Mental Health Care Employment Has Surged Since the Pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic, along with responses to it, imposed extraordinary mental stress on individuals through bereavement, fear of infection, job loss, financial distress, childcare challenges, and the loss of social and physical connection. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, 11.6 million more Americans experienced anxiety and depression symptoms during the spring and summer of 2020, with prevalence rates up to three times higher than the 2019 baseline. Yet, despite the mental health crisis, employment in mental health services initially declined. 

Fortunately, employment levels in related industries soon fully recovered. Offices of mental health physicians and offices of mental health practitioners now employ 17% and 26% more employees, respectively, than they did in February 2020—a response to surging demand for mental health services. The one exception to the trend is residential mental health and substance abuse facilities, which—like nursing homes and other assisted living facilities—were at the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic and suffered severe disruption. Overall, however, there are more than 8% more people working in these three mental health-related industries, combined, than before the pandemic. 

There are several reasons behind the unusually rapid employment recovery in offices of mental health physicians and practitioners. Businesses added mental health care and wellness benefits to their compensation packages, sensing a need within their workforces and feeling pressure to respond amid tough competition for talent. The number of jobs offering mental health and wellness benefits grew 2.7 times from 2019 to 2021, according to ZipRecruiter’s internal data—and online/virtual therapy options made mental health care services more widely accessible.

The expansion of behavioral telehealth also made jobs in the industry more attractive and accessible to mental health professionals. As the industry became more remote work-friendly, its employment recovery became less constrained by the labor shortages plaguing less flexible in-person occupations..

An investment in a mental health care career is likely to pay off now and in the future

As retail pharmacy stores like CVS, RiteAid, and Walgreens start offering a variety of mental health care services and making them easily accessible either virtually or through walk-in clinics, the demand for mental health care professionals will only grow stronger, providing plenty of career opportunities to those who are willing to devote their time to developing the required skills.

The barrier to entry can be high in healthcare occupations, with many jobs requiring degrees and/or occupational licenses. But investments in those skills are likely to pay off in the long run since the industry is expected to account for the lion’s share of new jobs projected to be added through 2030. 

Job seeker interest in healthcare jobs is high 

12% of job seekers who are not currently employed in the healthcare industry are trying to make a career move into the industry, according to the ZipRecruiter Job Seeker Confidence Survey. Those currently or most recently employed in educational services, research, transportation, and accommodation and food services have a particularly high interest in health care careers.

Psychology is also one of the most popular undergraduate majors in the U.S. year after year, and is the number three choice among graduating college seniors.  

Skills in demand among employers in mental health services

Most Valuable Mental Health Skills in the ZipRecruiter Skills Index, May 2022

SkillMedian SalaryAnnual Growth in Relevant Job Postings (May 2022/May 2021)
Patient Care$ 58,24029.4%
Mental Health$ 60,00049.8%
Psychology$ 58,24032.1%
Geriatrics$ 65,00027.2%
Psychiatry$ 70,72035.3%
Source: ZipRecruiter, Inc. internal data, May 1, 2021–May 1,2022. 

In ZipRecruiter’s Skills Index, mental health skills make a prominent showing on the list of the most valuable health skills in 2022. Skills such as mental health, psychology, and psychiatry ranked in the top skills when it comes to growing employer demand for workers, as measured by mentions in job postings. They also are skills that pay well.

Written by

Sinem Buber is an economist at ZipRecruiter with a focus on US labor market insights and trends. Previously, she worked at ADP Research Institute where she published the ADP National Employment Report. She holds a PhD in Economics from The Graduate Center, CUNY.

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