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How To De-Stigmatize Mental Health

June 26, 2018

There is still a stigma surrounding mental health.

Americans are quick to dismiss and slow to empathize with those who have mental health struggles.

But the reality is that many more of us will deal with a similar struggle at some point in our lives than we realize. Matt Marek is the CEO of Good Neighbor Community Services. Matt has spent his career erasing this stereotype and getting people the help they need. From in-home care to corporate environments, Matt’s company helps those who need every type of mental health treatment.

In this episode of Healthcare Simplified, we sit down with Matt to talk about how Good Neighbor got started, the services it offers, and how the mental health stigma is strongest in a corporate environment.

Good Neighbor

When Matt was growing up, he witnessed his grandparents care for an intellectually disabled person, and it had a profound effect on him. He saw his grandparents support this person’s growth in becoming independent and care for themselves.

Matt realized that this was possible for many people struggling with similar circumstances, and that they could achieve independence if given the right tools. Often people who are institutionalized have the same disabilities as those who can live more independent lives, but have not been given the chance.

As Matt’s career developed, he began to look at home & community based solutions to those with mental health issues. He started Good Neighbor, and it has grown to be one of the largest such providers in Virginia.

Good Neighbor originally offered residential support for those with complex medical and behavioral needs including some whose primary diagnosis was an intellectual disability. From there, they moved into in-home counseling for adults, teens, and children. They have since expanded this support towards further psychiatry and therapy options.

Over the past 5 years, they have also seen growth in an area called “tele-psychiatry” which allows patients to access mental health care from their phone via direct contact with their medical professional wherever they are.

All of these services are considered an in-network benefit to many Anthem plans. Patients pay a small weekly copay, and Anthem funds the rest. These benefits are soon spreading to an additional 14 states outside of Virginia.

Benefits of Good Neighbor

Good Neighbor’s mission is to support the individuals and families that they work with and give them opportunities for growth. This includes providing services that allow them to succeed at home in their personal lives and sometimes in the work world as well. The traditional American Healthcare system doesn’t always allow for this, and Good Neighbor is doing what it takes to make these individuals successful.

The outcomes from in-home care have been phenomenal. Patients are getting the care they require on their own schedule. Professionals are coming to their home from anywhere up to 10 hours per week in order to care for patients.

Now that they are in their patient’s home, the healthcare professional can help address the environment the patient is in. They can work with the entire family to ensure the right steps are taken at home for the patient’s success. These visits don’t interrupt the work day. They can be done whenever is needed; nights and weekends included.

As a result of this in-home care, studies have shown a reduction in inpatient visits and ER visits, and a higher rate of medication compliance.

70% of suicides occur after an inpatient stay at an institution. A contributing factor here is that patients are dropped out of a safe environment back into their home without any support. In-home care allows for patients to transition back to regular life and have a professional meet them in their own environment.


A physical disability or injury is often much easier seen than a mental one, and Matt’s team is trying to demonstrate this. By asking the right questions, people can sometimes spot these warning signs of mental struggles in others. But this is not as easy as spotting a physical issue, like a broken arm.

Kate Spade recently committed suicide, and it has been reported that people around her knew of her mental struggles. There was a fear that the stigma surrounding treatment for mental health would severely affect her brand.

Almost half of Americans will have a mental health issue to deal with at some point in their life. Developing empathy helps those around us who are in need of support or treatment. Americans are great at pushing themselves, but often not great at giving themselves rest. There is a balance there to be sought.

Corporate Training

The workplace can often be a place where the mental illness stigma is the strongest. Often, people will even pay out of pocket for mental health treatment instead of using their insurance because they don’t want it on their medical records.

In response, Good Neighbor has recently launched training for corporate entities. They are stressing the importance of daily habits to benefits one’s mental health, a more proactive approach rather than reactive.

Good Neighbor is using a storytelling approach to create an open environment where people can discuss their mental health safely. Hearing stories from others allows people to open up and dive into some of these complex issues. It allows them to talk without feeling stigmatized, because after all, everyone has a story to tell.

People want to feel invited to these discussions, not told about them. This horizontal interaction allows people to feel comfortable and is a huge step toward getting proper treatment.

The response to these trainings has been extremely positive. The training modules teach companies how to foster these environments for mental health discussions. More and more organizations are realizing the need for balance; to give time off to employees who are burnt out and need rest.

The future of corporate America will demand mental health options. It will require companies to design support and services, create safe spaces for discussion and incorporate holistic wellness programs.


This post is based on a podcast with Matt Marek. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Healthcare Simplified.


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