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COVID-19 crisis underscores importance of investing in mental health

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COVID-19 has been a lesson in resiliency. The global pandemic reminds us of what we can accomplish as a people and underscores the value of a strong health care system.

That includes mental health.

We know that the effects of the coronavirus are not only physical and financial – the virus is taking a heavy toll on our emotional health, too. In Arizona, across the country and throughout the world, there has been a startling increase in suicides and reports of anxiety, depression, PTSD and other symptoms among those who may have never experienced mental illness before. COVID-19 has created a new normal and additional sources of stress for all of us. However, the pandemic also has shined a light on the importance of investing in mental health care.

One in five adults in the United States – nearly 44 million people – experience mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Peggy Chase

Peggy Chase

In Arizona, about 1 million people struggle with mental health and substance-use challenges, yet just 20% of them are in treatment at any given time. Arizona is also second in the nation for the number of youth with alcohol and substance-use issues.

This is not lost on those of us who work in the industry. Instead, it has united us around a single-minded goal: to make quality and trauma-informed mental health care available to anyone who needs it.

The good news is that we are making progress. Mental health care is becoming a bigger priority among state and local leaders, who are shaping policies and, in the case of Gov. Doug Ducey, marshaling resources to reverse the meteoric rise in substance-use disorders. They also have been overwhelming in their concern for the mental health of those on the front lines of our health care system.

While COVID-19 has challenged our health care system, it has raised awareness and rallied support for mental health care. Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System is one of the most progressive Medicaid programs in the country. AHCCCS leaders understand that our role in mental health is not only to help individuals on their recovery journeys but also to create healthy lives and communities.

Providers, payers and other stakeholders are constantly looking for ways to deliver quality, accessible care, knowing that we are all working together for the benefit of our patients, our communities and our state.

Terros Health has modeled this approach by:

• Embracing integrated whole-person care at eight integrated health centers, providing primary care, mental health care and substance-use disorder treatment.

• Working closely with community partners to establish mobile crisis services in rural areas where there are high concentrations of residents with mental health issues and substance-use disorders.

• Teaming up with Maricopa County Adult Probation and AHCCCS to open four justice-focused integrated health centers in high-needs areas of the Valley. During its first year, the program served more than 1,800 patients, reducing barriers to care and furthering community reintegration success.

• Launching and expanding Medication-Assisted Treatment programs to offer proven opioid-use disorder treatments to battle a major health issue of the day.

• Embarking on our newest project – an intensive outpatient program called CAFÉ 27 (Children, Adolescents, and Families Empowered) to help adolescents battling substance use and other mental health issues access treatment, build connections and develop healthy living practices.

• Ensuring care is trauma-focused and individualized by compassionate professionals.

Many mental health patients also have underlying chronic physical conditions and Terros Health has implemented a whole health model of care to treat the mind and body as one. Today, Terros Health operates four community health centers across Maricopa County, ensuring whole health care – physical health and mental health services are available to individuals regardless of their ability to pay. The goal of these health centers is to improve the overall health of our communities and to strengthen the community by increasing access to health care and removing barriers to care. The four community health centers are located in high-needs areas across the Valley.

These and other programs, services and partnerships are a start, and much more needs to be done to address mental health issues and related aspects of traumatic stress, trauma, homelessness, along with substance-use disorders.

A report recently released by United for Global Mental Health notes that every dollar invested into improving common mental health conditions is returned fourfold to individuals, communities, businesses, economies and society as a whole.

What kind of return could be better than that?

Peggy Chase is president and CEO of Terros Health.

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