It has been an extremely challenging and difficult year for pretty much everyone.

Kentucky’s 14 regional community mental health centers have been working harder than ever to help Kentuckians as we deal with COVID-19 and the tremendous toll it has taken on our mental and emotional health, daily lives, economy, family members, loved ones and more, LifeSkills President and CEO Joe Dan Beavers said.

“In early September, Kentucky had the fourth-highest percentage rate of individuals indicating they had experienced symptoms of an anxiety disorder or depressive disorder at a staggering 40.3%,” Beavers said. “That is more than 5% higher than the national average.

“The mental health and social implications of eight-plus months of isolation, distance learning, abuse and neglect are becoming more apparent with each passing day,” Beavers said. “Job losses continue to increase at an alarming rate throughout the commonwealth, resulting in the fact that one in three Kentuckians is now a Medicaid beneficiary.”

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the first Community Mental Health Act to create an outpatient safety net of services for those who could not afford to pay.

Since that time, Kentucky has served as a pioneering state in building its network of community mental health centers, which have been vital in fighting the psychological challenges that emerged as an offshoot of the pandemic.

The 14 regional CMHCs meet the needs of individuals who require services for mental illness, addiction or developmental and intellectual disabilities by ensuring access to a comprehensive and high-quality system of integrated primary/behavioral health care.

Throughout these many years, the CMHCs have endured a mixture of budget cuts, funding restrictions and decreases in spite of a steady rise in the demand for even more services. Now, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the need for a strong mental health safety net that lifts people up has never been more evident:

  • Statistics indicate every county in Kentucky is experiencing a shortage of mental health professionals with an estimated 30% of mental health needs currently going unmet.
  • Kentucky now has the sixth-highest prevalence rate of mental illness in the country.
  • After years of decline, Kentucky’s high overdose rate ticked up 5 percent and signs point to even worse numbers to come.

“Prior to the pandemic, the Kentucky General Assembly had begun meeting to work through budget issues as well as to address the passage of important pension reform legislation that our CMHCs are in dire need of,” Beavers said. “In the coming weeks, those talks will start up again as legislators begin preparations for an undoubtedly difficult legislative session in January. We are hopeful that efforts will be made to not only strengthen our safety net of services but to also protect our dedicated retirees by preserving their pensions.”

– Maureen Mahaney coordinates public information for LifeSkills Inc., a nonprofit, behavioral health care corporation that plans for and serves the people of southcentral Kentucky in three main areas: mental health, addiction and developmental disabilities. Her column appears monthly.

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