For a two-part series that begins Monday on the difficulty of finding mental health care in Hawaii, Civil Beat reporter Brittany Lyte wrote about one of the few psychiatrists in private practice who still accepts new low-income patients with public insurance.

An office manager requested Brittany not publish the doctor’s name, for fear they would be overwhelmed by calls from people desperately searching for treatment.

That doctor’s experience offers an illuminating window into the state’s overtaxed and stressed out mental health system.

Brittany Lyte

Civil Beat reporter Brittany Lyte is providing in-depth coverage of Hawaii’s mental heath system.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

As part of a new in-depth Civil Beat reporting initiative, Brittany will explore the impact of Hawaii’s struggles with providing mental health care, as well as innovative efforts to deal with those problems.

That struggle is closely intertwined with other social concerns ranging from Hawaii’s staggeringly large homeless population to the lack of treatment options for children to the broader statewide shortage of specialized medical care.

About 60 percent of everyone arrested by the Honolulu Police Department last year suffered from serious mental illness or substance abuse, according to a recent report.

A psychiatrist told Brittany that jails and the legal system have become “kind of the front door of the mental health system,” with many frequently revolving in and out of that door.

More broadly, nearly two-thirds of Hawaii residents with mental disorders didn’t receive any treatment, according to a 2017 national survey.

In her reporting, Brittany says she has been struck by the personal toll on families as they search for help for their loved ones.

“There’s a real clash out there between respecting a person’s right to make their own choices and knowing when to be legally allowed to step in and provide care,” she said.

In Monday’s story, Brittany examines the difficulty of finding help in Hawaii as demand for treatment soars. The shortage is particularly acute on neighbor islands like Kauai and Hawaii, where recent reports show there are only about two-thirds of the number of psychiatrists needed.

And psychiatrists say very few of their private practice colleagues are willing to take patients on Medicaid or Med-QUEST, the state’s health insurance program for the poor, in part because of low payments.

The second part focuses on a promising program by Queen’s Clinically Integrated Physicians Network that provides advice from psychiatrists to primary care doctors so they can treat mental ailments. The program also uses social workers as go-betweens for those doctors, patients and psychiatrists.

In future reporting, Brittany plans on highlighting other innovations in Hawaii by both health providers and law enforcement for providing more treatment options and intervening earlier with  mental illnesses.

Mental illness is an intensely personal issue that affects many families in Hawaii.

We hope that you’ll help Civil Beat in our coverage of this critical topic by sending story ideas, tips and stories about your personal experiences with the mental health system to blyte@civilbeat.org.

Read Part 1 of the series.

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