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NEBRASKA SEES SOME PROGRESS Mental health challenges

Omaha World-Herald - 1/31/2018

Nebraska is making progress in increasing the number of professionals who can help adults and children with mental health struggles. While more work is needed, this progress is the result of a commendable statewide effort by a number of Nebraska organizations and individuals to meet a vital state need.

From 2010 to 2016, Nebraska increased its number of mental health professionals who can prescribe medications by 17 percent, from 249 to 292. Most of that increase is reflected in the total of advanced practice registered nurses, whose number grew 45 percent, from 78 to 113.

As a result, Nebraska is ahead of the national average when it comes to psychiatric nurses per 100,000 residents (5.2 in Nebraska, compared with 2.5 nationally) and psychiatric physician assistants (0.9 in Nebraska, compared with 0.4 nationwide).

Nebraska also increased its number of counselors and others who provide help with mental health needs but cannot prescribe medications. From 2010 to 2016, the number of these Nebraska professionals rose by 12 percent, from 2,030 to 2,277.

Most of that growth came from the large increase in Nebraska's number of licensed independent mental health professionals. Their number grew by 76 percent, from 589 to 1,034.

These figures are from a new report from the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska, a partnership of stakeholders created under a 2009 state law. Participants in the effort include the University of Nebraska, Creighton University, state agencies, regional behavioral health authorities, nonprofit groups, consumers and family members, law enforcement agencies and hospitals.

These numbers show that this collaborative initiative is paying off. In several regards, the state is now better equipped to meet the public's needs.

Still, significant challenges remain. Nebraska is well below the national averages for psychiatrists per 100,000 residents (8.3 in Nebraska, 14.8 nationally) and psychologists (19.6 in Nebraska, 33.9 nationally).

A particular concern involves substance abuse treatment. Nebraska's number of addiction counselors fell during 2010-16 from 132 to 105.

Rural areas need more providers. Nebraska also needs to boost the cultural and linguistic diversity of its mental health professionals, given the state's changing demographics. At present, 39 percent of Nebraska's advanced practice registered nurses speak a language other than English. The figure for licensed independent mental health professionals is 37 percent.

Nebraska organizations are taking a variety of steps to address these needs. Among the examples:

» Outreach to high school and college students introduces them to mental health and substance abuse treatment careers.

» Recent federal grants will fund training of addiction counselors and community health workers, with an emphasis on rural counties.

» Mental health therapists are increasingly working in primary care clinics across the state to provide more coordinated care.

Mental health challenges weigh on Nebraskans in all social categories, regardless of income, race or size of community. Nebraskans involved in strengthening the state's mental health resources are making laudable progress, even as the challenge remains ongoing.


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