What is a Community-Based Approach to Mental Health Care?

The modern world is taking an honest look at mental healthcare, and the community-based approach to mental health care is a step in the right direction. In the past, at times, it was difficult for patients struggling with mental illness to get the care they needed. Improvements have been made, but there is still work to do.

A community-based approach to mental health care seeks to view mental illness not as an isolated issue or one that each public health sector must deal with on its own but as a multifaceted problem that requires multi-faceted solutions. That’s what community-based mental healthcare is all about.

Let’s discuss how a community-based approach addresses mental health care. We’ll begin by discussing some of the hurdles facing mental healthcare, and then we’ll look at the mechanics of a community-based approach and why it’s valuable.

The Definition of Community-Based Treatment of Mental Illness

A community-based approach to mental healthcare means that the patient treatment will be more patient-focused and less institution-based. This can mean many things, and community mental health is an umbrella term for many different programs.

This article will target a subset of community-based care, including crisis response, mobile teams, and community outreach. However, it’s good to know that community mental health care has many branches, each seeking to provide critical support in its own way.

Community-based mental health care will be easiest to understand when seen in action. Let’s review some everyday struggles facing mental health patients and how an integrated community-based approach can help.

The Struggles and Hurdles of a Community-Based Approach to Mental Health Care

The United States has come a long way in treating mental health struggles, but there is still work to be done, particularly when it comes to patient access for those in rural environments or those who don’t have a strong social or family structure.

Here are several struggles facing mental health patients:

·     Time to receive care

·     Police and mental health patients

·     Patient requested follow-ups

·     Patient separation

Below, we’ll talk about these issues in more depth.

Mental Health Patients and the Time to Receive Care

The first problem for many patients struggling with mental illness or an acute psychiatric event is that they struggle to get care in a timely manner. This delay causes several issues.

First, it can dissuade the patient or family from seeking help entirely, as they feel that they or their loved one is not receiving the time and attention they need.

Second, it’s beneficial for the health provider to respond directly to the scene (or see the patient swiftly) so they can see the event in question. If the patient is experiencing some abnormal behavior, a rapid response allows professionals to witness the event and determine the best possible pathway for treatment.

Police and Psychiatric Patient Interaction

Most of the time, a police officer responding to a non-violent mental health episode is counterintuitive, and there are a few reasons why.

First, the obvious anxiety and stress police presence can place on the patient. Some patients don’t want to reveal specific parts of their history to police officers for fear of getting into legal trouble – even if this isn’t the case, the presence of a police officer can still lead to patients withholding information.

Second, police officers can be overwhelmed by mental health incidents. As we said, if these incidents are non-violent, then there is often little need for an officer to arrive at the scene. In areas where there is no protocol for a medical-provider-led response to mental health patients, police officers can be needlessly wrapped up in these calls.

Now, let’s talk about the struggles facing the continuation of care.

Mental Health Patient Requested Follow-Ups

Many times, a patient follow-up is beneficial after an incident. This could be the case if the patient had a troubling acute psychiatric breakdown or experienced an overdose.

The patient will often be treated in the hospital and released in these cases. The issue? After their release, they often receive little support. This lack of structure can reduce the patient’s ability to recover properly.

Long-term Hospitalization for Mental Health Patients

There are many cases where a patient needs to be removed from their environment. However, there are also cases where the person would be better treated in their home – sometimes, being treated in a large impersonal institution can have side effects.

Unfortunately, especially among patients who don’t have the capacity to initiate their own care, they will be unable to go to the hospital.

Now, we will look at how a community-based approach can lead to a different, possibly better, kind of care for those struggling with chronic and acute mental struggles.

How a Community Based Approach to Mental Health Benefits Patients

We’ve looked at ways patient care falls short for those with mental illness. Let’s examine how and why a community-based approach can help correct many of these common issues.

Here are the ways community-based services improve the lives of people with mental health struggles:

·     Providing 24-hour, mobile care

·     Reducing law enforcement involvement

·     Providing follow-ups

·     Reducing hospitalization

·     Reaching out to underserved populations

Now, we’ll unpack these programs in greater depth.

Providing Mobile Teams and Crisis Response

One aspect of a community-based mental health approach is providing mobile and crisis response teams. These provide two benefits (one of which we’ll discuss in the next section).

Mobile teams often comprise mental health professionals, paramedics, and nurses. The most significant benefit of the mobile unit is that patients can be treated in their homes or anywhere else. This removes the patient’s travel burden and considerably benefits community-based care.

A Community-Based Approach to Mental Health Reduces Need for Law Enforcement

The second thing that a community-based response facilitates is the help of crisis teams. These teams are specifically trained to help patients experiencing a mental health event.

In these cases, the crisis response team or community healthcare team is dispatched to the scene of the patient instead of law enforcement. As long as there is no reason to assume the scene is unsafe, the crisis team can make contact with the patient and call for PD if they feel it’s required.

This system reduces patient anxiety and frees law enforcement to perform other vital duties. Now, let’s talk about another aspect of community-based care: follow-ups.

Providing Follow-Up Care to People After a Crisis

Follow-up care is often critical to helping a patient experiencing a crisis to transition from treatment to recovery. A community-based approach allows mobile teams to perform a follow-up visit after the patient has experienced an adverse event.

These teams often work if the patient requests them. The patient can decide whether they would like the follow-up visit. These teams may work in many capacities, but PORT teams are common in some areas. These teams provide a follow-up to patients after an overdose.

With a non-community-based approach, follow-up care is difficult to achieve.

Reducing Hospitalization for Mental Health Patients

Another aspect of a community-based approach is reducing the necessity of hospitalization. Of course, hospitalization is needed in some cases, and this option should and will remain available. However, a portion of the population would be served well by outpatient care.

That’s where community-based mental healthcare comes into play. They can provide weekly or monthly treatment to patients, helping them cope with mental illness without forcing them to be hospitalized. This helps reduce overload on the hospitals and helps those patients who are best served in an environment they are comfortable in.

Reaching Out to Underserved People with Mental Illness

Finally, a community-based approach to mental healthcare means that everyone can access healthcare. Some patients, such as people experiencing homelessness and mental health illness or those struggling with substance addiction, have trouble initiating and maintaining mental healthcare.

Many communities realize that the well-being of their schools, cities, and neighborhoods depends not just on the health and well-being of those who can afford it but also on those people who have been less fortunate.

Often, community-based health programs can use government funding streams to provide services to these patients at little to no cost. If you’re curious, see this article on community paramedicine and its impact on the homeless population. That article provides more perspective on the importance of helping underserved populations.

Now for our last thoughts.

Conclusion: The Benefits of Treating Mental Illness with Integrated Community Healthcare

Mental health struggles are widely recognized, but many areas are still searching for a more effective treatment. A community-based approach is a positive step forward.

A community-based approach gives patients faster access to patient care and ensures that, if possible, the person can be treated in their home. Also, community-based care allows for follow-up care and for the patient to be plugged into their area’s whole health system.

Contact Julota to talk with a representative and see how their software can help you collaborate with other health providers, creating stronger community-based health programs.