Integrated Care Makes Mental Health Treatment More Accessible

Mental health and physical health are directly related — this is no longer up for debate. Either individuals who have been inadequately treated for their psychiatric disorders often have poor health or those with chronic and long-term illnesses develop psychological symptoms like depression. Either way, a sickness of the body often leads to an illness of the mind.

Even though treatment for behavioral issues has been increasing over the years, the responsibility of care has fallen onto general medical practitioners — not necessarily psychiatrists. More often than not, healthcare professionals treat their patients for their physical conditions and not the mental health conditions that can come with them. Those with behavioral issues often return to their doctor over and over with physical issues that are often associated with untreated mental health conditions.

Behavioral health problems have the ability to compound upon existing physical health issues, making it far more difficult for individuals to care for themselves. It’s a vicious cycle of whole body health that mainstream healthcare has not addressed for ages. Integrated healthcare works to fill the gaps in resources that mental health patients may not receive elsewhere. Here’s how:

Integrated Healthcare

Integrated healthcare is defined as a system of medicine that offers both physical and mental care all in one setting. This type of care blends mental health and medical doctors, organized under the direction of a primary physician, and allows a patient to address all the elements of care they need.

Integrated care is invaluable because it addresses a person’s whole body health — acknowledging that all areas of health are connected. This approach is led by a primary care provider who works alongside psychiatrists and other physicians to implement a measurable care plan to focus the efforts on the patient — not meeting specific clinical goals. This helps to create a different and effective approach to mental and physical healthcare.

Integration Is Changing Healthcare

Individuals who remain undiagnosed don’t get optimal care because there is often a lack of coordinating efforts between physicians. Sometimes, there are simply no distinctive symptoms or overall understanding of the issues at hand.

A lack of access to mental healthcare has been a problem for decades, causing significant issues for individuals. Lucky for us, the landscape of healthcare is changing. Physicians are seeing a need for coordinated care, and our government is following. The Affordable Care Act included ways in which doctors can begin to integrate behavioral health into patient lives, while also giving more individuals the opportunity to gain access to healthcare.

Several states have taken it upon themselves to implement integrated healthcare programs in their healthcare systems. DIAMOND is an ongoing collaboration between 80 primary care clinics and 25 different medical groups in Minnesota. Their goal is to study the effectiveness of integrated care on patients with depression.

The Mercy Health system in Ohio and Kentucky is running a pilot program that screens all adult patients it sees for depression symptoms. This is in response to the evidence that treating depression and other mental health conditions that coexist increases the need for medication, rehabilitation, and lifestyle changes. There are many more instances of successful models of medical integration methods available.

Integrated Healthcare Means More Access

The more that local and federal government takes action against the rising cases of mental health issues, the more need there will be for integrated care physicians. To prepare for this shift, colleges are working to prepare the medical workforce to keep up with healthcare’s need for a more integrated style of care.

These structures that have been put in place with healthcare integration are set to make a beneficial impact on individuals suffering from mental and physical ailments. The coordination itself allows for a more connected healthcare experience, potentially better outcomes, and a better understanding of a patient’s overall current health.

Those with severe mental illnesses die on average 13-30 years earlier than others, due to medical conditions that have been left untreated. As colleges and governments across the country (and world) begin focusing their efforts on coming together to solve mental health issues, integrated healthcare will help those that need it gain valuable access to mental health resources, helping patients to live a longer and happier life.

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