Blog: Utah’s Mental Health Challenges are Significant, but there is a Silver Lining

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Blog: Utah’s Mental Health Challenges are Significant, but there is a Silver Lining

By: Laura Summers

On August 14, 2019, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute released a report on Utah’s Mental Health System. This report was produced in collaboration with the Utah Hospital Association and provides a comprehensive review of the current state of mental health services in Utah, highlighting gaps in services, barriers to providing and accessing care, and considerations for improving the system. A few findings from the report include:

  • The demand for mental health care in Utah is increasing. Close to one in five Utah adults experience poor mental health and the demand for youth services is increasing. Suicide was the leading cause of death for Utahns ages 10 to 24 in 2017.
  • Utah’s shortage of mental health providers could worsen over time. Every county in Utah has a shortage of mental health providers. A newly expanded Medicaid program coupled with a rapidly growing population will intensify the effects of existing shortages.
  • Funding for Utah’s public mental health system is bifurcated across different systems, making it difficult to consistently deliver coordinated care. Chronic disease and poor mental health are closely related so a bifurcation between physical and mental health services can make it difficult to access appropriately coordinated care.
  • Commercial health insurance coverage of mental health services is often limited, which can result in high out-of-pocket costs. Not all commercial health insurance plans are required to cover mental health services. And even if they do, applicable copays and deductibles can prevent access to care.

To be honest, working on this report was a mixed experience. I was fairly familiar with some of Utah’s poor rankings on mental health statistics before starting, but pulling all of those statistics together to evaluate the extent of the problem was startling.

The Gardner Institute also conducted discussion groups and in-depth interviews with industry stakeholders get a deeper understanding of the challenges and barriers to achieving the ideal mental health system. These discussion groups and interviews revealed a sense of concern about insufficient resources to meet Utah’s growing demand for mental health care and increased severity of mental health needs. And while data show Utah offers a robust array of public mental health services, many gaps still exist.

That said, there is a silver lining to the data and information in the report. The discussion groups and interviews focused on challenges that exist in the system, but they also revealed that individuals, advocates, providers, and health care systems are deeply committed to finding, developing, and advancing comprehensive solutions.

Discussion group participants agreed that an ideal mental health system would:

  1. Provide integrated mental and physical health services in a timely manner.
  2. Consistently use mental health screenings to assess individuals, identify risk, and allow for early interventions that prevent escalation.
  3. Ensure people in need of mental health care have the resources to access necessary services (including transportation and assistance with initial and ongoing paperwork requirements) as well as safe, appropriate places to reside or seek treatment while addressing mental health issues.

The goal of this report was to prepare a thorough review of Utah’s mental health system to allow for informed discussions and decisions regarding potential solutions and reforms. This report is not meant to be a concluding point of what the current state of mental health in Utah is, but rather a starting point for finding ways to get to what the mental health system in Utah can be.

Laura Summers is the senior health care analyst at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

2019-08-15T09:52:09+00:00August 15th, 2019|Blog, Economics and Public Policy, Health Care, Practice Areas|