Behavioral Health Grants Address Wisconsin’s Gaps and Shortages

August 25, 2022 Posted by Jesse M. Ehrenfeld, MD, MPH

For everyone in Wisconsin to live their best lives, we need more investment in the physical, mental, and emotional wellness of our communities. 

That means addressing inequities and growing needs in mental and behavioral health.

The stresses and losses of the COVID-19 pandemic have pushed mental and behavioral health systems to the brink, contributing to twin mental and behavioral health crises.

However, a number of behavioral health grants from a variety of funders are fueling innovative solutions and creative collaborations between researchers, health care providers, and community-based organizations to address this public health challenge.

The Difference between Mental and Behavioral Health

It’s common to conflate the terms mental health and behavioral health. Let’s take a look at where these terms diverge. 

Mental Health Care

Mental health care is often concerned with identifiable mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. 

Mental health care professionals include licensed marriage and family therapists, mental health therapists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and gerontological social workers.

Where it gets complicated is when mental health conditions co-exist, or contribute to behavioral health issues.

Behavioral Health Care

Behavioral disorders have less to do with the biology of the brain and more to do with the actions people take to try to cope with trauma, mental health issues, or other problems. 

According to University of Massachusetts Global, the following are some common behavioral disorders.

  • Substance use disorders
  • Gambling addiction
  • Self-injury
  • Eating disorders

Behavioral health professionals include substance abuse counselors, school psychologists, clinical health psychologists, and addiction psychiatrists. 

Wisconsin has some significant shortages in the systems that deliver behavioral health care, and some related health equity issues.

Wisconsin Has an Alcohol and Drug Problem

According to statistics from Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services, Wisconsin has the third highest percentage of adults who drink alcohol. Only Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire drink more than Wisconsinites. And we also rank third in the nation for binge drinking.

These numbers point to the need for more education and treatment for substance use disorders in our state, especially in underserved areas and populations.

Wisconsin’s Behavioral Health Gaps

Although mental and behavioral health care are not exactly the same, they do overlap in some critical ways. Wisconsin needs a concerted effort to address both.

A 2020 report prepared by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute for the Wisconsin Division of Health Services examined Wisconsin’s behavioral health care needs, gaps, and barriers. 

The report shows that our state has shortages in

  • Child and geriatric psychiatrists
  • Mental health inpatient beds
  • Residential facilities for treating substance use disorders
  • Medication-assisted treatment providers and clinics
  • Translation services
  • Wraparound services, especially for families

We also have

  • An inadequate medical transportation system
  • A need to improve crisis stabilization by reducing contact with police
  • Long waiting lists for providers and clinics

Behavioral Health Barriers

When the researchers asked people about the barriers to receiving quality behavioral health care, they mentioned the following factors:

  1. Costs or insurance rules
  2. Geography
  3. Cultural mismatch between providers and clientele
  4. Workforce or facility shortages

One important strategy for closing these gaps and reducing barriers is funding. We need to invest in creative solutions that center these concerns and address the problems we face.

Grants to Support Behavioral Health

Organizations like the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin Endowment are working to address these systemic issues with behavioral health grants. 

An important part of our mission is to fund solutions for understanding and treating the emotional, behavioral, and biological roots of mental wellness and substance use. 

In 2016, AHW kicked off an eight-year $20 million commitment to address behavioral health outcomes statewide. A Advancing Behavioral Health Summit organized in 2018 brought together expert keynote speakers and leaders from 10 community coalitions from communities tackling this important issue.

Since then, our partners have been advancing brain and behavioral health by seeking solutions for brain conditions, diseases, and injuries, as well as understanding the emotional, behavioral, and biological roots of mental wellness and substance use.

Our funding opportunities include the following categories of grants:

  • Systems Change – Supporting community‑led partnership to address root causes of poor health outcomes and health inequities through systems change efforts.
  • Population Health Research – Supporting project teams to conduct population health research to inform policies and practices that will improve health outcomes and health equity in Wisconsin.
  • Workforce Development – Supporting project teams to develop and implement innovative and sustainable programs and resources to advance Wisconsin’s current and future health workforce.
  • Collaborative Research – Supporting MCW‑led research collaborations to pursue new paths of study, overcome barriers and integrate new research perspectives to move knowledge into action to improve health and health equity in Wisconsin.

We believe that we can work together to address the gaps and disparities in Wisconsin’s behavioral health system.

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