Even before the pandemic, Washington’s mental health and drug addiction response system was stretched.

“There is a lack of resources and it can sometimes be difficult for people to get timely, sustained care,” Representative Nicole Macri, a Democrat who represents part of Seattle in the state legislature, said Thursday. from Washington.

This system has struggled to meet a dramatic increase over the past two years in behavioral health needs, which transcend income levels, age and race, she said. People seeking care for the first time find it difficult to find services. Patients leaving treatment facilities, especially young people, struggle to find safe and secure accommodation to continue their recovery.

The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on coverage of mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on the economic mobility of children and families. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over the work produced by this team.

On Thursday, at a virtual event co-sponsored by the Seattle Times Mental Health Project and the League of Women Voters of Seattle-King County, policymakers, advocates and people with experiences with mental illness and life-related disorders Substance Use discussed historical and systemic issues that prevent people from accessing appropriate and adequate care. The panelists also discussed potential solutions to address these issues and what it would take to make them sustainable and effective.

Here are some takeaways from the conversation. (Watch a replay of the event above.)

Those seeking care need better access to culturally competent resources, and providers and officials need to understand the critical role race plays as a factor in treatment.

“One of the most important steps in my own journey has been to be able to access resources specific to Indigenous peoples through Native American-led organizations,” said Sharayah Lane, Acting Program Director at the Philanthropy Northwest non-profit organization.

Lane, a member of the Lummi Nation who is also black, said her own experience of receiving behavioral health care in a safe and familiar environment like the Chief Seattle Club, a non-profit housing and social services organization run by locals, helped her feel more comfortable and connected. She has noted cases of people – especially people of color – killed by police when officers are called to respond to mental health crises, including Charleena Lyles, who was killed in Seattle.

“It could literally mean life or death for some people if there is a racial justice lens incorporated into these programs, and how they are deployed in response to the crisis for communities of color,” he said. she declared.

Problems in recruiting, training and retaining a diverse mental health workforce prevent people from accessing care.

The number of people authorized to provide mental health treatment is limited, and recruiting and retaining people in the field has often been difficult due to the extremely high number of clients, low payments from insurers and the high cost of programs. training.

Jim Vollendroff, senior policy and advocacy adviser for the University of Washington’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, said he often hears about students “getting to work in the system. public behavioral health and burn out quickly and change jobs. “

In an effort to increase the availability of behavioral and mental health help, Vollendroff said state and universities are exploring support for learning programs and peer programs, which use people who have themselves navigated the system to help others.

Mental and behavioral health has been chronically underfunded.

One of the main challenges with the publicly funded behavioral health system is that it is chronically underfunded, not only in Washington state but across the country, said Isabel Jones, deputy director of health. King County Behavioral.

Community behavioral health organizations rely almost entirely on funding from Medicaid, which is intended to be a payer of last resort and is almost always the lowest tier funding source, she said.

“Behavioral health in general has been undervalued in our country and we haven’t invested in it like we have in other parts of our health care system,” she said. “Until we can really invest meaningfully in behavioral health, we will have a challenge in overcoming the gaps.”

Patients with severe mental health needs require broad support beyond medical services.

The crisis response system needs to be more deliberately integrated with organizations that provide relevant social support and cultural links. Recovery means having access to housing, social connections and more, but providing and connecting these services remains a challenge for the state.

Macri supports a Housing First philosophy that suggests that providing stable housing for homeless people can help reduce the severity of other related problems.

“Bring someone to a stable place,” she said. “When you do this and surround people with service, care, and community, many of the challenges people face when they are homeless – health issues, acute behavioral health symptoms – really start to kick in. disappear. People’s sense of well-being and community and their ability to aspire to do the things they want to do with their lives are really starting to take shape.

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