Local and State Government

Who Will Be the First to Map Mental Health?

Every few years, an issue comes along, that is so complex, that crosses so many disciplines, that many governments do not even know where to start. The opioid epidemic is an example of this.

When we first started working with governments to address substance misuse, we told them that they didn’t even know the extent of the issue. We worked with National Association of Counties (NACo) and National League of Cities (NLC) to bring datasets together for the first time to provide a foundational understanding of the opioid crisis. We mapped overdoses, deaths, drug crimes, over prescriptions, doctors, and more. It led to analysis of specific areas around the country who were more adversely affected. It led to a clearer understanding of where to dedicate resources. It led to new legislation and federal funding.

Today, the issue at hand is mental health.

It is similar, in the sense that it is a crisis with many parts. To understand it, we must consider access to care, drug overdoses, domestic abuse or violent crimes, at-risk populations such as veterans, youths, and those experiencing homelessness that might not have the resources to address their mental distress, and so much more.

Understanding the opioid epidemic started with data through a geographic lens. We can’t understand the mental health crisis until we map it.

So, who will take the first step and map mental health? Because by mapping it, you’re closer to setting a foundational understanding of the issue and its facets, and one step closer to determining solutions.

A good place to start would be our freely available demographic, socioeconomic, and lifestyle data on the Esri Maps for Public Policy site.

In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 2-8, 2022).

About the authors

Christopher Thomas, Director of Government Markets on the Industry Solutions team at Esri team focused on state and local disciplines. He has over 30 years of experience working in and with national, state and local governments implementing technology. As a strategist and subject matter expert, Christopher works to identify emerging trends GIS can support.


Shannon Valdizon is the Marketing Lead for the State and Local Government Industry Solutions team at Esri. She has worked at Esri for the past decade with a team of subject matter experts and government strategists to identify emerging trends in government across the globe. These trends are translated into best practices for using geographic information systems (GIS) to help governments move towards a digital transformation. Shannon’s work has supported major initiatives with professional associations including National Association of Counties, National League of Cities, International City/County Management Association, National Governors Association, and more. Her most recent work includes initiatives like Smart Communities, Esri Maps for Public Policy, and addressing social equity which are all efforts dedicated to improving government efficiencies and more importantly the lives of citizens.

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