DENVER, Colo. — Nearly one in five adults in this country lives with a mental illness.
Since the onset of the pandemic, experts say more people are using or seeking out psychotropic medication. However, it's not always easy to legally obtain those drugs.
Nationwide, roughly 50% of psychiatrists don't take insurance, creating major gaps in coverage.
"This individual has to go through either a primary care physician who is or can manage that medication or find a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner," said Jin Lee, who is with the Colorado Prescriptive Authority.
Lee notes that it can be a lengthy process for patients to get psychotropic medication. What if they could get prescribed by the psychologist they already see for therapy? That's the goal of recent legislation brought forward in Colorado this year.
"The ease and the convenience of going to one provider who can do both psychotherapy and can identify and assess the need for medication," said Dr. Beth Rom-Rymer.
"New Mexico and Louisiana are the first two states that sort of implemented this in the beginning, and statistically speaking, ever since prescribing psychologists has been implemented in those states, the suicide rate has decreased by 5 to 7%," said Lee.
The Department of Defense, New Mexico, Louisiana, Illinois, Iowa and Idaho have all granted psychologists the right to prescribe. Rom-Rymer helped make it happen in Illinois in 2014.
"So as of today, we have 14 licensed prescribing psychologists in Illinois and we have over 150 psychologists who are engaged in training," Rom-Rymer said. "The access to care will be increased in Illinois. It's going to be increased 100% and I see that being increased throughout the country."
As the president of the Illinois Association of Prescribing Psychologists, Rom-Rymer is helping medical professionals make this a reality in other states.
"Psychologists around the country are eager to be engaged in the training so that they can treat their patients in this effective way," Rom-Rymer said.
Opponents are against psychologists prescribing medication for several reasons: They note that psychologists don't have the proper medical background to prescribe medication. However, proponents say the process is time-consuming and far from easy to obtain.
"So, the rigorous process is what you have to be a doctorate level psychologist first, to begin with, so that's 10, 12 years of training and education to begin with, and then you have to go back to school for two full years of a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology," Lee explained.
Every state is slightly different, but overall, the process has the same structure. In Colorado, the training requirements include a doctoral degree, a postdoctoral master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology, a national board exam, a year of working under a licensed prescriber and then two years of having a conditional prescription certificate in which they would only prescribe under the supervision of a consulting physician.
"So up until this moment, we're talking about at least 5 to 6 years of a process on top of a doctorate degree," Lee said.
Nearly a dozen other states have considered expanding the prescription authority of psychologists, but legislative changes have not happened since 2017.