Reducing Health Disparities Among People with Serious Mental Illness

“Psychiatrists need to pay attention to weight, lipid levels, blood pressure, and exercise in our patients with serious mental illness,” declares psychiatrist Dale Svendsen, M.D., medical director at the Ohio Department of Mental Health and co-author of the NASMHPD report. “The psychiatrist of the future is going to have to be more of a general physician than in the past, and our training programs are going to need to adapt.” In Those With Serious Mental Illness Suffer From Lack of Integrated Care, in Psychiatric News January 5, 2007, Vou. 42, No. 1, Pg. 5 Mark Moran summarizes the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) report “Morbidity and Mortality in People With Serious Mental Illness.” Emphasizing the recommendation that people with serious mental illness “be designated as a distinct health-disparities population under the federal government’s initiative to reduce disparities in health outcomes.”  Perhaps psychiatrists need to pick the stethoscope back up again…. and actually  touch their patients.

Moran goes on to look at compelling data: In a study of people (25 to 44 years old) with serious mental illness in Massachusetts over a six year period, the cardiovascular rate was nearly seven times that of the general population. In another study in Ohio, state psychiatric hospital discharges were tracked over a six year period. People who had been hospitalized there died at three times the expected rate, primarily due to cardiovascular disease. The average loss of life was a startling 32 years. The NASMHPD report drew clear connections between antipsychotic medications in the development of metabolic syndrome in people with serious mental illness, particularly when multiple medications are prescribed. Their recommendations include integration of behavioral health and physical health, promotion of  the recovery model, supporting wellness, and the implementation of care-coordination models.

In the nearly four years since this was published, there has been a marked increased in focus on the serious health disparities of this vulnerable population. The question remains whether there has been an improvement in overall health among this group. While ongoing studies must be conducted to adequately address this question, I am encouraged by the concentration on the issue. The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, the Mental Health Corporation of America, Association of Healthcare Research and Quality, the Carter Center, the Collaborative Family Healthcare Association, National Institute of Mental Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admistration, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors, Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement, Collaborative Care Research Network, Health Resources and Services Administration, and a variety of other national and state associations have initiatives directed toward integration efforts. These efforts include new programs, partnerships, grants, learning collaboratives, and research. APS Healthcare of Georgia’s Disease Management division is working on an initiative with various community behavioral health organizations to create a ‘Virtual’ Medical Home. This novel approach is led by Dr. Bob Climko, Senior Medical Director. Health indicators in people with serious mental illness are monitored through telephonic health coaching and Medicaid claims data made available to providers.

It is hopeful that this increased focus will result in a significant increase in longevity for people with serious mental illness. In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, “Let us recognize that there can be no health without mental health.” It would appear that the reverse is true as well: There can be no mental health without health.

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3 comments on “Reducing Health Disparities Among People with Serious Mental Illness

  1. […] With individuals who suffer from serious mental illnesses dying 25 years prematurely on average, behavioral health and primary care have been mandated to address this health disparity. More effective protocols are in order and must be initiated immediately. This is a matter of life and death. […]

  2. […] disparity. More effective protocols are in order and must be initiated immediately. This is a matter of life and death. The Behavioral Health and Primary Care Marriage is a viable […]

  3. […] in a more holistic manner. With co-morbid behavioral and physical health conditions more often the rule rather than the exception, the newly integrated services enable the team to provide much more […]

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