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Mental Health Organizations Work Together To Save And Improve Lives

If someone told you they had access to specialty cardiology treatment but not to primary care, you may find it ironic. If someone told you they are being treated for their cancer but not for their co-occurring diabetes, it would seem ridiculous. Yet this kind of health care is typical to that given to individuals suffering from Serious Mental Illness.

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors 2007 study on morbidity and mortality in people with Serious Mental Illness revealed that, on average, people with severe mental illness die 25 years earlier than the general population. This was a bombshell. But the tragic report findings corroborated what those in the trenches — community mental and behavioral healthcare providers — suspected; community mental health organizations are helping people recover from mental illness when their lives are endangered due to neglect of other serious health issues.

The barriers to complete care seem daunting. A recent survey of community behavioral organizations revealed that although over 90% consider general healthcare for consumers a priority, only one in two organizations has any general healthcare capacity, and less than one in three has the capacity to provide the services onsite. The most common barriers to obtaining general medical services are problems in reimbursement, workforce limitations, physical plant constraints, and lack of community referral options.

The large unmet need for mental health and substance abuse specialty services within general healthcare also cannot be ignored. A 2007 Health Affairs article notes that community health centers reported that over 40% of uninsured patients and 20% of Medicaid patients had difficulty accessing Mental Health Services; and over 50% of uninsured patients and 30% of Medicaid patients were challenged in accessing substance abuse treatment. Primary care needs the staff and skills to assess behavioral health conditions; and behavioral health care providers need the capacity to accept and treat the complex cases referred to them from primary care.

There are community behavioral health organizations that have implemented innovative clinical and financing models that make possible the provision of comprehensive care in collaboration with primary care centers. Collaboration is evident in co-located mental health and primary care services, enhanced referral processes between mental health and primary care, sharing of patient information, and cross-training of staff.

Community mental health organizations’ job is saving and improving lives. In addition to legislative activity, many mental health organizations have been active on the practice improvement front. Using web-based technologies have formed virtual learning communities where behavioral health and primary care professionals share information and offer feedback and advice.

Community mental health organizations around the U.S. will continue to advocate for increased attention and resources for the whole health of our communities — but to be effective they need your help. Here are four things that every person can do to help:

1.) Make your voice heard –

Advocate within your community and your state for resources to ensure that people with serious Mental Illnesses and addictions have access to primary care.

2.) Be creative –

Work with existing funding mechanisms to begin to address the whole health of people with serious Mental Illnesses and addictions; explore all the options.

3.) Foster collaboration –

Look for ways to begin to work with your local community health center or primary care practices. What might start with sending your staff to a primary care center can evolve into a robust partnership with primary care services being delivered within your organization.

4.) Focus on health –

Consider offering Mental Health First Aid certification programs in your community, helping people identify mental illnesses and respond to mental health crises. And as the most important healthcare providers in the lives of people with serious mental illnesses and addictions, promote healthy lifestyles and effective management of chronic conditions

Let us imagine the future — a future where we prevent illness whenever possible and when we can’t prevent, we educate, we intervene early, and we deliver the best possible care to every person, every place, every time. And if we imagine it — together we will make it happen.

About the Author

Linda Rosenberg is the president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. TNC is the unifying voice of America’s community-based mental health organizations and behavioral health organizations, lobbying for funding to research treatment for severe mental illnesses. Lean more at

Anxiety, Stress, Fear, Anger, Mental Health & Nutrition

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