Behavioral health advocacy groups are expressing concern over recent media attention about people who may or may not be suffering from mental illness.
And they should be.
The horrendous acts committed in the recent past in Connecticut, Oregon, Colorado, etc. are tragic acts of violence. However, make no mistake that these atrocities are NOT synonymous with mental illness.
The fear of advocacy groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, A New PATH, and Mental Health America, is that the association between behavioral health and these violent acts will result in increased stigma. These and other groups have worked diligently for many years to reduce/eliminate the negative stereotypes associated with mental illness and substance use disorders.
However, the grain of truth to be derived is that behavioral health services need to be more accessible. Ongoing cuts to behavioral health budgets by states over the past few years have resulted in inadequate coverage (click here for NAMI’s chart: State Mental Health Budgets FY2009-FY2012).
Community behavioral health providers are mandated to serve more people with funding that is steadily decreasing and with no hope in sight. The safety net is nearly frayed beyond repair.
Health Reform has spawned a wide array of innovative approaches to healthcare delivery. The integration of behavioral health and primary care is one such alternative that holds great promise for mental health and substance use services.
When primary care providers integrate behavioral health services, there is a dramatic increase in access to services. When behavioral health is included in routine screenings, the stigma of seeking behavioral health services is removed and opportunity for early detection is dramatically increased. Depression, anxiety, and substance use screenings are normalized through inclusion with height, weight, and blood pressure.
Research shows that depression impacts such chronic health conditions as heart disease. Concurrent treatment of behavioral health and physical health conditions results in improved health outcomes. In addition, integrated behavioral health and primary care services results in reduced healthcare costs.
Integrating behavioral health and primary care is a win-win for patients and providers.
Healthcare providers across the US and in many other countries are integrating services in order to improve service delivery. As individuals, we can do our part by reporting both behavioral health and physical health symptoms to our healthcare providers. Remember, healthcare is a partnership. You are a vital member of your healthcare team.