Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data gathered before COVID-19 dramatically increased levels of psychological distress showed that one in five Americans experiences a mental illness in a given year.
“The pandemic provided an optimal breeding ground for anxiety and depression,” said Bradley C. Riemann, PhD ’92, chief operating officer and chief clinical officer of nonprofit Rogers Behavioral Health System, based in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. “Job stress, financial stress, stress over our own health and wellness ... the necessary isolation made a bad situation worse. We really saw a ramp-up in acuity, a surge in suicides and overdoses.”
A leading expert in the assessment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and cognitive behavioral therapy, Dr. Riemann is also clinical director of Rogers’ OCD and anxiety services, including the Adult Residential Program, one of the top of its kind in the nation.
We need to listen to the advice we’re giving our patients: Take care of your basic health.
The pandemic has also exacerbated a long-standing shortage of mental health providers, as burnout and early retirement plagued the most demanding professions even before the pandemic.
“Staffing shortages are our number-one challenge right now,” said Dr. Riemann, who in early October was pitching in as a member of the treatment team with Rogers’ child OCD program, which he developed in the mid-2000s. “We need to attract more compassionate, effective people to our organization, but also retain the quality people we have.”
Dr. Riemann urges health professionals to fight burnout by prioritizing stress management and self-care.
“We can’t underestimate the importance of basic health and well-being,” he said. “That’s the foundation for your work and your life. Sleep, nutrition, exercise. Managing your stress. We need to listen to the advice we’re giving our patients: Take care of your basic health. Maybe we need to learn some relaxation techniques, or maybe pick up a hobby. We need to practice what we preach and seek a work/life balance.”
Over the course of the entire year, Rogers will provide more than 465,000 days of treatment for people across locations in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Minnesota, California and Washington, in addition to its seven facilities in Wisconsin. The company will open in Denver in 2022. Five more expansions are in the works.
The system emphasizes specialization, evidence-based treatment and measurement-based care.
Dr. Riemann visited campus on Sept. 27 to speak with students and faculty in RFU’s clinical counseling (MS) and clinical psychology (PhD) programs.
“Speaking at RFU is preaching to the choir,” he said. “Its training program is embedded with these approaches. The field has evolved to the point where there are very specific interventions for very different conditions. The treatment for depression looks different than the treatment for panic disorder, OCD or ADHD. That has led to tremendous improvements and outcomes.”
Clinicians have to work to master best-practice interventions that continue to evolve with the science, Dr. Riemann said.
“It’s really hard to maintain a level of expertise even in one area, such as OCD,” he said. “I don’t know how in the world you could ever do it in more than one. Even if you specialize and even if you are providing empirically supported treatment, you should be measuring your patients’ outcomes to ensure that you can deliver that best-practice treatment that is as good if not better than benchmarks produced in research.”
The expansion of behavioral health services will continue to be crucial to achieving health and well-being for all patients and the health professionals who care for them, Dr. Riemann said.
“You have to be a happy, healthy human being to be a good clinician,” Dr. Riemann said. “The pressures are great. You can’t just keep bailing the water out of the boat. At some point, you have to plug the hole and take care of yourself.”
Judy Masterson is a staff writer with RFU’s Division of Marketing and Brand Management.