Mental health system improvement

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The Challenge


Caring for people with serious mental illness, substance abuse, or developmental disabilities is one of today’s great public health challenges. This research effort seeks to apply both qualitative and quantitative methods, stakeholder participation, and computer simulations to identify leverage points and intervention strategies for improving mental health care systems.
In North Carolina, the serious shortage of community-based crisis services and state psychiatric hospitals results in facilities that are often overbooked and understaffed. Nearly 400,000 North Carolinians with the most severe symptoms do not always receive the most effective treatment. In addition, there is a growing number of people with mental illness who are detained in jails across the state.
The Solution
This innovation lab will assist government officials and concerned citizens in improving public mental health services in North Carolina.
Phase One
Map clinical, organizational, and financial factors driving the use of state psychiatric hospital services and available alternatives in the Central Region of North Carolina.

Phase Two
Scale up to statewide implementation by assessing system dynamics of state psychiatric hospital use in Eastern and Western regions of N.C.


Joseph Morrissey, PhD, professor of health policy and management, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health; professor of psychiatry, UNC School of Medicine; and Deputy Director for Research, UNC Sheps Center, and his team will use a variety of systems dynamics modeling tools to address shortcomings in mental health care.

Co-investigators from UNC’s department of health policy and management include Kristen Hassmiller-Lich, PhD, Shoou-Yih Daniel Lee, PhD, and Rebecca Wells, PhD. Co-investigators at the Duke University Medical Center include Marvin Swartz, MD, Jeffrey Swanson, PhD, and Barbara Burns, PhD.
Partners include: the UNC Schools of Public Health and Medicine, UNC Sheps Center for Health Services Research, Duke University Medical School, Carolina Vaccine Institute, Global Vaccines (a not-for-profit company in Research Triangle Park, N.C.) and a variety of community partners.