Terra Rea, PsyD, Psychologist. Photos of providers at the International Community Health Services clinic in Bellevue, WA on March 13, 2018. (Photo by Karen Ducey Photography)

Terra Rea, PsyD, Psychologist. Photos of providers at the International Community Health Services clinic in Bellevue, WA on March 13, 2018. (Photo by Karen Ducey Photography)

OPINION: Legislature must invest in preventative behavioral health

A guest opinion by a licensed clinical psychologist in Bellevue.

  • Thursday, February 7, 2019 3:49pm
  • Opinion

By Terra Rea

Special to the Reporter

The city of Bellevue and our neighbors are in the midst of an opioid crisis. Overdose deaths have increased by over 300 percent in the last decade, and there are now more people in King County seeking treatment for opioids than for alcohol. Currently, our state lacks both the behavioral health infrastructure — like clinics and beds — and the staff to meet the growing need.

That’s why it’s inspiring to see state elected officials from both sides of the aisle declare that improving our behavioral and mental system is their number one priority for this legislative session. But we need to ensure the entire system is strengthened — not just the crisis end of it.

This work should start by increasing access to community behavioral health care — the most cost-effective way to address this crisis. Community health centers, in particular, can offer on-the-ground preventive services that help people before they reach an emergency situation that requires law enforcement involvement or a trip to the emergency room.

As a psychologist at International Community Health Services (ICHS) Bellevue Clinic, I see how investing in community health centers could help patients with behavioral health issues every day. For example, this past year our clinic provided behavioral health services to “Mary,” a 26-year-old single mother with a young child who needed support to escape her abusive ex-partner. She started therapy for depression and panic attacks, began to develop a new support network for her child, and worked to become financially independent. Without that support, her path might have led to homelessness or substance use.

In the past three years, ICHS has added six behavioral health providers to keep up with the growing demand for care from people like Mary, providing help with PTSD, bipolar disorders and substance use disorders. But the need is still greater than our capacity.

An investment by the State of Washington could allow us to expand our behavioral health offerings and dedicate space in our existing building to behavioral health services. We are asking the Legislature for funds for our Bellevue Medical and Dental Clinic to add space and staff for mental health, substance use disorder and opioid use disorder treatment, alongside medical and medication assisted treatment providers. This would allow us to increase the number of patients we serve with varying mental health and/or substance abuse needs by nearly 40 percent. Many require multiple visits with medical and behavioral health professionals.

The Legislature can also help us attract behavioral health professionals to serve low-income and underserved populations with an additional investment dedicated to these providers in the state health professional loan repayment program.

Community health centers are best positioned to serve Bellevue’s growing immigrant population. Right now, 87 percent of our patients identify as an ethnicity other than white. This means we are already set up to provide culturally competent services to immigrant populations who often face language and other barriers when attempting to find mental health treatment.

Please contact your state legislators and ask them to support behavioral health investments focused on prevention, early intervention and ongoing treatment this session. These investments would provide immediate solutions to address our state’s behavioral health crisis, saving lives and saving the state money.

Terra Rea, PsyD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and works at International Community Health Services Bellevue Clinic.

More in Opinion

Legislature: History, investigations and new laws

The 2019 session of the Legislature included controversy, compromise, surprise, new law and more.

Best Buddies include everyone | Windows and Mirrors

North Creek’s new club this year works to promote inclusion and helps students make friends and connections.

Letters to the editor, May 10, 2019

PSE; street paving; homelessness

Building a community of belonging | Windows and Mirrors

LWTech is putting in the work to ensure employees feel welcomed on campus.

Libraries are places of connection and community pride | Library column

Written by Lisa Rosenblum, the director of the King County Library System.

Are sheriffs above the law?

Washington voters have spoken on I-1639. Sheriffs need to set the stage to follow their oath of office - and enforce the law.

The difficulty of aging in place | Windows and Mirrors

Living on a fixed income in an increasingly expensive region is not easy.

Dora Gyarmati
                                Nityia Photography
Why we focus on the negative, even when the news is good | Health

How to find a healthy emotional balance in life.

OPINION What’s your American Dream?

By James Whitfield Special to the Reporter ^ I have a friend… Continue reading

In lieu of a perfect world | Windows and Mirrors

Violence in the world will happen but we shouldn’t just resign ourselves to it.

Raise a glass to 20 years of clean water | Guest editorial

Since 1999 Cascade Water Alliance and its members have been working to provide high-quality water for its customers.