Efforts to Improve Mental Health Awareness Continue in Philadelphia

An effort in Philadelphia to promote mental health awareness, reduce stigma, and emphasize prevention may have helped the state to improve in a recently released national ranking.

According to The State of Mental Health in America 2017, which was released on Oct. 18, 2016, Pennsylvania was ranked number 9 in the nation in terms of mental health. This ranking was based on an analysis of 15 individual statistics that measure the prevalence of various types of mental illness in the state, as well as access to treatment.

During the three years that this report has been released, Pennsylvania has improved from number 15 to number 9.

The following are among the statistics from the 2017 report that are of particular relevance to Pennsylvania:

  • 17.52 percent of adults in Pennsylvania have some type of mental health disorder, which is slightly better than the national average of 18.29 percent.
  • More than one of every five adults in Pennsylvania who seek mental health treatment does not receive care. The most common impediments to treatment are inability to pay, lack of insurance, and lack of providers in the area.
  • This problem of trying but failing to get mental health treatment is slightly worse in Pennsylvania (20.9 percent) than in the United States as a whole (20.3 percent)
  • MHA ranked Pennsylvania as the ninth-best state for mental health in this year’s report. The state-by-state overall rankings are based on an analysis of 15 individual statistics that measure the prevalence of various types of mental illness in the state as well as access to treatment.
  • In the three years that the MHA has been releasing this annual report, Pennsylvania’s overall ranking has improved from number 15 to number 9.

The report was created by Mental Health America (MHA), a community-based nonprofit organization that has been promoting mental health awareness and advocating for effective and humane treatment of people with mental illness since 1909.

The MHA’s assessment of Pennsylvania shows that the state has been making strides in the effort to limit suffering and provide care for individuals who have been struggling with mental health disorders. But the report also documents that much work remains to be done.

For example, when MHA broke down Pennsylvania’s mental health statistics into adult and youth categories, the state fell out of the top 10 in each section. MHA ranked Pennsylvania at number 11 in the nation in terms of prevalence of mental illness and access to treatment for adults. For youth, the state placed 12th.

Reducing rates of mental illness and improving the effectiveness of treatment throughout any state, especially one as populous as Pennsylvania, are complex problems that demand innovative solutions. One such solution, placing an emphasis on prevention instead of waiting for symptoms to become so severe that treatment is needed, may be responsible for some of the success that Pennsylvania has experienced in recent years.

In April 2016, Philadelphia-area public radio station WHYY reported that Philadelphia had hosted an international gathering of mental health personnel who had come to study the area’s focus on mental health prevention.

Robyn Shearer, who leads New Zealand’s National Center for Mental Health, praised the way that Philadelphia has included a wide range of governmental agencies, private organizations, and individual citizens, in its efforts to promote mental health. “I think what you’ve done in Philadelphia is that everyone has taken more responsibility for mental health care,” Ms. Shearer told WHYY.

Arthur C. Evans Jr., Ph.D., who serves as the commissioner of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Service (DBHIDS), told Philadelphia’s CBS affiliate that many attendees of the international gathering told him that they were impressed by both the size and the enthusiasm of Philadelphia’s mental health awareness and prevention efforts.

“What they were struck by here is the scale that we’re doing it on and the fact that we got traction in ways that have really engaged a lot of people,” Dr. Evans said.

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