The Path Forward Will Fast Track Proven Mental Health Strategies–Blog

The amazing number of people who attended — and stayed engaged for the entire day with — the April 29, 2020, Employer Leadership Summit on driving improvement in mental health care and outcomes was a testament to their commitment to solving for the rapid escalation in mental health needs together.


During the Summit, we discussed the growing urgency of mobilizing employers to do all they can to improve mental health care and outcomes as COVID-19 dominates our everyday lives. Keynote speaker and founder of The Kennedy Forum, former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, warns of the “coming epidemic of suicide and overdose” and is calling for strong public-policy measures to counteract the threat. (See Duluth News Tribune article here).

In this confounding COVID-19 environment, we all are facing competing priorities and moving targets. Employers, already challenged by helping employees get the care they need and deserve to manage mental health and substance use challenges, now must also factor in the isolation, stress, depression, and uncertainty the pandemic has ignited. In fact, a recent Gallup online survey reveals that Americans say their mental health is suffering more than their physical or financial health due to COVID-19.


The pre-pandemic state of mental health and substance use treatment in America has been called “dire.” It’s urgent that employers must collaborate and effect change within their sphere of influence to keep a bad situation from getting worse.


The Summit’s expert speakers and panelists offered practical ways employers can help drive fundamental mental health care change and enable employees to get the care they need. Darcy Gruttadaro, J.D., director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health, provided an overview of The Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use, a national initiative led by experts from a group of highly influential nonprofits. The Path Forward focuses on five inter-related opportunities to drive change:

All 5 strategies are evidence-based and not yet fully implemented. For example, measurement-based care (MBC)* has been demonstrated to improve patient outcomes from 20% to 60% depending on the study, and there was a nearly 75% difference in remission rates between patients receiving MBC and those who received usual care. Yet, research showed that as little as 5% of clinicians use it every session (citations available upon request). We know what works, and we need to fast track mental health parity, Collaborative Care, and the other inter-related strategies to improve outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s intense pressure on our society and the workplace calls for heightening our work to ensure people are getting the care they need and deserve.

* Simply put, measurement-based care is using a systematic evaluation of patient symptoms to diagnose and guide treatment of patients. For physical health, it is regularly using an A1C test for patients with diabetes or blood pressure measurement for patients with hypertension. For mental health, it means regularly using validated screening tools such as the PHQ-9 for depression or the GAD-7 for anxiety.


“The pandemic will fuel the fire of our country’s mental health crisis unless organizations unite in a call to action. There’s no more time for debate and discussion. We need all hands on deck to fast track the strategies we know will work.”

~ Former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy


Deb Krause is Vice President for Minnesota Health Action Group.