The new chair of psychiatry at W-Med on the pandemic’s “mental health shadow”
Eric Achtyes shares his thoughts on Kalamazoo’s mental health challenges—and strengths.
Almost 30 percent of American adults say they’ve been diagnosed with depression at some point in their life, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s nearly ten percent higher than in 2015.
This is something Eric Achtyes, the new Chair of Psychiatry at the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine, hopes to address.
Achtyes joined W-Med in January after heading up Network 180, a mental health agency in Kent County. He also directed MSU’s Psychiatry Division.
He said traumatic events like the pandemic create what he calls a “mental health shadow.”
“Those of us who are in mental health care are going to be continuing to help people who developed depression or anxiety disorders or an addiction during the pandemic, for years after much of the rest of society has gotten back to whatever the new normal looks like,” he said.
He explained that the pandemic increased demand for mental healthcare, but also led to more providers retiring. The federal Health Resources and Services Administration predicts a 20 percent decrease in providers by 2030.
Achtyes says more training programs could help recent psychiatry graduates stay in the Kalamazoo area. He started a similar program at the private mental health care provider Pine Rest Christian Health Services.
“I'm hopeful that we can we can replicate that,” he said. “Because we’re not just competing with Detroit and Grand Rapids. We’re competing with Chicago and Los Angeles and Boston and San Francisco for talent.”
Achtyes said he also sees more medical students choosing psychiatry as the stigma around mental health decreases. He hopes this will help meet the community’s increased need for care.
This story is part of the Mental Wellness Project, a solutions-oriented journalism initiative covering mental health issues in southwest Michigan, created by the Southwest Michigan Journalism Collaborative. SWMJC is a group of 12 regional organizations dedicated to strengthening local journalism. For more info visit swmichjournalism.com.