Behavioral health integration is a hot topic across the country and especially in Washington State. We were recently ranked 48th in the nation by Mental Health America’s 2015 report Parity or Disparity: The State of Mental Health in America – meaning that we have many people with mental illness but low rates of access to care. We owe it to our patients to build the type of system that keeps us healthy and that will take care of us when we are sick, including when we have mental illness. We have much work to do.

With this in mind, we have created a workgroup to look at increasing access by making behavioral health, including substance abuse screening and treatment, part of primary care. We use the term “behavioral health” instead of “mental health” to include substance abuse services. This means that when you go to get regular care from your primary care provider you will be able to talk about and receive treatment for depression and anxiety. Right now, screening for conditions like depression are not happening. This is why the Bree Collaborative members directed us to create a workgroup focused on how to make behavioral health care a part of your usual care.

Another big part of behavioral health integration is making sure that people with more serious mental illness are able to get their primary care, including services like blood pressure screenings or diabetes care, at the same place where they get their mental health care. While this is very important work, we need to make sure that our workgroup is taking on a manageable task – so we have decided to focus on helping our community highlight the best ways to integrate behavioral health care into primary care.

So far, our workgroup’s focus areas are:

–  Screening for depression
–  Defining integrated approaches focused on enhancing behavioral health access and outcomes
–  Referring to treatment for depression
–  Recommending best practices for overcoming barriers to patient-centered behavioral health care such as information technology
–  Measuring improvement and access to behavioral health care
–  Identifying additional areas for recommendations

Behavioral health integration is a big part of our State’s focus on building a Healthier Washington. Instead of paying for physical health and behavioral health services through different systems, both will be “purchased by regionally operated Behavioral Health Organizations.”[i] You can see a map of these organizations here.

Additionally, the Advancing Integration Mental Health Solutions center at the University of Washington has done a lot of research on how to make sure that people getting primary care are also able to get screened for depression and anxiety and get access to treatment if they need it. Learn more about their work here.

We will be discussing our workgroup’s scope and voting to approve the charter at our upcoming Wednesday, May 11th Bree Collaborative meeting. Our next behavioral health integration workgroup meeting is scheduled for Friday, May 13th from 9:00 – 10:30am at the Foundation for Health Care Quality – 705 Second Ave, Suite 410.

Are you interested in helping to improve access to behavioral health care in Washington State? Join us at either of these upcoming meetings. More information here.

Ginny Weir, MPH
Program Director, Bree Collaborative

[i] Washington State Health Care Authority. Integrated Physical and Behavioral Health Care.