HHS ‘roadmap’ aims to tackle nation’s mental health crisis

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  • HHS published an issue brief detailing the “Roadmap for Behavioral Health Integration,” which aims to better integrate mental health and substance use treatment into the larger health care system. The roadmap includes feedback from HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, which he received from patients and providers during a recent national tour.
  • The plan would coordinate behavioral health care with social services and early childhood systems, with a focus on improving equitable access. The roadmap initiatives are being advanced along with other ongoing efforts to address the country’s mental health crisis, including the agency’s overdose prevention strategy and the new 988 crisis hotline, HHS said.
  • The HHS roadmap builds on President Joe Biden’s behavioral health empowerment plan, which includes building systems capacity, connecting Americans to care through the use of health financing arrangements, and investing in health promotion, prevention and recovery.
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Dive insight:

Biden identified the country’s deepening mental health crisis as a top national priority during his State of the Union address this year. Nearly 53 million Americans were affected by mental illness in 2020, and according to HHS, 15% of US adults were affected by substance use disorders.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the crisis, with a rising rate of overdose deaths and a rise in self-reported anxiety symptoms, HHS said. However, utilization of mental health and addiction services fell sharply early in the pandemic and has been recovering more slowly than other types of healthcare, the report said.

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The roadmap places an emphasis on the coordinated integration of behavioral therapy into broader health and social systems. The strategy aims to include behavioral health services not only in primary care, but also in specialty areas such as obstetrics/gynecological care, and in educational and early childhood settings.

To bolster system capacity, HHS said it has identified opportunities to build a more diverse workforce ready to practice in integrated environments. Examples of recent investments in infrastructure to support behavioral health integration include the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Minority Fellowship Program and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s $155 million initiative to fund primary care programs, in which psychiatric residents participate.

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HHS said it identified ways to make behavioral health services more affordable for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, noting that inability to afford care was the top reason given for patients not receiving care in a 2020 survey received psychiatric services.

The department is also working to expand outreach to high-risk groups and integrate prevention programs into community-based settings, such as schools, where more children can be reached.

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