The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute’s grant-winning Lone Star Depression Challenge seeks to address mental health challenges statewide by expanding access to mental health care and bringing awareness to the impact of untreated mental health and depression.
Lydia Hill Philanthropies and Lever for Change announced that the Dallas-based institute would receive the $10 million Lone Star Prize. The Texas-based competition launched in early 2020 to improve the lives of Texans and their communities.
President and CEO of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) Andy Keller says doctors need to treat depression like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, where screening, diagnosis, and treatment are standardized and quantified. “My family has a history of heart disease. My grandfather’s heart disease was detected when he had a heart attack in 1976,” Keller says. “As soon as I turned 35, they started screening me for my cholesterol, and my cholesterol was high. And so even before anything started developing in my heart that was bad, they started treating me for my heart disease risk.”
Since the start of the pandemic, depression rates have skyrocketed. At its worst, rates of depression and anxiety were both four times over their normal level. According to the CDC, roughly 1 in 5 adults had symptoms of depression in the past week. As of May 2021, this represents 21.5 percent of American adults and 22.8 percent of Texans.
Unlike other fatal diseases, primary care physicians rarely screen for depression. Keller says MMHPI seeks to use early detection to find people as soon as the depression starts and treat it immediately, just like doctors do for other diseases.
“What we’re going to do is when people go to their primary care doctor for any reason, they’re going to get screened, just like you have your blood pressure taken now when you go and your temperature, they’re also going to screen you for depression,” Keller says.
Keller says the timing of the project is more important than ever. From February 21 to March 20 this year, the mean weekly ED visit counts for suspected suicide attempts were 50.6 percent higher among girls aged 12–17 years compared with the same period in 2019, according to the CDC.
As part of the Lone Star Depression Challenge, MMHPI has partnered with the UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care to identify vulnerable populations with higher rates of depression and standardize strategies that can help personalize treatments for each individual.
“Over the last decade we have been able to develop, research, and refine what’s now known as Measurement-Based Care. This data-centric care approach uses systematically collected data to detect and recognize depression, choose the right treatment, and recalibrate treatment over time as needed,” said Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, Director of the UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care via release.
Keller says the main barriers to people receiving mental health care include the lack of early detection and convenient care in healthcare systems.
“We wait to find whether or not you have depression, and then we tell you, now go find somebody. We let you out on your own and say go find a therapist or go find a psychiatrist. All the ones we know are full. So we don’t deliver the care right there,” he says. Many doctors often have old school mindsets when it comes to treating mental health.
“I used to talk at health systems. I’d say that we should be screening for depression and people would question, what if we can’t find them out? Won’t we have liability?” he says. “And I thought seriously. You would rather just leave them alone and not find out they have depression so you don’t have to find them a therapist?”
MMHPI will use their grant to engage various health systems across the state and target these barriers to assist hospitals with screening and detection of symptoms, put therapists in the primary care office, and deploy community health workers through churches and other community organizations. The Dallas Methodist Health System has already committed to collaborating with MMHPI.
Integrating mental health practitioners into primary care practices will ensure that patients have immediate access to mental healthcare and make follow-up appointments easier.
“We’ll help them do the screening and detection of symptoms and then not only will they detect it, but then once you start getting treatment, they’ll keep measuring your symptoms to make sure you get better,” Keller says. “The unfortunate thing is that most mental health practitioners today do not do that. They treat it like an art rather than measuring depression in a rigorous way.”
He says he’s grateful to receive funding for MMHPI’s Depression Challenge as it raises the profile of mental health issues in the community and brings people hope.
“If we do the right thing in health systems, two thirds of people with depression will either fully get better or get better enough that they’re not going to be at risk of suicide be able to go about their lives,” he says. “We now have the leading philanthropists in Texas and nationally saying, treating mental health is doable.”