Improving mental health services for refugees in Ohio

At UnitedHealthcare, our mission is to help people live healthier lives and help make the health system work better for everyone. Core to our mission are our values of inclusion, relationships and innovation. We welcome diverse points of view, collaborate on solutions for improved outcomes and invent a better future by learning from the past.

Committed to improving the health system for everyone, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Ohio is collaborating with the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS) and Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services (ETSS) on the collection of baseline data on behavioral health issues among refugee and immigrant communities in Ohio. In 2023, OhioMHAS provided a grant to ETSS to conduct a Community Mental Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) with select local refugee communities. UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Ohio was proud to supplement this effort by providing $12,000 in financial support to ETSS.

Leaving behind violence, political unrest and economic challenges, approximately 60,000 refugees were admitted to the United States (U.S.) in fiscal year 2023.1 Specific to Ohio, 2,818 refugees arrived in 2023, settling primarily in Franklin, Cuyahoga, Hamilton, Montgomery and Summit counties.2 Having been exposed to traumatic events and experiencing the difficulties of migration, refugees are at a higher risk for psychiatric diagnoses compared to the general U.S. population.3 Refugees experience increased rates of depression as well as up to 10 times higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Contributing factors to negative mental health symptoms include:

  • Culture shock
  • Cultural bereavement
  • Isolation from social supports
  • Difficulty resuming education and work
  • Inadequate housing
  • Discrimination
  • Access to health care

The goal of the CHNA program is to collect baseline data for identification of mental health needs among refugees within the Afghan, Bhutanese, Congolese, Ethiopian/Eritrean and Somali communities. This data will help with the development of culturally responsive mental health programs which ETSS will implement in Franklin County, Ohio.

The first phase of the CHNA program concluded in February 2024 with nearly 500 surveys completed as part of the baseline data collection. Once OhioMHAS receives the final CHNA report, the findings will be extensively reviewed to provide recommendations for next steps.

UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Ohio will incorporate best practices and lessons learned from the CHNA survey findings into mental health and wellness programs. In addition, the health plan will continue to collaborate with ETSS through community engagement activities, supporting efforts to increase awareness of the need for culturally responsive mental health services.

By supporting CHNA data collection, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Ohio advocates for the development of culturally responsive mental health programs in Ohio. Through continued collaboration with OhioMHAS and ETSS, UnitedHealthcare works to invent a future that makes health care work for everyone. 

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