Poor mental health is a major public health issue, affecting millions of people in their pursuit to lead optimal emotional, social, and professional lives. Depression alone can worsen other medical conditions, often doubling over-all healthcare costs, and result in a significant decrease in quality of life and overall functioning.
Rural communities and residents of those communities face significant social and health disparities as compared with urban and suburban residents. Residents of rural areas are more likely to experience health disparities. They are more likely to have chronic health conditions, less likely to receive healthcare of any kind, and less likely to receive evidence-based treatments when they do access care. Geographic maldistribution of mental health specialists from all disciplines and education levels (e.g. psychology, social work, psychiatry) creates significant access challenges. Rural areas also experience workforce shortages for primary care, where most rural mental health treatment occurs, further exacerbating access barriers. In underserved rural areas in Washington and Alaska, a severe shortage of mental health providers compounds these problems.
In an effort to ameliorate some of these disparities, the AIMS Center is partnering with Premera Blue Cross to support 23 clinics in rural Washington and Alaska to implement Collaborative Care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us all to find new ways to make and maintain connections with others, especially with older adults in our own lives and communities. In response to increasing COVID-related isolation, AIMS Center members and UW faculty developed a program called Stay Connected. Delivered via telehealth, Stay Connected is a program that employs evidence-based behavioral strategies for older adults experiencing loneliness, anxiety, or depression symptoms. Case managers, community health workers, and others working in senior service settings make structured phone calls to a caseload of clients in which they ask targeted questions and provide specific tools and guidance to ward off stress, loneliness, and anxiety. Callers are trained and supported by licensed behavioral health clinicians and psychologists.
“The Stay Connected program helps older adults restructure their day and add self-care and mood boosters.” – Patrick Raue, PhD
The program was developed by AIMS Center members in partnership with organizations participating in an Archstone Foundation-funded project known as Care Partners. Stay Connected was also funded by NIMH as part of the University of Washington School of Medicine ALACRITY Center. In addition, Seattle-King County Aging and Disability Services implemented a brief pilot of the Stay Connected program in 2020.
Read a press release from the UW Medicine Newsroom: Stay Connected program helps isolated seniors