[Note: As was explained earlier this month in a post entitled “North Carolina needs help to meet strategic health objectives by 2020,” North Carolina is at real risk of failing to meet a series of objectives identified in 2010 as part of the “Healthy NC 2020” initiative. This post is part of a summer series that is providing in-depth coverage of some of the focus areas in which we are falling short.]
In 2010, the state of North Carolina identified 13 major health focus areas and established 41 decennial health objectives and targets to meet by the year 2020. As part of the state’s ‘Healthy NC 2020’ improvement plan, the state identified a mental health focus area and developed three measurable objectives for it, recognizing that this area is an essential part of individual health throughout one’s lifespan.
Unfortunately, analysis of new data shows that North Carolina has not made any progress on its three mental health objectives since 2008. Today, the state’s suicide rate is higher, the number of poor mental health days among adults has gone up, and the rate of mental health-related visits to the emergency room has increased.
In other words, the state of mental health in North Carolina has only gotten worse since 2008.
Moreover, despite our state’s opioid crisis and increased prevalence of mental health conditions, analysis also shows that state funding has fallen by 18 percent since 2013 for the state’s Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Abuse.
Worsening mental health conditions is a problem that affects all North Carolinians as it significantly affects people in many ways, including their sense of wellbeing, interpersonal relationships, and productivity in the workplace and in school. Furthermore, mental health conditions are also associated with increased health care costs and service utilization. Given the fact that our state has failed to make progress on mental health issues for 10 years, policymakers and health stakeholders must do more now to break down the barriers that people face in accessing mental health care and needed services.
A good place to start is by effectively addressing the mental health gaps that we have known about for almost a decade, as our ‘Healthy NC 2020’ plan states:
“Identified gaps in necessary services in the state include a lack of public awareness regarding service availability, a need for increased services in rural areas, lack of culturally competent services, and a dearth of mental health service providers.”
Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.