INDIANAPOLIS — A new project to better understand and help address the shortage of licensed mental and behavioral health professionals in Indiana is being led by the Bowen Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Supported by a $515,005 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., this collaborative project with partners across Indiana is designed to improve understanding about the post-secondary pipeline of mental and behavioral health care workers in the state, which is not currently meeting the demand for services.

Untreated mental illness can threaten the lives of individuals and communities, with far-reaching consequences including homelessness, poverty, unemployment and safety — all of which can have tremendous impacts on the Hoosier economy and quality of life, said Hannah Maxey, director of the Bowen Center.

Maxey will lead the project, which will include the development of a “Playbook for Enhancing Indiana’s Mental and Behavioral Health Workforce” to provide recommendations to enhance and expand the mental and behavioral health workforce in the state.

The project is focused on understanding the post-secondary pipeline of individuals who are preparing to specialize in some licensed roles in mental and behavioral health care. These roles include mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, clinical addiction counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric mental health advance practice registered nurses.

Recognizing that early exposure to mental and behavioral health occupations is foundational to the overall pipeline, this project will work in concert with initiatives focused on the K-12 pipeline.

Although other health care providers — such as primary-care physicians and nurse practitioners — have a role in supporting the mental and behavioral health of Hoosiers, the shortage of professionals whose practice focuses only on mental and behavioral health services is a significant challenge.