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Intermountain Healthcare and partners collaborating to address mental health crisis in Utah

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PRESS RELEASE: Intermountain Healthcare and community partners are collaborating to address vital mental health issues in Utah in a significant way. These initiatives include improved access and help for minority populations.

Intermountain has set $67.3 million in various contributions that support mental health projects that foster collaboration with not-for-profit partners, community groups, and state and local governments. 

One of Intermountain’s contributions established an endowment fund. This resource will award grants yearly over the next ten years to programs that focus on improving mental health access and assisting underserved populations.

“The organizations and groups that we are collaborating with have been the heart and soul of our community,” said Mikelle Moore, senior vice-president and chief community health officer. “They have been advocates for many groups and minority populations in Utah. We are so proud to work with them.”

Mental well-being has been a top priority for healthcare providers, especially as mental health concerns are at all-time highs in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. Utah already showed a need to increase mental health resources as the state ranks last for mental health access in the country, according to a 2019 Gardner Institute Policy Report

The state has also ranked high in suicide deaths per capita, ranking as the sixth highest state in the nation. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Utah’s rate of 21.21 deaths by suicide is higher than the national average of 13.93 deaths.

The mental health effects related to COVID are profound and long-term effects are not yet fully known. The Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) continues to see a year over year increase in the number of people seeking out behavioral health services. DSAMH saw the biggest increase in telehealth services in the first quarter of 2020.  Between March 2020 and March 2021, clients using telehealth services jumped from 234 to 14,006 per month. They set up the Utah Strong Disaster Crisis Counseling line, where people call/text 385-386-2289 for COVID-related stress and counseling teams can be deployed statewide. 

“Mental and emotional health is key to our overall health. We need to make sure we are staying connected to and supporting one another and when we notice someone struggling that we reach out to help them get the care they need to live a healthy life in the community. The diverse organizations we partner, plan and contract with to ensure we reach every Utahn in need is critical to this success.” said Doug Thomas, director for Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health in the Department of Human Services.

One organization that has been a helpful resource for the LGBTQIA+ community is the Utah Pride Center, which received a major donation from Intermountain.

Like many other organizations, the Utah Pride Center moved all of its programs online last year. This change allowed them to provide mental health services to Utahns throughout the state, but therapy is still inaccessible to many people due to financial barriers. 

To help provide accessible services and support the LGBTQIA+ community, the Utah Pride Center mental health department offers many free support groups for adults and children, which individuals can access at utahpridecenter.org.

Rates for suicide attempts are 3-4x higher for LGB and 8-10x higher for Transgender individuals (The Trevor Project stats from CDC, 2016). 

“Members of the LGBTQIA+ community aren’t inherently more prone to mental illness. Rather, we exist in a system and culture that contributes to distress, which can lead to experiences of anxiety, depression, and PTSD,” said Michelle Anklan, LCSW, mental health therapist at the Utah Pride Center.

“The Intermountain Healthcare grant further supports our queer community with a direct and local impact. This grant increases access to mental health services by covering therapy costs for clients who are uninsured or under-insured, and we appreciate Intermountain’s support of our lifesaving services,” said Anklan.

Latino Behavioral Health Service (LBHS) is another organization that received a donation/grant from Intermountain. LBHS has been working to address mental health disparities among the Hispanic and LatinX communities in Utah. Unfortunately, the barriers to mental health care are difficult to overcome for this community. From 2017 to 2019, the rate of unmet need for mental health services increased by 63% among Hispanic people while increasing by 15% among non-Hispanic, according to LBHS. 

The problem becomes more alarming for at-risk Hispanic/Latinx community members, such as those who are uninsured, undocumented, and people experiencing homelessness, as they are less likely to seek help. 

Javier Alegre, executive director of Latino Behavioral Health Service, said that reducing structural and institutional barriers to mental healthcare for the Latinx community requires a multidisciplinary approach, including community in research, policy development, and training and implementation to identify barriers and develop policies and programs that will address the complex needs of the Latinx population.

LBHS has been working with the UDOH Office of Health Disparities and the COVID Community Partnership project, the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, the University of Utah Caring Connections Program, Intermountain Healthcare, and many other community partners.

Additionally, Intermountain opened a free Emotional Health Relief Hotline in April 2020 to help with the state’s mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic that received over 6,500 calls. It expanded this year to include more services, resources, and virtual help with the new Behavioral Health Navigation Line (833-442-2211). 

Medical caregivers answer the hotline to help people navigate challenges. Anyone can call for free to speak to a caregiver and talk through their concerns and problems. Situations can range from daily stress to critical situations. In addition, anyone can call the Behavioral Health Navigation Line. It’s available seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Translation services are available.

As the state of Utah, Intermountain, and community partners continue their work together, the needs of Utah’s mental well-being will show great strides in recovery.

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