Observing that mental health is one of the biggest public health issues currently facing their communities, Minnesota hospital and health system officials have embarked on a campaign to engage the public in a statewide conversation about mental health and work with community partners to spread the message.

The Minnesota Hospital Association on March 31 launched its “Strengthening Healthy Communities” campaign using the hashtag #HealthyMinds. The campaign aims to feature stories about the impact of mental health issues from the perspective of the patient, families, law enforcement, schools, health care providers and other community members, officials announced in a press release.

“With this public initiative we intend to turn up the volume on the needs and create additional focus on the biggest health issue facing our state,” Wendy Burt, spokesperson for the Minnesota Hospital Association, told MHW. “We’ve been hearing from our hospitals’ 140 members throughout metropolitan and rural areas who feel the state cannot meet the demand for mental health services.”

Burt added, “We conducted a poll in late October that found that 85 percent of respondents say mental health is a serious problem in the community. That’s a big number.” One in four respondents said they knew someone who missed work due to depression or anxiety, she added. “It’s touching virtually everyone in the state,” said Burt.

The initiative will help to increase public education about mental health and reduce stigma, noted Burt. Currently, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one of the hospital system’s community partners, is pushing forward its #makeitokay campaign, a public service announcement to also reduce mental health stigma.

The NAMI campaign and the Minnesota Hospital Association’s health partner are making much headway in getting people comfortable in talking about mental health, Burt said.

Multiyear effort

The multiyear effort is grounded in five core principles that hospital and health system officials said are essential in reforming the complex mental health system in Minnesota:

  1. Share experiences — Building greater awareness of mental health challenges and improving care starts with community members sharing their experiences and learnings.
  2. Engage early and often — Treat mental health by recognizing conditions early and ensuring Minnesotans have access to appropriate levels of care.
  3. Foster stronger community partnerships — A communitywide approach is required to develop safe, effective and culturally competent solutions to identify and treat mental health conditions among all Minnesotans regardless of geography, income, ethnicity, gender or age.
  4. Use good data to make informed decisions — Consistent reliable data will inform well-founded solutions to mental health.
  5. Expand education, innovation and technology — Minnesota can identify and treat mental health conditions by using the latest technology and innovations, and ensuring communities have access to qualified, trained mental health specialists.

“We also are working with groups that represent community-based clinics,” Burt said. “There are a lot of local efforts going on.”

One such effort is a partnership between Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital and St. Louis Park Middle School called NOW (No Obstacles to Well-being) to provide telemental health services to the students via videoconferencing. In a Facebook video, officials have noted only one child psychologist in the state per 17,000 students. “We will be running Facebook posts and Facebook ads as well to turn up the volume on this issue,” said Burt.

A priority issue

The hospital has identified mental health as a priority moving forward, said Shannah Mulvihill, executive director of Mental Health Minnesota. “They’re acknowledging that mental health plays a key role in our community,” Mulvihill told MHW. “We will likely jump in playing a role at some point, helping share stories about what experiences [consumers] are having and how to improve the system to serve them better.”

The state is making other efforts to improve its mental health system, said Mulvihill. Minnesota is one of the 24 states selected to participate in the first round of federal demonstration programs to help states establish certified community behavioral health clinics. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Minnesota $982,373 in planning grants to support the state’s efforts to improve the behavioral health of their consumers by providing community-based mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

“Our state legislature is putting the pieces in place to move that forward,” Mulvihill said of the bills (Senate File 2549, House File 2609). “The legislation will help us do what we need to do and make us competitive," she said. “The care will be a very integrated model of care. Clients will be addressing more of the whole person. Support will include housing and physical health care. You can’t isolate one condition." Meanwhile, this fall, eight states will be selected to participate in the two-year pilot program, Mulvihill noted.