In 2016, Mental Health America’s annual State of Mental Health Report ranked Arizona last in the nation for the state’s high prevalence of mental illness and low access to mental healthcare.
The reason cited by Mental Health America for Arizona’s low ranking were high poverty, high toxic chemical release and low high school graduation rates. These outcomes were interconnected through poor access to mental healthcare. In short, Arizona’s mental health issues stem from a decided lack of resources, experts said.
“The difficulty in serving Arizona’s mentally ill stems from the need for more mental health providers to meet the high needs in the state,” said Douglas Albrecht, Ph.D., co-director of mental health services and clinical director of the Good Fit Counseling Center at Southwest Human Development.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, Arizona failed to provide the number of beds considered necessary to provide adequate treatment for people with mental illness. Fifty beds per 100,000 people is the standard. In 2016, there were 4.4 beds per 100,000 people, ranking Arizona 48th in beds per capita.
Studies show when states had higher access to mental health care, they had lower child maltreatment, homelessness, poverty, unemployment, violent crime and higher high school graduation rates.
Arizona also incarcerates more people with mental illness than it hospitalizes, with a 9.3-1 chance of being incarcerated vs. being hospitalized if a person is mentally ill, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.
When experts discuss the dramatic problem Arizona faces in dealing with its mental health crisis, a theme that reoccurs throughout the conversation is the increasing need for mental healthcare specialist.
According to Mental Health America’s annual report, Arizona’s youth were more mentally ill and underserved than adults. Arizona ranked 32nd for mental healthcare for adults, while the state ranks 47th for mental healthcare for young people.
“We work with young children — ages birth to 5 — and this challenge is even more amplified due to the need for post-graduate training to be able to treat infants, toddlers and young children,” Albrecht said,
When ranking the adults, the Mental Health America study factored in adults with any mental illness, dependence or abuse on drugs or alcohol, suicidal thoughts, those who didn’t receive treatment for their mental illness, adults with an unmet need, those who are uninsured, or adults with a disability that could not see a doctor because it was too expensive.
When ranking the youth, the study focused on youth with at least one “major depressive episode” in the last year, youth with alcohol or drug dependence, youth with severe major depressive episodes, youth with major depressive episodes (MDE) who did not receive mental health services, youth with severe MDE who received some consistent treatment, children with private insurance that did not cover mental or emotional problems and students with an individualized education program for emotional disturbance.
“It’s a unique population, given children’s developmental needs, priority attachment, particularly in light of mental health needs arising from trauma and other developmental insults,” said Albrecht.
Access to mental healthcare for Arizona’s youth was significantly worse compared with access for adults, according to Mental Health America. Southwest Human Development’s Good Fit Counseling Center works with young children and their families, providing them support from trained professionals.
“This is a high-risk population that is severely underserved in Arizona,” said Albrecht. “In 2016, nearly 18,000 children were involved with the Department of Child Safety, and of those, 9,000 or so (nearly 50 percent) were ages birth to 5.”
According to its website, the Good Fit Counseling Center is the only mental health clinic for young children in Arizona.
Beginning at age 4, St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center assists all people in their quest for better mental health.
“The center’s program philosophy is to provide individualized clinical care guaranteeing each person the opportunity to reach his or her maximum level of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being,” said Gregory Jahn, CEO of St. Luke’s Behavioral Health Center.
Offering inpatient and outpatient, St. Luke’s assists people with mental health and substance abuse, according to Jahn.
St. Luke’s offers specialists including licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed masters-level counselors and social workers, mental health technicians, occupational therapists, recreational therapists, registered nurses, case managers and nutritionists, according to Jahn.
“It’s time to act. We must invest in the overall physical and mental well-being of our citizens every day.” Paul Gionfriddo president of Mental Health America said.
Strategies for dealing with mental health issues differ across the board, but an interesting one lies within Bayless Healthcare.
Dr. Andrea Raby, medical director at Bayless, said they, “Focus on wellness as a whole.”
The “wellness navigator,” according to Raby, focuses on providing all aspects of treatment, providing a holistic experience to better the patient’s long-term mental and physical health.
“You can see a huge benefit in that,” Raby said, “almost immediately when we get together with the medical team.”
Mixing medical care with psychiatry provides the patient with a more holistic treatment, according to Raby.
So how does Arizona improve its last-place ranking when it comes to mental healthcare? Experts said the biggest issue is the lack of mental health professionals available to provide care. While there are private and nonprofit organizations that provide care, the number of patients to serve is greater than the current resources that are available.
“There truly needs to be a more coherent strategy to address the unique needs of children across all systems that touch their lives, including mental health, academic, medical, developmental and legal,” said Albrecht.
Experts said the solution to the issues facing Arizona’s mental healthcare system is adding more trained professionals to assist the mentally ill. Policy recommendations made by the Treatment Advocacy Center for Arizona said the state needs to add more public psychiatric beds and actively use the state’s civil commitment laws to provide faster care for those in need.
“To provide effective, best practice and evidence-based interventions requires a deep commitment to the unique needs of this population,” said Albrecht.