Millions of Americans struggle with mental health issues each year. In 2019-2020, over 50 million U.S. adults experienced mental illness, according to Mental Health America. Although the COVID pandemic is seemingly in our rearview mirror, the disease has exacerbated mental health issues and the need for accessible care. Coupled with the stressors of countless other life experiences, the combination can cause mental hardship.

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In Arizona specifically, we are experiencing a significant mental healthcare provider shortage. In most counties, there are less than half the number of mental health professionals needed to service members of their community. Therefore, it was important for me to lead the charge in developing the integrated behavioral health program at Valleywise Health.

Integrated behavioral health

An integrated behavioral health program includes behavioral healthcare into primary care. This allows doctors and behavioral health providers to work together and provide a comprehensive treatment plan for improving both physical and mental health.

Specifically, at Valleywise, we assembled an interdisciplinary team to design a model embedding behavioral health clinicians in our community health centers. One of our primary focuses is culturally competent care, which includes hiring diverse Spanish-speaking and BIPOC providers to match patient demographics at each clinic site. This fosters an environment of trust and reduces stigma.

By implementing workflows for primary care teams to screen for mental health issues as part of routine visits, it allows us to provide warm handoffs to on-site behavioral health clinicians and smooth coordination for treatment.

How to get help if you are struggling with your mental health

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health concerns, here are a few steps you can take:

  • Connect with your primary care doctor and discuss your mental health concerns – They are a great first line of defense to connect you with mental health resources. Based on what you’ve been experiencing, they can recommend where you should go next.
  • Research a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist – This can be done in many ways including through your health insurance provider, talking with friends and family members about recommended mental health professionals, researching therapy networks in your area, online resources, and more.
  • Connect with Valleywise Health – Our integrated model allows you to access behavioral health services through your primary care provider. Appointments are often available on the same day or within a week. Valleywise also provides sliding scale fees based on your income.
  • If you are in a crisis, call 988 for 24/7 help.

How to get involved

The integrated approach has been transformative in making mental healthcare more accessible, equitable and effective for underserved communities in the Valley. However, much unmet need still exists. Sustained funding and policy support is paramount to continue expanding this vital work.

We can provide support in our community thanks to generous SAMHSA grants, local foundations like the T.W. Lewis Foundation, and private donors – all of which have been instrumental in launching and expanding our integrated behavioral health program. To find ways to help out with donations, or by volunteering, please visit:

Integrated behavioral health has enabled Valleywise to screen thousands more patients for mental health issues and provide ongoing therapy and psychiatric services to those in need. Outcomes data shows significant improvements in mental health symptoms and quality of life for patients served by the program. At Valleywise, we look forward to continuing to serve communities across Arizona to provide the mental health resources our citizens desperately need.

Author: José Luis Madera is an independently licensed professional counselor (LPC) in Phoenix, Arizona. He acquired his master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Phoenix and a Bachelor’s Degree in Spanish from Arizona State University. José Luis currently works for Valleywise Health and is the Senior Manager of the Integrated Behavioral Health Program (IBH). The IBH program at Valleywise Health provides behavioral health services to patients who receive medical services at their Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC). José Luis has assisted in analyzing healthcare performance (e.g., HEDIS and UDS) and process improvement strategies. José Luis brings over 20 years of experience working with diverse clientele within the social service profession to his therapeutic practice. José Luis has experience managing behavioral health teams and providing clinical supervision.