The term Y2K reminds some of us of a happening long ago that was the source of much concern, anxiety and perhaps hysteria. As we prepared to enter the new millennium in the year 2000, there were warnings that the data in our computers would be significantly corrupted (or worse), that electrical plants could shut down, and that a meltdown might occur in the financial markets. The good news, of course, is that on Jan. 1, 2000 (aka Y2K), none of these apocalyptic predictions occurred. Fast-forward 20 years and, although we are still in the current millennium, we have entered a new decade. What will “the 2020s” be for you as a professional counselor, counselor educator or graduate student?
What we do know is that the American Counseling Association, along with all of you, has been making inroads in terms of removing the stigma of getting help for mental health issues. The result is that more people are seeking help for relationship conflicts, anxiety, depression and other of life’s challenges. We also know that the U.S. Department of Labor has projected a 22% increase in the mental health workforce between now and 2030.
ACA’s public policy staff has been researching how to address another statistic from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration — that 55% of U.S. counties (all rural) have no practicing mental health professionals. And a 2018 report from the American College Health Association noted that more than 60% of college students said they had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the past year, whereas more than 40% had challenges functioning because they were so depressed.
What does this mean for you? We hope it will mean that government at all levels, as well as insurance companies and other institutions in the public and private sectors, will realize that increasing the number of professional counseling positions must happen sooner rather than later. We have now entered an election year. That means we have a chance to elect people who support ACA’s mission and who recognize the need to address how best to help those in society who are struggling, challenged or incapacitated because of a behavioral health issue. In many ways, this is the year we can work together to make a difference. Let’s look at how we can get practicing mental health professionals established in those 55% of U.S. counties that currently have no one. Let’s see how we can address the wait times experienced by college students in need of a counselor.
You don’t need to be a high-roller campaign donor to have an impact. In fact, volunteers provide much of the lifeblood of campaigns. It starts with making one call, attending one meeting, or finding time to hand out literature.
We know that Y2K was framed as a possible calamity. However, I would suggest that 2020 could have a much greater impact on our society. Counselors are amazing advocates for their clients. Part of that advocacy this year will mean getting involved at the local, state and national levels. As someone who has worked for ACA for more than 30 years, I know what our membership is capable of, and I hope I can count on you as a professional counselor advocate in 2020.
Your volunteer leadership, led this year by ACA President Heather Trepal, has been engaged in bringing attention to the many benefits of counseling and, at the same time, looking at how counselors can improve their advocacy efforts to benefit both the profession and those whom counselors serve. I encourage you to visit the ACA website at counseling.org to find out how you can make a difference this year. If you would prefer to contact me about what you can do, I invite you to do that as well.
Thank you for all that you do — and much appreciation for what I hope you will be able to do as we enter this new decade. The happiest new year to all of you from the staff at ACA.