This report is the first phase of a larger project to generate indicators of disparities in care and unmet need in Alaska. It provides prevalence estimates of serious behavioral health disorders. Prevalence estimates provide a standardized basis for defining the need for services in a population. The second phase of this larger project assesses the number of individuals who actually receive services. The third phase combines the information to generate indicators of unmet need and disparities in care. The project is an initiative of the Division of Behavioral Health (the Division) of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. The Division contracted with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Mental Health Program to facilitate the project. Phase I prevalence estimates were generated by an epidemiologist who has developed a technology specifically for this purpose. The synthetic estimation technology has been used for mental disorders by ten western states; Alaska is the first to use the substance use estimates.
The University of Alaska (UA) system convened a meeting of educators from disciplines spanning the behavioral health field to discuss how they can most effectively address workforce shortages, especially in rural areas. Despite a number of productive efforts in the UA system to develop an effective workforce that is trained in rural behavioral health, educators in Alaska see that more work needs to be done and are committed to formalizing workforce development activities that ensure the needs of Alaskans are met.
In order to create a clear path toward achieving the development of an adequate and effective behavioral health workforce, UA educators, in collaboration with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Mental Health Program, have been researching relevant issues facing Alaska. What follows is a summary of relevant concerns and data in several areas, including 1) the national context of rural behavioral health shortages, 2) Alaska workforce data, 3) occupational and population projections in Alaska, 4) trends in UA behavioral health programs regarding enrollment and degrees awarded, and 5) recommendations for developing the behavioral health workforce.