Mental Health Technicians Are More Important Than Ever in 2021
Mental health professionals are working in challenging times, with greater demands for their services than ever before. Rates of diagnosed mental illnesses are on the rise, and the need for professional support to treat related disorders means those who work in this field are being stretched thin. In this framework, mental health technicians play a critical role and are more needed in 2021 than ever before.
2021 Sees a Surge in Severe Anxiety and Depression
Statistics show very clearly the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on mental health, both in the U.S. and worldwide. More than 42% of participants surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau this past winter reported symptoms of anxiety or depression – this represents an 11% increase from the previous year. Data from international surveys show a similar picture globally.
Isolation and Lack of Resources
Much of the distress caused by the pandemic is rooted in the fact that people have had significantly reduced interaction with the outside world, coupled with financial stresses caused by the pandemic’s economic fall-out.
To make matters even worse, lockdowns and restrictions have made it harder than ever before for people to access desperately needed resources and services. While there has been a gradual reintroduction of services and supports over the past few months, it is clear that we are not quite back to normal just yet.
Impact on Mental Health Workers
The COVID-19 Health Care Workers Study, which collected data in early 2021 from 20 countries, shows how health workers have coped during these particularly challenging times. While the study primarily focuses on the impact on front-line medical personnel, it also indicates that mental health professionals have been deeply impacted by the extra demands placed on them by the Covid-19 crisis.
The Critical Role of Mental Health Support Workers
During these particularly challenging times when mental health support is in higher demand than ever before, it’s no wonder that professionals working in this field are also reporting higher levels of depression, anxiety, and job stress. Some health care facilities have responded to this reality by bringing in more staff, particularly support workers and technicians, in an attempt to bolster the strength of their mental health team.
What Is a Mental Health Technician?
Sometimes called behavioral technicians or psychiatric technicians, these vital mental health workers assist doctors, nurses, counselors, and psychiatrists with the treatment of patients who have various forms of mental illness. A technician in this field might also work with patients who have behavioral problems, addiction, or developmental disorders.
Under the direction of a more senior medical professional, a technician works directly with patients to help implement the treatment plan that has been prescribed by their doctor. They often perform routine tasks but, depending on their level of skill and training, may also carry out many non-routine functions that help to improve a patient’s safety and overall wellbeing.
Important Job Functions
Typically working in a hospital, addiction center, mental health facility, or clinic, a technician has a wide range of duties that help to ease the burden placed on doctors and nurses. Job functions might include helping patients with routine activities and self-care, administering medication, recording patient progress or points of concern, and making interventions when appropriate.
Providing a Supportive Environment
A technician’s most important function, perhaps, is encouraging positive behavior and discouraging negative activities and self-talk. Like all mental health professionals, technicians must have a keen sense of observation to spot troubling behavior and intervene before it spirals into a more serious situation.
Key Players in a Mental Health Treatment Plan
A holistic approach to a patient’s mental health treatment requires more than just ongoing sessions with a psychoanalyst. It requires professionals working at every level to ensure a well-rounded approach to patient health. Technicians are not only there to care for patients, but they also provide critical support to the entire medical team.
The Need for Mental Health Support is Greater Than Ever
According to a recent National Alliance of Mental Health survey, 47% of participants (taken from the general public) reported experiencing symptoms of a mood disorder in 2021. Of these respondents, 30% reported that they are unable to find adequate support for their mental health issues. Data also shows that one in five adults has significant symptoms of mental illness, while one in six children have a mental health disorder.
These are troubling statistics. While there are resources available, it is clear that not everyone who needs help feels that they have access to it. This is among the reasons why it is so critical that health care teams are reinforced with “paraprofessionals” who can provide the extra support that is so greatly needed.
Increased Demand for Mental Health Services During the Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic has not only contributed to the increase in those reporting serious mental health issues, but it has also created barriers that have made access to mental health services more challenging than ever.
In this climate of increased demand coupled with accessibility shortcomings, it is no wonder that there are difficulties being reported on both sides – from patients, who are not getting adequate support, and from mental health workers, who feel completely burnt out.
The Challenges of Today’s Health Care Landscape
In addition to the many pitfalls presented by the pandemic, the health care system as a whole has been facing challenges in recent years due to decreased funding and lack of resources, particularly for those who don’t have access to health insurance. This, coupled with our current high-need mental health climate, could be a recipe of disaster. These realities are placing incredible pressure on mental health teams as well as those in other areas of healthcare.
