On Friday, September 24, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) awarded $26.2 million in grants to 43 different community behavioral health agencies across the country in an effort to expand and improve the availability of the public’s substance abuse treatment and mental health services.
Most of the grants awarded are funded by the newly instated Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, an initiative to promote better management of health care services among community mental health facilities or other public behavioral health settings. Due to the latest changes enacted by the health care reform movement, the HHS is attempting to integrate behavioral health services into standard public health care—both in terms of accessibility to mental health resources, and in terms of equality of insurance coverage that is comparable to other forms of health coverage.
According to the HHS, the grants are intended to support the public clinics chosen with the overall goal of reducing and preventing chronic mental illness while ensuring better quality of care and treatment for the community’s behavioral health needs. Despite the prevalence of scientific-based evidence that continues to emphasize how interrelated mental health conditions or substance abuse disorders are with physical health and wellbeing, behavioral health services have historically been treated as something ‘other’ to necessary health services. Because of this stigmatization, the majority of Americans suffering from poor mental health are either too resistant to seeking assistance or lack the means by which to receive behavioral health services.
In a public statement released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius expressed the distribution of these grants as a long-awaited investment needed among the country’s most vulnerable populations. With a lack of behavioral health services, conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, or drug abuse disorders are likely to worsen and become comorbid with other psychological conditions. Furthermore, poor mental health can also lead to several physical health problems like hypertension, sleep problems, cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, diabetes, or malnutrition—chronic conditions that can increase these individuals’ risk of premature mortality. However, nearly all of these psychological and behavioral conditions are preventable, and can be circumvented with quality, comprehensive mental health care that includes prevention, intervention, treatment, and aftercare services. By simply making these much needed services more convenient to the public, the overall health of the community could improve—thereby strengthening local and state productivity, economic growth, and quality of life overtime.
Of the funds awarded, $20.9 million will go towards aiding the 43 community behavioral health agencies to formulate standard mental health care services at their facilities. Each grant recipient will receive $500,000 per year for a four-year term, and is contingent upon the level of progress established and how well the public’s needs are met. The remaining $5.3 million in grant funds.