As national recognition of the need for a better mental health care system in America grows, states are the front line for implementing reforms. The reforms taking place involve multiple agencies, numerous income streams, and require an entirely new way of approaching and treating individuals who are living with behavioral health issues. Yet such reform efforts are hampered by a range of financial, political, economic and cultural obstacles. These barriers can limit opportunities for cross-system collaboration, highlighting the need to break down policy silos and engage in discussions based on collaboration and data.

The Behavioral Health + Economics Network, known as BHECON (pronounced “beacon”) unites diverse stakeholders in a series of forums to examine and advance policy reforms that strengthen states’ behavioral health delivery systems. Led by the National Council for Behavioral Health along with its state partners, BHECON participants include individuals and organizations recognized for their commitment to improving the lives of people living with serious mental illness as well as representatives from the behavioral health, criminal justice, and public safety sectors, along with individuals from the broader medical field. In addition to the forums, BHECON developed the Behavioral Health Research Hub, a central repository for health economic data and research on the spillover cost of untreated mental illness, along with other important topics in access to care.

BHECON activities are taking place in 9 states

Why Now?

Despite increased recognition of the need for treatment, far too many Americans cannot access the behavioral health care services when and where they need. In the wake of sustained funding cuts to community-based mental health services, jails have become the largest providers of mental health treatment in the U.S. Meanwhile, facing workforce shortages, dismally low reimbursement rates, and financing methodologies that often fail to cover critical treatment services, health care providers and communities struggle to build capacity to serve all individuals living with serious mental illnesses.

Recognizing the urgent need to improve Americans’ access to behavioral health care, Congress and states have begun to turn their attention to this important issue. The passage of the Excellence in Mental Health Act of 2014 was a first step toward strengthening states’ delivery systems; yet, there remain a multitude of barriers to this and other transformation efforts. Creating a more robust continuum of care requires coordination between state governments and the federal government, engaging the criminal justice system and other social service systems, and strengthening capacity in the behavioral health safety net. Unfortunately, policy discussions all too often occur in industry-specific silos and are divorced from scientific and economic data on the impact of key reforms. Through a series of forums BHECON will gather stakeholders to analyze the current landscape, discuss cross-industry reforms, and present the economic case for an improved behavioral health care system across America.