Houston, TX

Improving Mental Health Care Access For Underserved Communities

Jackson Cutler

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HOUSTON, TX—A University of Houston researcher discovered that a warm handoff between primary care physicians and mental health providers will allow gaining more trust from the patient, which leads to a successful outcome in order to improve mental health care access for low-income communities.

Quenette L. Walton, an assistant professor at the UH Graduate School of Social Work, said, “Underserved populations face certain obstacles, such as shortage of providers, family beliefs that cause stigma around mental health care, language barriers, lack of transportation, and lack of insurance." She also added that to ensure connections are built, certain individuals are needed who can act as intermediaries for experts and patients.

The fact showed that around 14% of children in the United States are dealing with emotional problems from birth to the age of five, while 75% of children with mental health illnesses are handled by pediatric primary care physicians. But unfortunately, it is different for underserved populations since integrated mental health services are not available.

Walton as the principal investigator and lead author of a study published in Child & Youth Care Forum evaluated and examined strategies that pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, licensed medical health counselors, program coordinators, and managers use to improve the referral treatment and access to pediatric mental health service for vulnerable and low-income people or minorities families in Los Angeles, where the study was conducted.

Walton explained that the group developed patient-centered and telehealth-based by the group to provide a streamlined process from referral to actual treatment, included maintaining their system to give access for specialized mental health care providers to the information they need.

There are three keys that emerged from the research for helping children and underserved communities to get better access to mental health care, and those are communication, coordination, and collaboration.

Walton said that it will take some time for people to understand the importance of mental health care and if they can put more effort into the improvement, people will likely feel valued and makes them come in for the services. She also added that an extra five or ten minutes would make a difference for a patient.

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