To tackle the mental health crisis, invest in proven approaches
We have a mental health crisis in the Northwest, across the country and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has created additional challenges for our mental health. Four in 10 American adults report symptoms of depression or anxiety, and 1 in 10 say they have seriously considered suicide.
To tackle this crisis, we need local and national investments in proven approaches to increase access to effective mental health care.
Washington State is a national leader in the development of such solutions. On September 10, U.S. Representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Lizzie Fletcher, D-Houston, introduced significant bipartite legislation that supports the implementation of collaborative care.
The Collaborative Care Model, an approach developed in Washington State, helps primary care providers and practices address common mental health and addiction issues in primary care. This approach builds on trust between primary care providers and their patients, and adds the crucial support of a trained behavioral health care manager and an experienced psychiatric consultant.
In a familiar setting, patients benefit from the full range of mental health treatment options, from medication to behavior therapy, and patients’ progress is systematically reviewed to make sure they are improving.
Over the past decade, more than 90 studies have shown that collaborative care improves patients’ access to care and improves their mental and physical health. Both primary care providers and patients report greater satisfaction.
Total health care costs are also lower: $ 12 saved for every $ 1 spent on treating depression in adults, according to the Washington State Institute for Public Policy. The collaborative care model is reimbursed by Medicare, most private insurers, and a growing number of state Medicaid programs, including Washington’s.
When it comes to this powerful approach to improving access to care, Washington has important experience to share with the rest of the country. Our state legislature has made consistent investments in collaborative care for over a decade.
Even before Medicaid’s expansion, Washington expanded access to mental health care for unemployed people with short-term disabilities at more than 100 community health clinics in partnership with the Washington Community Health Plan.
More recently, the state has committed to implementing high-quality, integrated behavioral health care by adopting the Bree Collaborative Behavioral Health Integration Standards, which incorporate essential elements of the collaborative care model. Governor Jay Inslee and the State Health Care Authority have made important commitments to integrate physical and behavioral health care, and state lawmakers funded collaborative care training in partnership with the University of Washington AIMS Center (Advancing Integrated Mental Health Solutions).
In the same vein, we call on local, state and federal governments to support a full range of mental health and addiction programs. The legislation proposed by Representatives Herrera Beutler and Fletcher would further strengthen our country’s capacity by enabling our primary care colleagues to meet the overwhelming behavioral health needs in their practices.
There are no quick fixes to our current mental health crisis. But perhaps one of the positive aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is our greater willingness to recognize our mental health issues. It has become more common and more acceptable to discuss resilience and seek help when we are dealing with stress, burnout, or issues like addiction.
As psychiatrists who have spent decades working to improve access to effective mental health care, we welcome and support legislation seen by Congress as an important opportunity to share an innovative “made in Washington” solution with the government. across the country, and to help millions of Americans struggling with mental health and addiction issues.