I was born in Charleston, SC but have lived all over the world basically. Started college in Montgomery, AL then got married and moved back to SC. In the Air Force we spent 3 years stationed in England, 3 years stationed in FL, and 2 years stationed in Northern CA. Then we lived in TX for nearly 5 years, and now in TN for about 2 years. It never ceases to amaze me how or why people who are not from the Southern states just seem to assume we're all backward country bumpkins with no idea what the word modern means. I, and likely most of TN and the South, are on the conservative side politically, but we care quite a bit about mental health and other "progressive" issues.
Of course we care if someone commits suicide! That literally is what I do everyday, I answer the phone not knowing what a person is going to say, what they're going to tell me they have done or are planning to do. The weight of knowing I may not be able to help them is extremely heavy. But I love to help people, so that's what I do.
No, there is absolutely nothing we gain from the government. I will never, ever be rich in this profession. Luckily the Post 9/11 GI Bill paid for my undergrad and most of my graduate, but my benefits run out next semester, so I'll be scholarship hunting and taking out more student loans. Right now I don't make a ton more than a retail worker. As a private practice licensed therapist I could probably get away with charging around $100 per session/hour for cash only clients, but that really isn't likely to happen. And even though that sounds expensive, I still have my family to feed and bills to pay. I'll have to pay for malpractice insurance, for continuing education, for an accountant, for an attorney, office space rental, etc. More than likely if I go a private practice route I'll have to accept insurance reimbursements, which will be around $70-$90 per hour with all the same costs. But right now I plan to work in community mental health, working with clients who the fancier therapist don't want to work with. The homeless, drug addicts, ex-convicts, etc. I was a case manager for this population before going into crisis care. So yeah, we absolutely care about people. And it's much, so much more than suicidal clients.
There is no "incredible lack of oversight" over therapists/counselors. There are federal laws about how we conduct our profession. There are state laws about how we conduct our profession, every state has its own licensure board that governs who will become licensed and oversees the laws and code of ethics for that state. Most states require licensure renewal every 2 years, also within those 2 years a therapist must complete several hours of continuing education. And there are many professional organizations, like for myself I'll be joining the American Counseling Association (ACA), which have their own codes of ethics that members are bound by. There is also the American Psychological Association (APA), American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), etc.
And the reason there are waitlists for therapists is there aren't enough therapists to go around! The demand was already high, but COVID blew everything up. Those quarantine months were rough on our collective mental health. And there are emerging issues as well, such as more men are seeking mental health treatment but often aren't comfortable with a female therapist and there are far more female than male therapists. Psychiatric providers have to start low with medications, everyone reacts differently to them. For example, I take Adderall XR for ADHD, currently 25mg 2x per day. It works very well for me, but I started on regular Adderall at 10mg 1x per day. It took my psychiatrist and myself several months to get that dialed in. But if a person isn't willing to put in the work required to get to that point and quit taking the meds, then of course it will appear providers aren't doing enough. Then you have conditions such as schizophrenia where there is only one or two medications available, and no new research has come out in decades, so if neither of those two medications work for a client things can get rough.
As you can see, we have a long, long way to go as a society as it pertains to mental health and education.