Mikelle Moore is the senior vice president and chief community health officer for Intermountain Healthcare.
Since the beginning of 2020, it feels as if we’ve all experienced one mental punch after another. The psychological and physical health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are profound and likely to increase over time. The pandemic brought uncertainty, school closures, shutdowns, social isolation and economic vulnerability.
Now, 2022 is still delivering punches with images of war on the news, economic inflation and rising prices, climate and weather concerns, increased gun violence, the rise of infectious diseases and COVID still mutating, to name a few. The mental health consequences may present longer and peak later than the actual pandemic. These stressors have hit us hard — especially inside our homes and among our families, and throughout communities. We have all encountered moments that challenge our behavioral health — critical moments that point to a renewed focus on our mental well-being.
In my role as chief community health officer at Intermountain Healthcare, I’ve seen many ways in which stigma and social determinants of health play a decisive role in an individual’s decision to seek care. So many people think accessing behavioral health services is out of bounds for them, but the reality is it’s on all of us. All of us can decrease the prevalence and impact of mental illness by talking about it and reducing the stigma surrounding it. And all of us can benefit by being aware of helpful services and encouraging friends and family to get the help they need.
I recognize this is not a priority for many communities nationwide. But healthcare systems in these very communities have the power to catalyze change. Our health system leaders should prioritize the expansion of behavioral health services for all Americans, and here are some ways we can achieve this:
First: Improve access to behavioral health services.
Intermountain has integrated mental health services with primary care services for over 20 years. This integration helps medical and behavioral health providers collaborate to prevent, diagnose, and treat behavioral health challenges during regular online or in-person patient visits.
Funding access to behavioral health and substance use treatments in community-based settings have been essential, including providers reaching vulnerable populations, such as Latino, LGBTQ+, refugee groups, and others.
Second: Customize how we provide behavioral healthcare, especially for those with higher risks.
Seeking behavioral healthcare is difficult if you don’t have a personal connection or shared experiences with your caregiver. Nothing is more personal than your mental health because it often includes experiences you had as a child, your relationships, sexual orientation, financial situation, and other factors from your life. Access to diverse providers from which to choose can help community members feel welcome and at ease with those caring for them.
Third: As behavioral health needs grow, leverage partnerships to create new tools to offer care.
Partnering with community and national organizations invites new and diverse perspectives in the discussion and will inevitably yield innovation, reaching and impacting many lives. We, along with our partners, have created outreach and technological services like the “Live On Utah” suicide prevention campaign in the state where we are headquartered and the Intermountain Connect Care behavioral health app, which lets you meet virtually with a provider to treat anxiety, depression, addiction and more.
As healthcare leaders, our goal is to make behavioral healthcare a convenient, routine, everyday part of one’s life so that people can reach their fullest potential and, more importantly, find — hope. This month, especially, behavioral health conditions, including suicide, are complex issues that need far-reaching solutions. People with lived experience must guide this work, and it should be tailored for groups disproportionately affected by behavioral health concerns. Health systems are pivotal in increasing access to evidence-based preventative care for all individuals and their communities. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of many.
Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, which is available 24/7.
Also, The Trevor Project has been a vital resource for LQBTQ+ community with a 24/7 lifeline 1-866-488-7386 or chat via text: text “Start” to 678-678.