King County deepens behavioral health investments in our region  

Anxiety and depression rated four times higher for U.S. adults during the COVID-19 pandemic than previously reported in 2019. Health care workers are also experiencing higher rates of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This month, the CDC warned of a mental health crisis for youth and young adults. COVID-19 is having a profound effect on mental health, with increasing numbers of people experiencing anxiety, depression, and loneliness. 

King County has long recognized the need to further invest in our behavioral health system. The reality is, behavioral health is undervalued and stigmatized, but the pandemic has revealed how many people across the country are struggling with anxiety, depression, stress, and other severe mental health challenges. The Department of Community and Human Services (DHCS) is committed to working with community-based providers, peers or those with lived experience, and state and city governments to expand programs and services that help reduce stigma and connect individuals to treatment that is available where and when they need it.  

The state’s prioritization of new funding for behavioral health systems in the 2022 legislative session is a welcome change and one that will improve the behavioral health system itself. State funding includes a behavioral health rate increase, one-time workforce stabilization funding for providers, and a $4 million investment to expand mobile crisis services in King County. 

This funding supports two DCHS programs that have the potential to help keep up with growing need and demand. DCHS, in partnership with the state, has awarded $3 million to Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) to expand the Mobile Crisis Response Services program in King County. This program provides 24/7 mental health professionals and substance use disorder professionals to respond to a person who may be experiencing a behavioral health crisis. Since 2017, the call volume for crisis response has steadily increased by 28 percent. This was especially true during the pandemic. The expansion of these services will help meet the demand and support first responders in assessing needs and connecting people to community resources. Beginning this month, DESC will begin scaling up the program and staffing.  

Another program set to launch by the end of the month is the Recovery Navigator Program (RNP). As a result of Senate Bill 5476, a bill that establishes a new substance use disorder (SUD) approach, the $6 million program funded by state and federal dollars will:   

  • Operate 8 hours a day 7 days a week in the first year of operation. 
  • Deliver community-based outreach, light and intensive case management with intake, assessment, and connection to services for individuals with SUD who encounter law enforcement and other first responders. 
  • Leverage Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) programs such as REACH and Community Passageways.  
  • Hire people with lived experience or peer supports and expand services into South King County with Peer Washington
  • Work collaboratively with local law enforcement, LEAD technical assistance, and community groups. 

The RNP is funded by Washington State Health Care Authority and the American Rescue Plan Act. This programming will initially be available in Seattle, West and South King County and plans to expand in North and East King County.   

These are just two examples of programs King County is working on collaboratively in community to expand and address the growing need for behavioral health services.  

DCHS strongly supports peer-led or peer-staffed programs and recognizes the value in building trust and making a connection with the whole person. There is more work to do, and we are optimistic about the future. These two programs help build a strong foundation that supports large and small providers, encourage culturally competent, person-centered care, and help address gaps in services to create a nimble and community-based crisis response system that reaches every corner of the county.