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.

In 2016 – 2017, BHECON partnered with five states to host a series of widely attended forums examining behavioral health delivery system challenges and policy solutions. These forums, held in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Pennsylvania brought together diverse stakeholders, including behavioral health providers, state NAMI chapters, law enforcement organizations, state Medicaid and mental health agencies, to explore a range of federal and state policy reforms. Through the forums, initiatives specific to each state that were evidence-based and supported by data were identified and explored. BHECON partnered with the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California to aggregate data on the state of behavioral health in each of the participating states. From this collaboration, comprehensive, state-specific behavioral health data chartbooks were developed for the states.

The Consensus Statement on State Policy Reform summarizes the areas of agreement that emerged from the forums, the policy issues that were identified that required legislative or regulatory action, and the recommended changes that would help improve their residents’ access to timely, high-quality mental health and addiction care. The Statement, endorsed by state association partners in each state addressed such critical issues as the nexus between the behavioral health and criminal justice systems, the chronic behavioral health workforce shortage, and the investment in evidence-based behavioral health treatment.