How to Confront the Mental Health Crisis with a Community-Based Approach



In the United States, 47.1 million people are currently living with a mental health condition, according to Mental Health America’s (MHA)’s State of Mental Health in America Report, which is an increase of 1.5 million since 2019.

Given the traumatic year, it’s no surprise that so many have suffered with mental health-related issues, but how many Americans have suffered silently without diagnosis, treatment, or ongoing care?

Among those living with a mental illness, MHA found that:

  • 10.8 percent were uninsured 
  • 57 percent of adults received no treatment
  • 60 percent of youth with depression received no treatment 
  • 73 percent of youth with severe depression didn’t receive consistent care 

We need to develop innovative approaches to building preventative measures, reducing stigma, establishing interventions, and providing high-quality ongoing care.

Growing concerns over untreated conditions

The American Psychological Association (APA)’s Stress in America™ 2021 report found that nearly half of all Americans cancelled or delayed health care services in 2020, even though 47 percent of adults said their stress levels had increased.

Given the rise in substance use, depression, suicidal ideation, and overdoses, it’s surprising to learn that mental health and substance use disorder services have decreased significantly among Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program members.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) recent analysis, mental and behavioral health conditions increased during the pandemic, but the use of mental health services decreased by 22 percent, with substance abuse disorder services decreasing by 13 percent. This means countless low-income adults and children and those with disabilities who are already disadvantaged have not gotten the mental health care they need.

Even before the pandemic began, the state of mental health in this country was alarming. Millions of Americans visited the emergency department on an annual basis for mental health and substance use-related issues. In 2017, for example, mental health and substance abuse disorder-related ED visits had service delivery costs of more than $5.6 billion, with Medicaid and Medicare plans paying the largest share for alcohol, suicidal, and schizophrenia disorders. 

The existing gaps in mental health care have only widened and now, more and more conditions are going unrecognized and untreated. 

Between the rise of COVID-19 hospitalizations and the fear of infection, many Americans have been dissuaded from seeking immediate help for their mental health concerns. Others have been so isolated, without access to technology or transportation, that care has simply been unavailable. Even those with insurance are left with few in-network options, leaving them with inadequate resources, if any.

While telemental health has helped expand service offerings to more individuals, it hasn’t been enough to solve the mental health equity gap. It’s also not viable for those without computers or smartphones or those with severe conditions who require in-person treatment, putting low-income and rural communities at a disadvantage. 

Expanding access through community-based outreach

In order to better serve community members, there must be policy changes, more community-based programs, and improved lines of communication between health care providers and mental health services and social service providers. 

Recent recommendations from Health Affairs suggest policy goals and systemic reform which can help improve behavioral health access, reconfigure the crisis response system, and address social needs. 

Some of the key recommendations include:

  • Expanding the health care infrastructure to include social services
  • Giving local community members more power to make decisions and allocate funds
  • Improving living environments by addressing safe housing, pollution, and other factors
  • Requiring health-related social needs screenings
  • Sharing data to better analyze community needs and instruct proper structural changes
  • Measuring mental health and addiction services through quality-of-life measures
  • Investing more money in social determinants and working with CBOs to provide services such as:

    • Employment assistance
    • Housing assistance
    • Meal delivery
    • Financial literacy programs
    • Technological support
    • In-home care
    • 24/7 on-call support

Building stronger community partnerships

The mental health crisis requires immediate and ongoing attention that is best supported by community advocates, leaders, and service providers who must work together to address the mental needs of individuals and families in the communities they serve.

Our mission, at Healthify, is to ensure no one’s health is hindered by their need. We work with payers, providers, government entities, and CBOs to build long-lasting relationships that support the overall health of individuals and communities, especially those in low-income areas who face the greatest obstacles.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, we hope you’ll join us in shining light on the importance of mental health and its impact on long-term health outcomes. Follow us on social media or contact us to learn more about our work and what we’re doing to improve community health outcomes. 

Topics: Healthify healthcare delivery public health housing insecurity managed care population health community-based organizations food insecurity COVID-19 SDoH partnerships sdoh

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