Utah has historically had a poor rating for addressing mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it worse. Mental health problems worldwide have reached an all-time high in the past 18 months.

A group of Utah healthcare and community organizations has teamed up to address the problem in Utah. The Utah Department of Human Services, Latino Behavioral Health, the Utah Pride Center and Intermountain Healthcare have joined forced to help each address the crisis using $67 million in community contributions to improve access to mental healthcare for marginalized people in Utah.

“The organizations and groups that we are collaborating with have been the heart and soul of our community,” said Mikelle Moore, Intermountain Healthcare senior vice president and chief community officer. “We recognize we need to expand our own services, and we’re doing that.”

The partnership emphasized the need to improve mental healthcare accessibility in Utah among underrepresented communities that are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, especially LGBTQ and Latino people.

“We all deserve a seat at the table. Diversity and unity are not opposites,” said Doug Thomas, director at the Utah Department of Human Services.

There are also positive developments coming from the pandemic. Mental health help access has dramatically increased through telehealth opportunities. Thomas said that between March and April 2020, Utah saw an increase in telehealth, going from serving just over 200 people to 14,000.

Intermountain Healthcare has focused on connecting people with providers in their community through its Behavioral Health Clinical program. Intermountain has launched a mental health hotline at 833-442-2211 to help people understand clinical concerns, manage insurance issues and find a provider. This hotline took about 6,500 calls from April 2020 through April 2021.

Navigating behavioral health can be challenging, especially for people who may be fragile and already suffering, said Tammer Atallah, licensed clinical social worker and executive clinical director of Intermountain’s program.

“The goal of this service is to really help connect people and make a precise connection so that it limits that risk,” Atallah said. “It’s more important now than ever before.”

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