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Delaware Mental Health Services Guide

Many people don't realize that publicly-funded mental health services are available in their state. People looking for free or low-cost counseling often think their only options are counselors in private practice and don't know that publicly-funded providers in their communities may also offer counseling services. 


While state-based programs are not for everyone, they're often a great place to start for people who face geographic or financial barriers to therapy. Intake specialists at community mental health programs can help people learn whether they qualify for state-funded services and can refer people who don't qualify to other low-cost programs that may be able to meet their needs.


When Should You Go to a State Mental Health Program?


Few private mental health providers are able to immediately serve people in crisis, while most state mental health programs, including Maine's, have crisis response systems that help people get mental health care quickly in an emergency. This usually makes public mental health services the best option if you're having a mental health crisis and need help right away. The people who answer state crisis lines can provide caring attention and support as they help you determine the best response to a crisis, whether it's inpatient treatment or an appointment with a counselor.


In addition to affordable therapy, publicly-funded outpatient mental health programs in Maine offer specialized and intensive services that aren't available anywhere else or that are hard to find in private clinics, like case management, psychosocial rehabilitation, and day treatment. Consider going to a publicly-funded provider if you need intensive treatment, live in an area with limited mental health resources, or can't access mental health care in the private sector due to your diagnosis or financial situation.

Who Is Eligible for Public Mental Health Services in Delaware?


Delaware's mental health department, the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH), uses a hybrid system to deliver mental healthcare. Eligibility requirements vary depending on where and how you're trying to access the system. (Note that anyone in Delaware who is in a mental health crisis is eligible for mental health crisis services.)


The eligibility requirements for mental health services provided directly by the state of Delaware through their three community mental health centers (CMHCs) are relatively strict. Long-term CMHC services are designated for people with serious and persistent mental illness (SPMI)—people whose mental health conditions significantly affect their functioning and put them at risk of psychiatric hospitalization. The CMHCs are likely to refer you to another provider if you have milder mental health issues or have an "accessible, affordable private health plan."


However, the state of Delaware also contracts with private programs to be part of their public mental health provider network. Since these programs are privately operated, they have some leeway to set their own eligibility requirements. This means some private providers affiliated with the state system in Delaware may offer affordable therapy to people with less severe mental health conditions, while others may not.


The best way to find out if you're eligible for services at a publicly-funded provider in Delaware is to call that provider directly. By talking to them, you can find out what kind of services they offer and whether they think you might be eligible for those services. You can also learn whether they accept insurance or offer a sliding scale. If the provider thinks you may be eligible, they will set up an assessment appointment to confirm or deny your eligibility. If they don't, they can often give you information about or refer you to other providers that may be a better fit.

How Can You Find Out More About Local Programs in Delaware?


If you need emergency mental health services, you should call the Delaware Crisis Hotline. Call (800) 652-2929 if you're in Northern Delaware (New Castle County or northern Kent County) and (800) 345-6785 if you're in Southern Delaware (Sussex County or southern Kent County). 


Public mental health services in Delaware are managed on the state level by the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) within the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS). For general information about the Delaware mental health system, you can call the main DSAMH office number at (302) 255-9399. 


For mental health referrals, you can call the Delaware Treatment Connection at (833) 275-2043 or use the provider search function on their website. You can also get mental health referral information by calling Delaware 2-1-1 at 211 or (800) 560-3372 or by calling the NAMI Delaware Helpline at (888) 427-2643. 


We've listed numbers for providers affiliated with the Delaware mental health system below. We compiled this list using information from the Delaware Treatment and Referral Network pages and Treatment Connection. To confirm whether you are eligible for services, whether financial aid is available, and what payment options are accepted, we recommend calling the program you're interested in directly. We've also listed the numbers for DSAMH crisis centers and CMHCs. 



Delaware's Mental Health Clinics and Access Numbers







Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are another option for public mental health care in Delaware. These federally-funded programs provide medical and mental health services to people in underserved communities. Their goal is to deliver high-quality coordinated care to people with complex needs and to link behavioral healthcare with primary medical care. Each FQHC accepts Medicaid and Medicare and offers sliding-scale fees to people without insurance. You can search for FQHCs using the search tool on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. 


How Does Delaware's Public Mental Health System Work?

In the 1960s, Americans started thinking differently about how to treat mental health conditions. New laws required state and local governments to establish community mental health programs as alternatives to institutionalization for people with serious mental illness. Many states trace the origins of their public community mental health programs back to this period. Delaware is no exception. It started establishing community-based clinics in the 1960s after President John F. Kennedy signed the Community Mental Health Centers Act in 1963.


However, for the next several decades, Delaware continued to rely on its state psychiatric hospital for most of its public mental health treatment. In response to reports of Delaware's over-reliance on institutional care and poor conditions at the state hospital, the Department of Justice  (DOJ) launched an investigation of the state's system in 2007. The DOJ found Delaware in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) due to having inadequate community-based mental health services. 


In 2011, the state entered an Olmstead settlement agreement with the DOJ to update its mental health system. Delaware was one of many states to make such an agreement in the last decade, but it stands apart in its response. According to the DOJ, which released Delaware from the settlement agreement in 2016, Delaware was "the first jurisdiction in the nation to successfully comply with the terms of an [Olmstead] settlement and be released from court oversight." 


In fact, not only did Delaware resolve its ADA violations more quickly than many other states, it went above and beyond the DOJ's requirements. The state now has a robust mental health crisis response system, crisis intervention services that offer alternatives to hospitalization, multiple assertive community treatment (ACT) teams, and many other services that help people with mental health conditions receive the treatment they need while living in the community.


Despite the state's significant improvements to its mental health system, people still go without needed mental health treatment in Delaware. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only 48 percent of people in Delaware who have mental health conditions get treatment for them. One reason for the care gap is that people aren't aware of their options for affordable mental health care, including the public mental health system. You can help change these statistics by reaching out and using your local mental health resources to get the care you need.


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