Contrary to popular belief, psychiatric disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are just as common as other chronic conditions. About 11% of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with diabetes, while in comparison, 26% of the population has a diagnosable mental disorder per year.
Unlike other chronic conditions, there are few resources to treat mental illnesses in North Carolina, which is exemplified by the lack of behavioral health providers. Alarmingly, 42 out of 100 counties in the state have no psychiatrist or active behavioral health provider, leaving more than half of adults with mental illness without treatment options.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
In 2001, the state of North Carolina began to privatize mental health services by transitioning them from public area authorities to private provider groups. This transition meant private agencies would become solely responsible for caring for people with behavioral and mental health disorders as well as substance use disorders.
For those without access to a local behavioral health professional or without the ability to pay for care, their only option is often the hospital emergency department. In fact, one out of every eight ED visits is related to mental illness or substance use disorders. This puts more strain on EDs, which were not designed for this type of specialized care.
As a community, we need to work together to change the way behavioral health care is delivered in North Carolina. Solving the mental health crisis requires collaboration and partnership across a broad spectrum of services. One way ECU Health is doing this is through a joint venture partnership with Acadia Healthcare, a national leader in providing behavioral health services. Recently, we announced plans to build a state-of-the-art behavioral health hospital that is slated to open in spring 2025, pending regulatory approval.
In addition to serving adult patients, the new hospital will provide much-needed access to behavioral health services for children and adolescents, providing the only child and adolescent psychiatric beds within 75 miles of Greenville. Together, both ECU Health and Acadia will invest more than $60 million in expanding behavioral health resources.
Working in tandem with other partner organizations as a network providing a wide variety of treatment options can create a much greater impact than we’re able to on our own.
Everyone deserves access to high-quality health care, and ECU Health is committed to doing its part to offer vital behavioral health treatment to eastern North Carolina. While this partnership provides promise for those who are seeking behavioral health care, my hope is that we continue to find ways to partner in our communities and across the state to ensure our residents have access to the care they need to live healthy, fulfilling lives.
Sy Atezaz Saeed, M.D., is executive director of ECU Health’s behavioral health service line and professor and chair emeritus of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine in East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine. He also serves as founding director of the Center for Telepsychiatry at ECU and founding director of the North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program, or NC-STeP.