May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s an opportunity to note the progress we’ve made addressing behavioral health issues and delivering quality care, and to assess and take action to tackle the significant work that remains.

Each year in the U.S., 1 in 5 adults experience a mental illness, and 1 in 6 youth (ages 6–17) experience a mental health disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In addition, nearly 1 in 3 young adults (ages 18–25) experienced a mental, behavioral or emotional health issue in 2020, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Today, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10–34.

These statistics are concerning, and we know the pandemic has increased the rates of anxiety, depression and substance use disorder.

Behavioral health is one of AHA’s strategic priorities for 2023, with four primary goals:

  • Increasing the integration of physical and behavioral health services.
  • Encouraging hospital-community partnerships, which expand access to a continuum of behavioral health services.
  • Reducing stigma while addressing the unique challenges of specific age groups, cultures and other demographics.
  • Preventing suicide and deaths of despair through behavioral health initiatives.

Visit AHA.org to find a wide range of excellent resources on these topics. Here are a few examples:

  • The mental health and well-being of the health care workforce is a particular focus of the AHA. Last year, the AHA partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release “Suicide Prevention: Evidence-Informed Interventions for the Health Care Workforce”. Since the report’s publication, many hospitals and health systems are participating in a six-month learning collaborative to implement at least one evidence-based intervention in their workplace. This collaborative meets monthly to discuss successes and obstacles, and to identify how to ensure their employees receive the care they need and deserve. Results of this work will be shared with the field later this year.
  • New case studies about Yale New Haven Hospital, the University of Rochester Medical Center and Baystate Franklin Medical Center demonstrate how integrating physical and behavioral health care benefits patients. Innovative solutions at these hospitals have reduced readmissions and emergency department visits, decreased stigma about treatment and also demonstrated financial savings.
  • And be sure to check out the “People Matter, Words Matter” series of downloadable posters that highlight people-first and culturally aware language for health care teams. A new poster focuses on adolescent mental health.

Mental health care is health care. Through education and advocacy, the AHA is working to support hospitals and health systems and ensure that every individual — whether a patient or provider — can access the care they need to be physically and mentally healthy.

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