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Broader range of care needed to treat those with mental illness

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Across our state, the toll of mental illness is high. Nearly half of adults with a mental health condition have a substance use disorder, while nearly 10 million Americans consider suicide each year. Here in Arizona, the suicide rate is 60 percent higher than the national average. There are many contributing factors such as depression, drugs or access to care.

But despite the prevalence, more than half of Americans with mental illness don’t receive treatment.

How do we solve this?

Scott Cummings

Scott Cummings

First, we must help increase awareness, provide information and education, and actively work to overcome the stigma associated with mental illness and substance use disorders. Societal pressures and misconceptions about mental illness prevent many from seeking the care and help they need.

Next, we must focus our efforts toward integrating screening for mental illnesses into our primary and specialty care visits so that those with signs and symptoms of physical and behavioral health conditions can be identified early and addressed in a holistic way.

Finally, we must help connect those living with mental illness and substance use disorders to the most appropriate levels of care. From more intensive treatments such as inpatient and residential care, to counseling and drug therapies, to high-quality services in primary care clinics.

In addition to appropriate medical treatments, we must also help those with mental illness overcome barriers to care, including the social, economic and environmental factors that can undermine better health. Non-medical factors such as lack of transportation, housing, employment or a strong support system can make it especially difficult for many Arizonans to get proper medical care.

While tackling these issues requires a multi-stakeholder approach, there are models being implemented across Arizona that are bridging the divide between health care systems and available social services. These models are showing success in addressing basic human needs and, in turn, producing better health outcomes and lower costs for those with mental health conditions.

For example, at Care1st Health Plan Arizona, we take a holistic approach in addressing the health care needs of Arizona Medicaid members. By bringing together a team of providers – from licensed behavioral health clinicians to community health workers and peer supports to pharmacists – we work one-on-one with members to coordinate medical and pharmacy care, while helping to coordinate additional social support services such as food and housing assistance, medical transportation or utilities assistance.

There are no simple solutions in addressing mental illness, but we can make progress by working together. Recognizing and addressing the many factors that heighten the risk of the disease and prevent Arizonans from getting needed care is an important step toward improving the lives and health of those living with mental illness.

— Scott Cummings is state president of Care1st Health Plan Arizona.

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The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.

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