While there are many excellent organizations working hard to reduce the discrimination, discredit and shame that all too often surrounds those with behavioral health disorders, there’s an advocacy opportunity that no one’s grasping onto right now. What’s lacking in the industry messaging today is the idea that treatment works.
Mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment is in fact efficacious, giving individuals hope, purpose, connection and functionality that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Where are the rallies and television commercials that tell people they can get better?
You know the score
Data from SAMHSA’s national survey shows that in 2014, 15.7 million adults reported major depression, but more than 33% didn’t seek help. Also, 21.2 million Americans needed help for SUD, but only 2.5 million people received treatment. Many of these individuals didn’t bother calling you because they figured you couldn’t help them. Their lack of faith in your service is a barrier that you’re probably not recognizing.
In the challenge of conveying the message of efficacy is the hard truth that providers just don’t have the scientific data to make such a claim. Many have anecdotes and beliefs, but very little in terms of quantified outcomes data. Unfortunately, some in the industry really don’t want the data because they fear it won’t show the kind of numbers they’d like to claim on their websites.
It’s the industry’s Achilles heel.
Maybe one place to start is to consider the fact that behavioral health treatment has a higher rate of trial and error than most medical services. It’s not because providers are throwing spaghetti at the wall, but rather it’s because treatment includes so many personal variables that even the best clinicians won’t be able to forecast what will resonate with each individual. So much is in the hands of the patient.
But maybe treatment centers can work within that reality. Although you and your board likely wish there were agreed-upon industrywide outcomes measures, the lack of consensus shouldn’t stop you from moving forward on a campaign to prove value—and in the absence of that, at least the dedication to continuous performance improvement, which is also valuable.
Confucius observed that it’s better to have "a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."
Yes, there are a few organizations polishing their data gems, but the efforts are not broad enough. The message that treatment works must reach the very people you aim to help.