizona nonprofit survey shows that more than a third of Arizona teenagers say they'll need emotional support to help their mental well-being.
The practice doubled its staff and plans to hire even more counselors, so it can now see patients within two to three weeks, but McPherson said psychologists across the Valley still have a months-long waiting list.
"I have a colleague that says he's booked out until February," said McPherson. "I have another one booked out until November. I have another one who said, 'Please don't send me any more. We have 500 coming weekly.'"
She said she gets seven to 10 calls a day from people asking for counseling recommendations. "Saying like, 'I've called all the people on the school district website that are referrals, and I've called my own insurance, and I'm on hold.' One woman this morning said, "I have called seven places and have yet to talk to a human. I've left seven messages on voicemail,'" said McPherson.
Consumer Reports looked at several popular apps and found that many of them sent information to third parties, such as Facebook and Google.
When it comes to mental health, a wait can turn into too late. Even if it takes several calls, therapists say find someone who can give you an appointment quickly. In some cases, that can save lives. "I think it is such a big step for people to reach out for resources to begin with, and if they're seeing too many nos or too long of a wait time, there are some people who go on a waiting list, but there is plenty of people who say forget it. I'll manage this on my own, and that's so unfortunate," said Dr. Estavillo.
Don't delay getting help. Solari Crisis and Human Services takes mental health calls in Arizona. Trained crisis specialists answer the phone 24/7. The number is 1-800-631-1314.