Campus News - June 18, 2001

HSC aims to expand New Mexico's mental health care

The nation’s mental health care needs go largely unmet, according to a recently released report "Forgotten Policy: An Examination of Mental Health in the U.S.," an effort funded by Community Voices: HealthCare for the Underserved, a $55 million national initiative of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

In response to the report, the UNM Health Sciences Center recently hosted a news conference to address new proposed policy solutions aimed at expanding access to mental health care and providing early intervention services in New Mexico.

UNM Vice President for Health Sciences, R. Philip Eaton, joined by Senator Pete V. Domenici (R-NM) and New Mexico Secretary of Health Alex Valdez, met with media at the UNM Mental Health Center.

The report found that more than one in four U.S. adults (28 percent) experience a mental health or substance abuse disorder in any given year. While mental health and substance abuse disorders are recognized as a leading cause of disability, fewer than one-third of adults with a mental disorder and fewer than half of those suffering from substance abuse receive treatment.

The UNM Health Sciences Center was one of 13 national sites to receive a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to participate in Community Voices: Health Care for the Underserved.

The five-year grant is designed to improve health care access and quality in New Mexico by developing innovative approaches to strengthen the health care safety net and reduce the number of people lacking health coverage.

“The UNM Health Sciences Center is partnering with state and national health care leaders to ensure that policies and healthcare programs for vulnerable populations do not overlook mental health care needs,” said Eaton. “We must continue to work together at national and community levels so that existing barriers to mental health care are overcome.”

Barriers to treatment include the lack of health insurance coverage, the high cost of pharmaceuticals and stigma surrounding mental health. Barriers to quality mental health care are exacerbated in vulnerable populations.

Ethnic minorities face both linguistic and cultural barriers to care. Rural populations face additional obstacles with the scarcity of providers in rural areas.

“Mental health care should be treated with the same sense of importance as other health care issues,” said Domenici. “The time has come for both parties and the nation to work together to create policies that will break down barriers to mental health care.”

The report makes several recommendations to improve access to mental health care, including significantly increasing mental health services targeted to children and adolescents.

Recognizing and treating mental disorders at an early stage is critical to maintaining health. The report focuses on schools as a primary care setting and for active violence prevention programs.

“Behavior health, which includes mental health and substance abuse, is our number-one health problem in New Mexico. We must begin at the earliest of ages to support our children and their families to minimize the impact of mental health and to ensure that treatment of the illness is done timely and wisely,” said Valdez. “Our failure to do so will only lead to increased personal, family and community tragedy.”

Community Voices: HealthCare for the Underserved is a multi-year initiative of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation targeted at ensuring the survival of safety-net providers and strengthening community support services.

The 13 communities involved in Community Voices are: Alameda County/Oakland, California; New Mexico; Ingham County/Lansing, Michigan; Baltimore, Maryland; California Native Americans (29 tribes); Denver, Colorado; Detroit, Michigan; El Paso, Texas; Miami, Florida; North Carolina; Northern Manhattan, New York; Washington, D.C.; and West Virginia.

To obtain your free copy of Forgotten Policy: An Examination of Mental Health in the U.S., call 1-800-819-9997 and request item # 501, or download the report from the Community Voices web site at www.communityvoices.org.

The University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
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