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Study Offers 10 Ideas to Treat Serious Mental Illness

Posted on Nov 03, 2017 at 0:00 AM

‘We are overdue to treat serious mental illness’: New study offers 10 recommendations

By Alva James-Johnson

November 02, 2017 8:30 PM

The mental health system in the United States is too fragmented and many people are falling through the cracks.

That’s the conclusion of a new joint study conducted by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and the Treatment Advocacy Center.

In the report, titled “Beyond Beds: The Vital Role of a Full Continuum of Psychiatric Care,” researchers concluded that adding more beds for mentally ill patients is not enough to combat the issue.

“We are overdue to treat serious mental illness as we treat other medical conditions,” said Brian Hepburn, executive director of NASMHPD, a member organization of the nation’s top state mental health officials. “Until we recognize and address these diseases with the same spectrum of outpatient and residential care that is routinely extended to other chronic and life-threatening medical conditions, individuals, families and communities will suffer needlessly.”

Nearly 10 million adults live with a diagnosable psychiatric condition “sufficiently serious to impair their personal, social and economic functioning,” according to the experts. About half go untreated in any given year.

“Too often families confront overwhelming challenges when seeking psychiatric care for a loved one with a serious mental illness,” said John Snook, executive director for the Treatment Advocacy Center. “This report and the ones that follow help to provide a road map for what a functioning system could look like, and details how providing a full continuum of services, including psychiatric hospital beds, could dramatically improve our current system of care.”

The study makes 10 recommendations to policymakers for improving the treatment system:

(1) Prioritize and fund the development of a comprehensive continuum of mental health care

(2) Direct relevant agencies to conduct a national initiative to standardize terminology for all levels of clinical care for mental illness

(3) Fund and foster evidence-based programs to divert adults and youths with serious mental illnesses or emotional disorders from justice settings to the treatment system.

(4) Monitor hospitals for adherence to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act in their emergency departments and levy sanctions for its violation, including the withholding of public funding.

(5) Identify those policies and practices that operate as disincentives to providing acute inpatient and other beds or that act as obstacles to psychiatric patients’ accessing existing beds and require hospitals benefiting from taxpayer dollar investments to directly provide or ensure timely access to inpatient psychiatric beds.

(6) Prioritize and fully fund the collection and timely publication of all relevant data on the role and inter-system impacts of severe mental illness and best practices.

(7) Recognize that the mental health, community, justice, and public service systems are interconnected, and adopt and refine policies to identify and close gaps between them.

(8) Create and expand programs that incentivize and reward the use of technology to advance care delivery, promote appropriate information sharing, and maximize continuity of care.

(9) Initiate assessments to identify, establish, and implement public policies and public-private partnerships that will reduce structural obstacles to people’s entering or staying in the mental health workforce.

(10) Recognize the vital role families and non-traditional partners outside the mental health system can play in improving mental health outcomes and encourage and support the inclusion of a broader range of invited stakeholders around mental illness policy and practice.

Alva James-Johnson: 706-571-8521, @amjreporter

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