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COLUMBIA - Many people in mid-Missouri have to wait weeks to see a physician for mental health. Some clinics have waits as long as several months. (See interactive map below for wait times by clinic.)

People who live in Columbia can either get care in the same day or have to wait as long as three months, depending on where they see their doctor. 

Tim Harlan, president of the National Alliance on Mental Health of Columbia, said long wait times can discourage people from seeking help. 

"I remember getting a phone call one time at 7 o'clock in the morning from somebody who said, 'My family member is willing to go to treatment, desperately need it, today.' Well, there's a month wait," Harlan said. "In a month they may easily have more problems or decide not to do it." 

He said people should not assume everyone will get help for their mental health needs.

"I think the big issue is people assume there's a safety net and everybody's going to get treatment if they really need it. And that's just not true," Harlan said. "They might get treatment, but it's not going to be appropriate because somebody has to pay for it." 

Some counties have very limited resources for mental health. A lack of psychologists and psychiatrists in rural areas creates longer wait times for patients. 

Megan Steen, senior vice president of the Central Region for Burrell Behavioral Health, said, "I think one of the biggest needs that we see throughout all of our communities is the access to care and the ability to quickly access care."

Burrell Behavioral Health of Sedalia had one of the shortest wait times for new patients to be seen by a psychiatrist or psychologist. Burrell is contracted with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, qualifying it to be a federally Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic. 

Such clinics receive funding to expand treatment through the Excellence in Mental Health Act.  Steen said the act has helped Burrell see more patients and hire more providers. 

"The CCBHC initiative is really what helped us in establishing open access to care in more of our satelite clinics and locations. It also has decreased our wait times," Steen said. 

Harlan said legislators need to get serious about providing funding for mental health resources if they want other clinics to shorten their wait for patients. 

"There isn't anything that can be done that doesn't involve money," he said.

Harlan said it's a public health issue.

"It involves all of us," he said. "It involves safety for all of us, and we need to communicate with the legislature that this is an important issue and they are the ones that can change this."

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