Q&A: Opportunities and Challenges Related to Behavioral Health
For years, the country’s behavioral-health needs have been on the rise. Workforce and funding shortages have been exacerbated by decreasing stigma — and hence increasing demand — around mental health.
Kiara Kuenzler, an alumna of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, is president and CEO of the Jefferson Center, a community-focused nonprofit organization providing mental health care and substance-use services. The center delivers care in the community in the least restrictive environment utilizing the community’s support. Its clinical workforce provides prevention education and counseling, 24/7 intensive crisis services, individual and family therapy, and services that address overall well-being, such as assistance with housing, employment and benefits.
Kuenzler, who practiced direct clinical work for a number of years before moving into administrative roles in community mental health, spoke with the DU Newsroom about the challenges the industry faces and the opportunities for students entering the behavioral-health field. The conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How has demand for mental health care changed over the past couple of years?
Over the last couple of years, the need for mental health has increased dramatically. Behavioral health has been undervalued for decades. There has been a growing awareness of the importance of behavioral health and decreasing stigma around mental health over the past decade. But the last two years have really normalized the human experience of mental health challenges, with more than half the people in this country experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. That is just a huge recognition of the impact that mental health has on our population and in the lives of so many of us. The recognition is there, the stigma has decreased, and we realize how critically important it is to focus on that if we want to achieve overall well-being.