Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health broadening approach to care

 Shown is the skyline in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 5, 2009. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Shown is the skyline in Philadelphia, Thursday, March 5, 2009. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

What’s a good outcome for a person living with a mental illness?

Ten years ago, Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services might have defined success as that person not being in a hospital, not in jail, and not homeless. Since then, staff has tried to raise that bar.

The department started to shift toward a recovery-oriented approach in 2005 — that means going beyond symptom control and offering resources for a meaningful life, said commissioner Arthur Evans. “An emphasis on people having jobs, working, going to school, being part of the community, and having social relationships,” he said.

Evans said changing the culture and thinking in the many provider organizations under his department’s umbrella has meant restructuring how services are offered.  For example asking clients early on what their goals are, and hiring more staff people who are in recovery themselves.

Evans says the department has also taken more of a public health approach and become more proactive in terms of reaching people who might be struggling with mental health issues.

“So when there are health fairs in the community, as people are being screened for their blood pressure, we’re setting up a table next to them and we’re screening people for mental health challenges. We call it a check up from the neck up,” he said.

Evans says he plans to expand these kinds of services since many Philadelphians are not aware of available resources, and are not seeking help.

“Half the people who have challenges don’t access mental health services, and 90 percent of people with addictions don’t access services. So if we have a passive system that waits for people to come, we’re going to miss thousands of people who could benefit from services.”

The department serves 120,000 people every year.

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