Measuring the state of mental health in Washington

A few weeks ago, Seattle and the nation were transfixed by a young man’s 24 hour standoff in a downtown Seattle tree. This is an opportunity for us to reflect on the state of mental health services in Washington, and figure out how we can do better. One study, which looked at prevalence of mental illness and access to care, ranks Washington state 48th in the nation in terms of the how well we serve those with mental illness. As this young man’s story illustrates, there is a very real human cost to allowing people with mental illness to fall between the cracks.

How can measurement of the problem help? Without an accurate understanding of the problem, providers can’t design appropriate interventions and legislators and health care leaders can’t allocate the right amount of funding. The value of accurate measurement shouldn’t be underestimated.

The Alliance, in partnership with the State, gathers data from several sources and publishes results for seven different behavioral health measures, which cover issues such as antidepressant medication adherence, hospitalization for mental illness and the number of people who report having poor mental health. Starting this fall, we will be sharing results for two new behavioral measures. Approved in March by the governor-appointed Performance Measurement Coordinating Committee, Mental Health Service Penetration (Broad Version) and Substance Use Disorder Treatment Penetration will be added to the state’s Common Measure Set. Both of these measures will help us better understand how many people who need it are receiving the necessary treatment.

When mental health issues are stigmatized and people are pushed into the shadows, our entire community suffers. Policymakers, providers as well as purchasers all have a role to play. Thank you for your ongoing support of the Alliance and please share with us your perspective on how we can work together to improve how our state addresses behavioral health.

Published: April 6, 2016

About Nancy A. Giunto

Nancy A. Giunto is executive director of the Washington Health Alliance. Ms. Giunto served 14 years as executive director of Foster Pepper law firm in Seattle. She has had a long career in health care, with experience at National Institutes of Health in Washington D.C. and the American Hospital Association. She has held leadership positions at Intermountain Health Care and Providence Health & Services.

4 Responses to “Measuring the state of mental health in Washington”

  1. David Stone

    Thank you for this information and for finally making behavioral health issues a priority for the Alliance. Although measurement of the success of the valuable work done by the mental health and substance use disorder field sometimes can be difficult, it is vital that we work harder to do that. It could be the only way that behavioral health ever becomes recognized as an essential component of health care.

    • Emily Inlow-Hood

      Thank you for your comment!

  2. Joanne Roberts

    Thanks to you and the Alliance for taking on this critical public health issue. Our state has allowed this most vulnerable group to remain on the margins. I could not agree more that we will all have to pull together to create a state that will give succor to this community of our neighbors and families.
    Joanne Roberts, MD, MHA
    Chief Medical Officer
    Providence Regional Medical Center Everett

    • Emily Inlow-Hood

      Thank you Dr. Roberts for your comment!

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