Since 1949, the month of May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. It marks May as a month dedicated to bringing attention to and eliminating the shame associated with mental health challenges.
This month at EVALCORP, we are asking: What role do evaluators play in raising awareness about mental health? To answer this question, we want to highlight our work with one of our California clients, Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services (KernBHRS), and use the evaluation we are conducting of their Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) programs as an example.
The first way that evaluators raise awareness about mental health is by quantifying mental health needs – usually through needs assessments – and the impacts of existing mental health programs. In quantifying mental health needs, evaluators draw attention to current challenges in providing adequate services and to the important work that mental healthcare workers do. The effect of quantifying program impacts is to remind the public and policy makers that mental health issues are preventable and treatable. In Kern County, the evaluation of the Community Services and Supports (CSS) programs includes evidence about improved mental health outcomes and the reduction of negative downstream outcomes such as arrests and homelessness. For example, by our calculation, in the year after participating in Kern’s CSS programs, participants spent 62% fewer days homeless than they had in the prior year.
The second major role that evaluators play in raising awareness about mental health is in amplifying the voices of participants in mental health programs. In a well-conducted evaluation, people who receive mental health services are invited to share their feedback about their experiences in programs in an honest and confidential way. Evaluators listen and read this feedback, find common threads, and report back to the program staff what people are saying about the mental healthcare they receive. Any recommendations for improvement that are made by the evaluator include the voices of these participants. To use KernBHRS as an example once again, the evaluation of the Prevention and Early Intervention programs found that these programs are widely popular and perceived positively by participants. When hundreds of participants in Kern were asked whether they would recommend these programs to others, 98% of them said that they would.
A third major way in which evaluators raise awareness about mental health is by educating the public and policymakers about the benefits of mental health programs. Most of the reports that evaluators develop are shared with the public, usually hosted online. Reports for the Mental Health Services Act, for example, must be posted online for a 30-day comment period. At the end of the comment period, the county must respond to the comments and questions contributed by the public. KernBHRS has taken other steps to improve the readability of reports as well, such as a policy to stop using acronyms in public reports. This simple rule makes reports much easier for people who do not work in the mental healthcare system to understand their message.
In summary, evaluators have a key role to play in mental health awareness. This is because it is not enough to remind the public that mental health programs exist – people also want to know whether the programs are effective and how they are perceived by those seeking help. Evaluators are also expert listeners, compiling huge amounts of authentic feedback about the mental healthcare system and making sure that the right people hear it. Finally, evaluators help to structure and mediate the relationship between mental healthcare organizations and the public. As we play each of these roles, EVALCORP is proud to help raise awareness about mental health this May.
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