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Providing Paths For Mental Health Providers

Jill Sheridan

Indiana is experiencing a statewide mental health care provider shortage and for children can be even more difficult to access.  Lawmakers established the Mental Health Loan Assistance Repayment Program in 2014, to incentivize more young Hoosiers to pursue mental health degrees. It's a first step in a growing effort to fill the provider gap.


Twenty-six year-old Madeline Zielenski of Indianapolis always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.  "I feel like one of my first memories even…. was deciding that I was going to be a counselor.  I just assumed from the time I was very small that I would go and pursue a PHD in Psychology," Zielenski said.

Part of her motivation to help people grew at an early age as she watched her sister deal with an autism diagnosis.

But Zielenski she had a reality check when she added up the numbers for a psychology degree.

"There’s no incentive, the work is mission work and very hard and it’s demanding and the pay is little to none, in order to get to a position where you’re qualified you have to spend a lot of money, it just doesn’t make sense,"  she said.

Today, Zielinski, who is almost done with her Associates degree and works as the coordinator for a mental health advocacy group.

Dr. Leslie Hulvershorn with Riley Hospital at Indiana University says path to a mental health doctorate is difficult.

"The training is fairly lengthy, to become a child adolescent psychiatrist you have to complete an internship and then you do three to four years general psychiatric and then it’s another two years specializing in child adolescent psychology and I think the perception that it’s not as lucrative," says Hulvershorn. 

In fact, psychiatrist salaries in the state are some of the top in the country.

Counselors and psychologists, make less… but on the high end they can earn up to $80,000.  Mental health social workers make about $40,000.  But nationally the competitive salaries aren’t really making a difference.

"Indiana is under the national average in the ratio of psychiatrists and mental health workers per capita," says Kevin Moore is the Family and Social Services Administraion director of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction.  He says the ratio is one for every seven hundred and fifty people.

Moore says the new Mental Health Loan Assistance Repayment Program can help encourage more people to foot the bill for higher education.

"This helps place mental health and addiction workforce on a level playing field with other areas of study," says Moore. 

Bethany Littrell is a behavioral health counselor working with young people and like Zielinski, she also thought she’d be a doctor when she grew up but then…. the financial constraints.  As a licensed counselor, Littrell received her masters and now actively seeks out loan repayment programs like the one the state is offering.    

"I’m signed up for pretty much anyone I can and I advocate for that with our interns.  When I talk to our students I let them know, these are your options, do look into those, they’re trying to help us out but we don’t make as much as the MBA person," says Littrell.

The St. Vincent Stress Center where Littrell works has about ten youth providers and she says they do what they can to see patients within forty eight hours.

"That is always adhered to, even if we have to stretch our resources… we want to take care of our patients first and foremost," says Littrell. 

The Indiana Mental Health Loan Repayment Program funded sixty six people last year with over six hundred thousand dollars.  This year’s loan recipients are being notified later this month.

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