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Integrating mental health and substance abuse treatment

An official with the state Department of Human Services says one of the big issues the state is facing in behavioral health is tearing down the silos between mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment.

Pamela Sagness is the director of the department’s behavioral health division. She says an advisory group is looking at ways to integrate treatment.

"So often, we see people who may be dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues," said Sagness. "They are so interrelated. But if those people go into a system that is quite siloed, they may not get all the services they need."

Sagness says someone seeking alcohol treatment, for example, may also have anxiety or depression.

"By having the systems be coordinated and collaborated, you open up access to services, to really meet the needs of people you are treating," Sagness said. She said there are barriers to treatment.

"People often see the systems as quite different," said Sagness. "People think there are various different stereotypes for who are typically substance abuse people and those who need mental health services. Sometimes, the barriers are from the systems themselves."

Sagness says sometimes, the treatment services are not available in some of the locations, such as in rural areas.

"Sometimes we have co-located programs in the same building, but they aren't necessarily integrated," said Sagness. "People won't necessarily be talking with one another."

An interim Legislative committee will be studying the issue of behavioral health. Sagness says she hopes that study leads to more integrated treatment.

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