Computer program could redefine behavioral health in North Dakota

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BISMARCK, N.D.- A new report by the Human Services Research Institute shows North Dakota's behavioral health system is right on par with the rest of the country. However the report does outline areas that need improvement, including preventative screenings.

One of the more than 60 recommendations: expanding mental health and substance use screenings for social services and primary care.

Heartview Foundation has a system that does those screenings.

It's a tool anybody can use, and Heartview Foundation Director Kurt Snyder says it could change how behavioral health is delivered in North Dakota.

"The individual sits down, performs the screen. It comes up with a couple of recommendations and it even helps identify providers,” said Snyder.

Heartview's Screening, Service Planning and Referral program looks at nine different behavioral health issues including depression, addiction and traumatic brain injury.

"It doesn't diagnose, it just flags, and would help move those people to appropriate services,” said Snyder.

Pamela Sagness with the Department of Human Services says early intervention is key.

"We have to think about where their first point of contact is. Very few people when they have their first symptom call a psychiatrist. And so the most important place we need to be able to target and often have links to resources are primary care,” said Sagness.

The report says the state as whole is on par with most national averages. However county by county breakdown tells a different story.

"It's going to be really important to talk about where those disparities are, and then work with local government and other private providers in order to have some state local partnerships so that we're addressing what are the local needs. And that's going to be pivotal as we move ahead,” said Sagness.

Sagness adds Heartview's system is just one being considered. North Dakota saw the largest rank decline in overall health in the 2017 America's Health Rankings, falling seven places to 18 in the country.