Mental Health Awareness Month
by Emma Harrigan
May has been observed as Mental Health Awareness Month since first recognized in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA). Much has changed in mental health care delivery since then, and Vermont has been at the forefront of many of those advances.
In Vermont, we should be proud to live in a state consistently ranked among the best for mental health services. We are near the top of the list for overall and youth access but 23rd among all the states for adult access to mental health care—essentially average.
We should always recognize that even strong systems can and should do more. For instance, people in Vermont (and most other states) often wait for hours or days to access appropriate mental health care. And hospital emergency departments continue to manage the challenge of a growing number of patients for whom the best treatment venue may not be immediately available.
In partnership with others, hospitals are working on these issues and strengthening both community-based care and inpatient capacity. Some examples from across the state:
- With Designated Agencies, hospitals have made significant contributions to easing access and improving coordination to mental health care for adults.
- Both UVM Health Network and the Brattleboro Retreat are engaging in projects to increase psychiatric inpatient access for adults.
- Northwestern Medical Center, in partnership with Northwestern Counseling and Support Services, has an embedded clinician in its emergency department and has worked to guide patients who frequently use the ED for mental health support to the right level of care.
- Washington County Mental Health, in partnership with Central Vermont Medical Center, is proposing better ways to coordinate referrals including a roster of available openings for Medicaid patients within private provider practices.
- Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, in partnership with its entire provider community, is improving coordination and diverting emergency department visits by leveraging the strengths of relationships and community health teams to develop wraparound services through multi-agency partnerships and care planning.
Even with these efforts across our state, are we getting the outcomes Vermonters deserve? Are we engaging all potential partners in addressing mental health needs and their underlying determinants? Do our systems need to grow and change? As Mental Health Awareness Month continues, we will share local and national stories about mental health which we hope will inspire you to think creatively about how Vermont can deliver care, and how we can get move our national ranking from 23 to 1.