One of the best ways to reduce some of the pressure on higher-level health care professionals such as doctors, psychologists, and nurses has been through the training and development of paraprofessionals such as health technicians. These are workers who bring great value and support to the system at a lower cost, absorbing many of the routine functions that can add to the burden of more senior staff.
The Benefits of Employing Mental Health Technicians
These technicians work directly with patients who are dealing not only with mental health issues, but who have developmental disabilities, addiction, or a variety of behavioral problems. While physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, and social workers clearly play a primary role in treating these individuals, a technician is nonetheless a critical part of the health care team.
In addition to providing hands-on care, a technician often ends up being the go-to support for high-need patients, who require frequent check-ins and ongoing monitoring to ensure their safety. In a fast-paced clinical setting where staff is often being pulled in several directions, having the extra sets of eyes, ears, and hands that technicians provide is critical for patients and staff alike.
With limited space in clinics and hospitals, there has been an increasing trend toward providing health care and related support right in the patient’s own home. This could be home health, where a provider physically visits a patient, or virtually via telehealth. This service model can be very beneficial for the patient, allowing them to maintain the normalcy of home life while still getting the care they need.
Technicians play a key role in this type of healthcare delivery system. It would be logistically impossible for most health care staff to travel to a patient’s home, but technicians can do so at a relatively low cost to the system. These regular home check-ins allow technicians to notify more senior support when higher-level intervention is needed.
A Cost-Effective Solution
Whether providing behavioral health services in a patient’s own home or in a clinical setting, there is no doubt that the availability of technicians allows for many mental health services to be delivered at a lower cost. Being able to deliver increased health services using more affordable delivery options is a health care model being looked at not only in the U.S. but globally.
Ways that Technicians Improve Mental Health Care Delivery
We have already discussed the critical role that a technician plays as part of a mental health team, but the following are some of the specific functions that a tech might engage in on a typical day.
As you can see, this is an extremely varied job that requires the incumbent to wear many hats. A technician working in a hospital or other clinical setting may engage in some of the following duties:
- Problem-solving in tense situations where a patient’s behavior has become aggressive
- Administering CPR or other first-aid protocols when a doctor or nurse isn’t nearby
- Transporting patients to counseling sessions, AA meetings, and community activities.
- Assisting RNs with vital sign monitoring, temperature checks, health record documentation, or medication administration
- Participating in LPS conservatorship hearings or meetings
- Monitoring and assessing patient behavior, seeking intervention when needed
- Assist with the training or lower-level technician staff
There are various levels of certification required to become a technician specializing in mental health, ranging from a high school diploma with some work experience to a formal certificate earned through a community college. Some technicians may even have a bachelor’s degree, with coursework in psychology or social work.
Obviously, the technician’s level of education and training will impact how much responsibility they will have as part of a medical treatment team.
Four Levels of Certification
According to the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians, there are four levels of certification that an aspiring technician can acquire to work in the field:
- Level 1: a high school diploma or GED
- Level 2: 480 hours of college or university courses, in any subject, plus field work for a minimum of one year
- Level 3: 960 hours of college or university courses, in any subject, plus field work for a minimum of two years
- Level 4: a bachelor’s degree in a related field with course work on developmental disabilities and mental health, plus field work for a minimum of three years
Regardless of the certification level earned by a technician in this field, they must have excellent interpersonal skills and a strong sense of compassion. This is difficult work, dealing with challenging situations on a daily basis, so it’s essential that technicians have the right kind of personality to cope in this environment.
Technician vs. Aide
A Mental Health aide is not exactly the same as a technician (although there may be some overlap with a Level 1 technician). Both positions are incredibly valuable members of a mental health team, and they tend to work in the same facilities, but an aide performs more basic functions such as hygiene assistance and meal serving. Like a Level 1 technician, an aide only requires a high school diploma.
Career Growth in this Field
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 142,300 technicians working in the mental health field in 2019. While this data has not yet been updated for 2021, it is projected that there will be a 13% increase in the number of techs in this field by 2029.
Insurance Coverage for Health Providers
Mental health technicians assist patients with a variety of struggles but need to prioritize their own peace of mind. Working with vulnerable populations can lead to unpredictable scenarios. Every mental health professional can protect themselves and their career with the right insurance.
NOW Insurance provides professional liability insurance to mental health technicians and all types of healthcare professionals. Get a quote today in under 3 minutes from our simple online application.
Contact us with questions about coverage.