October 5, 2022

Taquer-Tech

Melts In Your Technology

Shield Bearer looking to collaborate, inform community of importance of mental health

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States was already in a mental health crisis with 19.86 percent of adults experiencing mental illness in 2019 according to Mental Health America’s State of Mental Health 2022.

Shield Bearer CEO Thad Cardine said he has seen the crisis increase in intensity, with the nonprofit mental health provider seeing a significant increase in services since the beginning of the pandemic. Although Shield Bearer provides low-cost care, Cardine said the organization is observing price increases, denial of care by insurers and more issues across the mental health care industry.

Cardine said although barriers exist, including difficulty assessing medications and long waiting lists, Shield Bearer has continued to serve the Houston-area with 65 percent of their sessions from 2021 given to clients with no insurance or employment.

Still, the gap in care available for people in need grows larger.

Cardine discussed mental health public policy as the guest speaker during the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce’s April Transportation and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Due to industry wide price increases, the result of an increase in demand for mental health services since 2020, Shield Bearer has had to raise their yearly income limit for reduced cost sessions from $75,000 to $165,000. Shield Bearer provides a variety of services for mental health, including counseling sessions for depression, couples counseling, and counseling for all ages.

“Pre-pandemic $150 sessions went to $200 due to the pandemic causing people who have the finances to look for care, driving the cost up,” Cardine said. “That’s affecting our agency, it’s affecting Harris County. They’re having the same issues we are having: difficulty keeping and acquiring counselors, all of the same things.”

While apps like BetterHelp, a subscription service providing virtual counselors, are available for cheap, Cardine said apps of the sort may not have resources necessary for crisis management. Cardine used an example of a Shield Bearer client attempting suicide, which the organization was able to deescalate due to knowledge of the community and connections with local authorities.

Although telehealth has its benefits, such as providing more care to people in need of mental health resources, providing financial savings and reducing wait time, Cardine said he believes in a blended approach.

“Telehealth can be just as effective as (in-person) sessions,” Cardine said. “That is true in some instances. Shield Bearer went to 100 percent telehealth right after the pandemic started and maintained that for about two months. Right now, we’re about half and half.”

According to Cardine, Medicare saw an increase of 13,000 telehealth patients to 1.7 million since the beginning of the pandemic, with a slim chance the numbers will stop growing soon.

Even with telehealth services available, mental health care is failing clients in other ways statewide. According to Cardine, Shield Bearer tested the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and experienced up to 25-minute wait times, as well as call drops and disconnects while waiting.

“That’s horrendous,” Cardine said. “We were shocked. We didn’t do it expecting anything bad. We were just trying it out. It’s unacceptable.”

With six suicides and 30 suicide related injuries in Texas every day, Cardine said the stigma around mental health combined with the lack of accessibility for low-income individuals makes pursuing help more relevant than ever.

Part of the work is dispelling the stigma while a growing number of Texans need mental health help, Cardine said.

“A lot of the time when we talk about mental health, if we’re not involved in it directly, we have this shift in our brains and we say, ‘Mental health is a good thing but it’s for somebody else,’” he said. “As soon as we (use) that word ‘mental,’ suddenly we have a shift: ‘We don’t have problems with mental health, somebody else does and they need help and it can help them.’”

Cardine is pursuing partnerships with local agencies in order to access collaborative care for the area, giving the organization the chance to reduce the number of deaths across the area.

“One of the things we’re working on is working with other agencies to try to collaborate, to get housing and transportation and job placements and counseling and putting it all together in a seamless manner,” Cardine said. “Right now, it’s very fragmented.”

Shield Bearer, and other mental health care providers, are looking for funding that has been promised for their field, but never given.

“It is enormously difficult for agencies like ours to get our hands on money,” Cardine said. “There are millions and billions of dollars earmarked for mental health care, but Shield Bearer doesn’t have one dime of that. It’s going to larger government agencies and hospitals. They are spending it on administration, on paperwork, on all sorts of red tape, where 93 percent of each dollar coming to Shield Bearer goes directly to client services.”

In terms of the future of mental health care needs, Cardine suggests people look at the world as healing from a traumatic event.

“What you have to imagine is most of the population has experienced a traumatic event,” he said. “Traumatic events typically take five to 10 years before an individual feels the full impact. We are looking at, in the coming years, a major impact on a large portion of our population. There are very few people who are not affected.”

With almost half of the 60 million American adults living with mental health issues going untreated, and a fragmented, expensive system to work through, Cardine said the best route is advocating for local providers and seeking treatment when necessary and possible.

“It’s like running out of gas,” Cardine said. “Driving fine, until it gets all the way down and you hit rock bottom and you have a major issue and that’s what is happening now.”

In 2021, Shield Bearer conducted 14,171 counseling sessions, including over 5,000 sessions for anxiety and depression, with 58 percent of their sessions conducted through telehealth.

For more information, visit www.shieldbearer.org.

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