Mental health needs rising
Report finds help for children, Hispanics particularly scarce
A new report by a handful of health agencies and organizations has found an increasing demand for mental health services in Anne Arundel County and a shortage of mental health services to meet that need.
Issued once every three years by the Healthy Anne Arundel Coalition, the Community Health Needs Assessment released Wednesday found residential mental health beds to be almost nonexistent in Anne Arundel, though there are 259 residential rehabilitation beds in the county for people with chronic and persistent mental illness.
The Healthy Anne Arundel Coalition is a partnership of public sector agencies, health care providers and insurers, community and faith-based groups, businesses and academic institutions aimed at improving the county's health.
Dr. Pamela Brown, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Partnership for Children, Youth and Families, and one of the authors of the report, said in a presentation Wednesday that the county has seen a “massive rise” in behavioral problems among kindergartners, as children experience serious mental health issues at younger ages.
Christine Crabbs, director of community health for Anne Arundel Medical Center, said the hospital is seeing children as young as 5 coming in with mental health problems at a rate of more than 800 a year.
“At the moment, we don't really know why,” Brown said. “So, how do we as practitioners get a handle on that?”
While the need for public health services is quickly rising among children 5 and younger, there are only two evidence-based behavioral programs for that age group in the county, offered by Anne Arundel Community College and Arundel Child Care Connections, Brown said.
Brown said at the other end of the spectrum, health care providers can expect to see an increased need for mental health services for seniors.
Many seniors, she said, experience loneliness, anxiety or depression.
Mental health issues and substance abuse are also linked, as people often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol when they feel stressed, Brown said.
The report also notes few mental health resources available to the county's growing Hispanic population, finding a single Spanish-speaking psychiatrist available and few Spanish-speaking mental health counselors.
“It's all connected,” she said, adding, “We don't want to see a part of the population that's anxious and depressed, because all those things are going to make people more likely to” turn to substance abuse.
Although tobacco, marijuana and alcohol are the substances of choice among youths in the county, “there's lots of access for kids to prescription drugs,” Brown said.
“When I talked to the various people in the various systems — whether it be aging, emergency response, hospitals, the health department, a mental health agency, the school system, people living on the street, people living in south county — that's what you heard: people with mental health issues and substance abuse. We've got to get a handle on it,” Brown said.
The two county hospitals — University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie and Anne Arundel Medical Center in Parole, both members of the coalition — are planning to use data from the report to improve mental health services provided to the community, representatives said.
Brown said information sharing and communication, which becomes difficult because of patient confidentiality regulations, should be improved to meet community health needs.
Crabbs, director of community health for Anne Arundel Medical Center, said the hospital plans to build an inpatient psychiatric unit to meet the mental health needs of the county.
“We're working to meet everyone's needs to figure out how to embed mental health into our primary care practices collectively to prevent it,” Crabbs said.
“There is so much work that is being done quickly that both hospitals recognize that we need to work together with our partners. ... We continue to work together to figure out where we need to put services.”
Other findings in the report include:
“It's all connected to the overprescription of narcotics,” Brown said referring to an issue that has surfaced not only in Maryland, but across the nation.