For the past decade, mental health issues among Minnesotans have been steadily growing. The Minnesota Hospital Association found that total in-state emergency room visits increased a manageable 16.2% between 2010 and 2017, but mental health and substance abuse visits jumped 75.1%. That was before a pandemic heightened the stressors of loneliness, fear, anxiety and economic upheaval across the country.

While many Americans live in urban areas and have accessible mental health services nearby, that is not true for much of Greater Minnesota, including the Iron Range. Expanding mental health services in St. Louis County is imperative, and COVID-19 has accentuated the need to do so in the patient’s home, as opposed to hospital settings. That is why providers like Accra are offering Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS).

Accra is the largest provider of homecare services in the state, proudly serving more than 9,000 clients throughout all 87 Minnesota counties. We bring a person-centered approach to supporting the independence of people of all ages with disabilities and older adults through a variety of programs that support daily living at home. To address the need for mental health resources on the Iron Range, Accra recently introduced the ARMHS program, based at the nonprofit organization’s office in Virginia.

Accra’s services help clients manage the symptoms of mental illness, meet their independent living needs and lead a more fulfilling life at home. ARMHS practitioners teach clients how to connect with and leverage community resources and mental health services.

Through ARMHS services, clients receive assistance with psychiatric stability; the development and enhancement of social competencies; personal and emotional adjustment; and independent living skills. Supervised by mental health professionals, the ARMHS program builds the individual’s skills for symptoms management, relapse prevention, interpersonal communication, household management and parenting, while also assisting with employment-related transitions and medication education.

The need for ARMHS services has never been greater. St. Louis County residents are reporting an average of 3.6 mentally unhealthy days in the last 30 days, exceeding the state average of 3.1. In 2017, the suicide rate in St. Louis County was 18.5 per 100,000 residents, well above the rising state average of 13.8 per 100,000 residents. And while isolation is protecting people from contracting COVID-19, it continues to wreak havoc on the behavioral health of Minnesotans, especially older adults.

Implementing home-based mental health services is crucial to meeting the needs of the aging population. Nearly one in five older adults have one or more behavioral health conditions, including mental health and substance use issues, and mental health issues are significantly more pervasive for the homebound.

Bringing care into the home can also help eliminate the stigma that still exists toward mental health issues. Nearly 75% of patients with behavioral health conditions refuse to access care in the behavioral health sector and are seen primarily or exclusively in primary care and specialty medical settings. These patients will be more receptive to receiving appropriate mental health care if they don’t have to enter a behavioral health facility and can remain in their homes.

On the Iron Range and across the state, providers increasingly need to meet Minnesotans at home. The COVID-19 crisis and resulting economic downturn have only accentuated the need to offer timely, appropriate care, where people can access it best. But private industry cannot do it alone. As we chart a path forward, private business and government will need to work together to make sure that all Minnesotans, regardless of zip code, have access to the quality mental health services they deserve.

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