Slowing the Suicide Crisis with Predictive Care
Every September, we recognize National Suicide Prevention Month in an effort to educate about the warning signs of suicidal ideation and get loved ones the help they need. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day, and this year’s theme, “Creating Hope Through Action,” is both a poignant reminder of the escalating mental health crisis in the United States and a call for change. With timely access to effective mental health treatment remaining a challenge, there is an urgent need for mental health professionals to break down barriers to whole-person care.
A Burgeoning Crisis
It’s become well known that the U.S. has seen a rapid rise in the prevalence of mental health issues over the past two decades. The increase can be attributed to a complex interplay of factors, including growing societal stressors, economic uncertainties and changing cultural dynamics. Recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reveals that more than one in five U.S. adults (about 57.8 million people) experienced mental illness in 2021.
Suicide rates have risen accordingly. The suicide rate in the U.S. increased approximately 36% between 2000–2021. 2022 saw the highest rates of suicide deaths ever recorded in the country’s history. The number of people who think about or attempt suicide is even higher: In 2021, an estimated 12.3 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.7 million attempted suicide. These grim statistics underscore the need for action.
Barriers to Timely, Whole-Person Care
The need for mental health support has increased so greatly that it has outpaced provider availability across the country. In the U.S., there are an estimated 350 individuals for every mental health provider, with over 5,700 regions experiencing a shortage. Nearly one-third of Americans live in these underserved areas. The implications of this shortage are stark—the current average wait time for behavioral health services is a staggering 48 days (National Council for Mental Wellbeing). That’s essentially asking individuals already in crisis to wait seven weeks for help.
The consequences of this inequity impact everyone involved: fewer patients can find the care they need, more providers struggle with burnout and treatment outcomes worsen. In a crisis as dire as suicide, swift care is critical to save lives. The current burden that our system places on high-risk patients to wait for the right care is both inefficient and potentially life-threatening.
“Health plans have the resources, infrastructure and reach to make a substantial difference.”
Shana Hoffman – President & CEO, Lucet
How Health Plans Can Integrate Behavioral Health Services
Health plans are uniquely positioned to be agents of change in our mental health landscape. They have the resources, infrastructure and reach to make a substantial difference. Some ways health plans can enact change include:
- Reducing Stigma: Public awareness campaigns can combat the stigma surrounding mental health. Normalizing conversations about mental well-being can encourage more individuals to seek help without fear of judgment.
- Expanding Telehealth: The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the effectiveness of telehealth in delivering mental health services. Health plans can expand coverage for telehealth visits, ensuring that individuals in remote or underserved areas can access care without the constraints of distance.
- Shortening Wait Times: Implementing strategies to reduce wait times for mental health appointments is crucial. This can involve partnering with mental health providers to increase capacity or finding a behavioral health technology partner to streamline access.
- Offering Financial Support: Health plans can work to make mental health treatment more affordable. This includes covering a greater portion of mental health services, providing low-cost or no-cost options and offering financial assistance programs.
- Embracing Behavioral Health as Health: Integrating mental health care into primary care settings can also break down barriers. When mental health services are readily available in a familiar health care setting, individuals may be more inclined to seek help.
This September, we are reminded that hope can only be realized through action. By working together to reduce stigma and improve access for those who are struggling with mental health and suicidal ideation, we can create a future where every individual receives the care they need to live a healthier, happier life.
Shana Hoffman is president and chief executive officer of Lucet.
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