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Report outlines integrated vision for Vt. mental health care system

Published: Feb. 4, 2020 at 1:44 PM EST
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A new vision for Vermont's mental health system aims to make sure that people get the help they need without slipping through the cracks. The ambitious goals are part of a new 80-page report to the Legislature that sought to ask Vermonters what improvements they wanted to see in the mental health system.

"We took that charge very seriously," she said. "They want increased access to care in a timely way. They want to ensure that we are focusing on strengthening our community mental health system. They want to ensure we're focusing on our youngest Vermonters. They were really clear about us going upstream, intervening earlier."

And Squirrell says the state needs to better integrate mental health into the health care system. "There's no health without mental health. And fundamentally in Vermont, there are separate systems for mental health and health care," she said.

Reporter Cat Viglenzoni: What is our end state?

Sarah Squirrell: Our end state is a holistic, integrated system of health care.

What does that look like? In the next decade, it could mean your primary care doctor asking more mental health questions. More community-based care options. Mobile crisis response teams who respond to families' homes to de-escalate situations. More peer-led support in the health care system to help people navigate mental health struggles. More focus on meeting peoples' basic needs like housing, food, and jobs. Allowing people more say in their treatment plans. Fewer people waiting in emergency departments or ending up in higher levels of care. Equal funding for mental health treatment. And reducing stigma.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates one in five adults in the U.S. experience mental illness, one in 25 have a serious mental illness, and 17 percent of youth experience a mental health disorder.

"Anybody can have a mental health condition. We all have mental health just like we all have physical health," said NAMI's Laurie Emerson.

She says she was encouraged by most of the ideas in the report and that in order to see success, they need to think outside traditional treatment. "It's very important to offer those different options because everybody is different. Their needs are different and sometimes what works for one person isn't necessarily going to work for the next person," Emerson said.

Squirrell says her department is already starting to look at how they can use their resources and authority to make that plan happen, but she says they will need lawmakers and other community partners on board too. "This is not the end. This is just the beginning, from my perspective, and implementation will be absolutely key," she said.

There were two area that weren't focused on in the report as strongly as NAMI officials wanted them to be. One was suicide prevention and the other was mental health within the corrections system. And then of course, the challenge will be getting the funding to make those priorities happen.