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Urgent care for mental health: How a Maryland clinic is helping thousands of patients

As the need for mental health care has surged, a specialized walk-in clinic in Maryland is serving as a model for other communities nationwide. It operates like an urgent care, but for all mental health needs for all ages.

“I needed help then and there,” said Pam Yerby Hammack, a former patient of the clinic.

She describeed her struggle with mental health as sudden and traumatic.

“I found myself in a really dark place, not knowing what to do and where to go,” she said.

She says her daughter learned of Shepard Pratt’s psychiatric urgent care through her insurance provider. The facility is open to all ages with no appointment necessary.

“Throughout the country, what we’re seeing is a tremendous rise in need for mental health services, people wanting to access care, but really getting stuck at the point where they don’t know how to access care,” said Dr. Harsh Trivedi, Sheppard Pratt’s president and CEO.

He says Sheppard Pratt’s urgent care for mental health opened in 2011 in response to long emergency department wait times in Maryland, ranked as the worst in the county.

“What we find is that the best time to intervene or the best time to help people is specifically when they’re in crisis, when they want that help,” said Dr. Trivedi.

Sheppard Pratt says it’s on track to have an estimated 10,000 urgent care patient evaluations this year, compared with 6,000 in 2022.

Care can range from a hospital stay, which accounts for about a third of patients, to a simple referral for a therapist.

Trivedi says the ability to access care faster leads to improved outcomes in treating mental illness.

Research shows the average delay between experiencing symptoms of mental illness and getting treatment is around eleven years, according to Health Services Research.

“You look at adults with mental illness, about a third of them, never get any treatment at all. When you look at, for example, kids with depression, about 60% of them receive no treatment at all. That’s, what’s leading to so many more suicides,” said Dr. Trivedi.

Shepard Pratt says it’s now consulting and trying to help other health groups open similar same-day clinics.

“What we have is this solution, which has been an incredible lifesaver for so many,” said Dr. Trivedi of the need to expand the model of care.

Depression is a major contributor to mortality, disability and economic costs in the United States.

For example,homicide and suicide rates among groups of young Americans have risen sharply in the last few years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published earlier this year, shining a light on the state of mental health and violence in the U.S.

Experts believe the increases in both suicide and homicide rates are a result of several factors, including stress, social media, theCOVID-19 pandemic, higher rates of depression, limited access to mental health services and increased access to guns.

Yerby Hammack says her doctors diagnosed her with depression and anxiety and connected to resources that changed her life.

“Those things I lost, they came back,” she said referring to overcoming her mental health challenges.

Yerby Hammack, who is a pastor, has even founded a mental health ministry to encourage others to ask for help when they need it.

“If you wait too long, it will just spiral to something deeper and darker,” she said.

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