Improving Mental Health in the Community

Improving Mental Health in the Community

A survey of Community Benefit grants showed Kaiser Permanente Northern California has invested more than $11 million since 2014 in programs and services that support mental health and care for people with substance abuse and trauma-related issues.

By Dolores Radding

Support for people who have issues involving mental health is a growing concern in the community, and Kaiser Permanente Northern California is investing in evidence-based approaches to help.

Every three years, each Kaiser Permanente hospital conducts a community health needs assessment to determine what the most pressing issues are, with an eye toward deciding how to best use resources to improve health in the community.

Results from the 2016 needs assessment are in and are being reviewed by all 21 Kaiser Permanente hospitals in Northern California. It appears mental health will be a significant need in many communities across the region.

“The importance of mental health along with physical health has always been known, but now people are talking about it more and seeking help,” explained Yvette Radford, vice president for Kaiser Permanente Northern California External and Community Affairs. “Mental health is definitely an area where we can increase our support and impact in the community.”

Support for Counseling, Prevention, and Advocacy

For many years, Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit has focused investments on key health needs in the community, including healthy eating, active living, access to care, and violence prevention. Mental health is a part of many of these needs, so when Community Benefit staff took a deeper look at the activities and outcomes of recent investments, they found the grants included significant funding for mental health needs, too.

In fact, since 2014, Kaiser Permanente has invested more than $11 million to support 160-plus community partners that are using evidence-based approaches to treating mental health.

“Those investments support a range of services including individual and group counseling in community centers and school-based health centers, suicide and rape crisis centers, and support of domestic violence shelters,” Radford said.

She added that Community Benefit grants have also focused on preventing mental health issues through support of programs such as stress management education in schools. And funding has supported mental health professionals’ time and training in the community, as well as organizations that advocate for improved systems and care for mental health.

“We’ve also focused investments on getting people out to parks, and safe places to play,” Radford said. “This is not only about improving people’s physical health; it’s absolutely a strategy for reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.”

Sharing Knowledge, Offering Help

The James Morehouse Project at El Cerrito High School is one of Kaiser Permanente’s grantee partners. Many of the school’s students live in Richmond neighborhoods that are heavily impacted by community violence.

Project Director Jenn Rader said the Kaiser Permanente funding “has made all the difference in the world.”

“It’s enabled us to offer our mental health services not only to students in need but also to staff and teachers who experience burnout and their own mental health stressors.”

Funding proposals for grants that address trauma and mental health are reviewed by Kaiser Permanente experts including Mason Turner, MD, assistant director, Regional Mental Health Services.

“We have a tremendous amount of knowledge about providing care for people who have experienced trauma in their lives, and the primary prevention of mental illness,” Dr. Turner said. “We can be a great help in improving the mental health of the communities we serve.”

While providing medical and mental health care to Kaiser Permanente members is a top priority, Radford explained that supporting mental health services in the community is also important.

“Our mental health is greatly influenced by our homes, our circumstances, and by what’s happening in our communities.”