Philly approach to mental health care has international appeal

    Philadelphia’s model for improving mental health care has attracted attention from around the world.

    Health leaders from New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom visited the city this week to learn about what’s called the public health approach to mental health care.

    They were drawn to the idea that, instead of focusing on people solely when they’re in crisis, Philadelphia uses a preventive model.

    “We’re doing things like sending people into communities in the aftermath of traumatic events, so we’re trying to both support people in the immediate aftermath, but also educate people about what a typical trauma response is,” said Dr. Arthur Evans, commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services.

    By traumatic events, he’s talking about shootings or even a natural disaster. He likened his department’s efforts as tantamount to putting fluoride in the water to improve oral health.

    Robyn Shearer, chief executive of the National Center for Mental Health in New Zealand, said more New Zealanders are trying to access mental health services than before. But people get care almost exclusively through hospitals.

    “I think people are seen quite late, and that means that when they come into services, they are sicker and end up needing services for longer,” she said.

    She’s drawn to the multiple points of entry here and, in particular, to Philadelphia’s “whole city approach,” where even members of the fire department or the mural arts program, are invested in mental health. Shearer is excited about bringing some of Philadelphia’s policies back to cities including Auckland and Hamilton.

    “I think what you’ve done in Philadelphia is that everyone has taken more responsibility for mental health care,” she said.

    Shearer said she hopes Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services will help her develop a similar model in her home city of Auckland.


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