UAA tackles mental health issues in Alaska

(KTUU)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Long waiting lists, chronic lack of providers in rural areas, and systemic deficiencies highlight some of the issues facing Alaska's mental healthcare system.

These are the problems the annual Alaska Association for Behavioral Analysis Conference seeks to improve through connecting current providers to students and future providers at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

"We have about 58 board-certified behavioral analysts in the state, and we need more," former AABA President Veronica Howard said at the third annual conference at UAA Saturday. "There are folks who qualify for behavioral health services who are waiting months - or sometimes even years - to get them."

Howard says the conference brings in experts from around the world, forming partnerships and learning from the best in order to tackle chronic mental health issues in Alaska. She says the first critical step is developing a skilled workforce.

"If you don't have capacity, if you don't have a well-skilled workforce, if you don't have enough people in the field to actually make sure that you can provide those services ... that lack of access is just going to make the problem worse," Howard said.

UAA students presented research projects at Saturday's conference. Mary Pharr is a 1st-year masters student in UAA's Clinical Psychology Program. She's also a native Alaskan -- a prerequisite she thinks can help dissolve trust barriers between Alaskan providers and patients.

"This is integral for promoting Alaskans within Alaska to stay here and provide care," Pharr said, referring to the AABA Conference. "Which is better because we can relate to clients better if we know where they're coming from."

"Currently, there aren't enough clinicians in the state of Alaska," Pharr continued. "UAA gives students the opportunity to learn how to treat people with mental disorders and diagnose them here at the University of Alaska, which is very important because a lot of people don't want to travel out of state for higher education."

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