May is National Mental Health Awareness Month: Let’s Include Integrated Care Awareness Day

On 4/30/2013, President Obama became the first president to sign a proclamation declaring May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. “As a nation, it is up to all of us to know the signs of mental health issues and lend a hand to those who are struggling,” he said. “Shame and stigma too often leave people feeling like there is no place to turn. We need to make sure they know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness—it is a sign of strength.” (Click here for a full copy of the Presidential Proclamation – National Mental Health Awareness Month, 2013.) This endorsement and recognition are important steps toward acceptance of mental health. However, mental health and physical health are inseparable. And as more healthcare providers provide integrated services, issues of shame and stigma are reduced, thus creating an environment in which asking for help becomes less difficult. The Affordable Care Act has provided numerous opportunities for the integration of behavioral health and primary healthcare.

Mental Health Awareness Month began in 1949 through the vision of Mental Health America to raise awareness about mental illness and the need for services. This year’s theme is Pathways to Wellness:

Key Messages

  1. Wellness – it’s essential to living a full and productive life. It’s about keeping healthy as well as getting healthy.
  2. Wellness involves a set of skills and strategies that prevent the onset or shorten the duration of illness and promote recovery and well-being. Wellness is more than just the absence of disease.
  3. Wellness is more than an absence of disease. It involves complete general, mental and social well-being. And mental health is an essential component of overall health and well-being. The fact is our overall well-being is tied to the balance that exists between our emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health.
  4. Whatever our situation, we are all at risk of stress given the demands of daily life and the challenges it brings-at home, at work and in life. Steps that build and maintain well-being and help us all achieve wellness involve a balanced diet, regular exercise, enough sleep, a sense of self-worth, development of coping skills that promote resiliency, emotional awareness, and connections to family, friends and community.
  5. These steps should be complemented by taking stock of one’s well-being through regular mental health checkups and screenings. Just as we check our blood pressure and get cancer screenings, it’s a good idea to take periodic reading of our emotional well-being.
  6. Fully embracing the concept of wellness not only improves health in the mind, body and spirit, but also maximizes one’s potential to lead a full and productive life. Using strategies that promote resiliency and strengthen mental health and prevent mental health and substance use conditions lead to improved general health and a healthier society: greater academic achievement by our children, a more productive economy, and families that stay together.

As we focus on the importance of good mental health, it’s also an opportune time for increasing awareness of the importance of focusing on whole health rather than segregating mental health and substance use disorder issues. Contrary to popular belief, mental health services are largely provided outside of the mental health system. According to the Milbank Memorial Fund report, Evolving Models of Behavioral Health Integration in Primary Care, as many as 70 percent of primary care visits stem from psychosocial issues. While patients typically present with a physical health complaint, data suggest that underlying mental health or substance abuse issues are often triggering these visits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Mental Illness Surveillance Among Adults in the United States Supplements 9/2/11 – 60(03);1-32:

Mental illness exacerbates morbidity from the multiple chronic diseases with which it is associated, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma, epilepsy, and cancer (12–16). This increased morbidity is a result of lower use of medical care and treatment adherence for concurrent chronic diseases and higher risk for adverse health outcomes (17–20). Rates for injuries, both intentional (e.g., homicide and suicide) and unintentional (e.g., motor vehicle), are 2–6 times higher among persons with a mental illness than in the overall population (21,22). Mental illness also is associated with use of tobacco products and alcohol abuse (23).

May has 31 days, so perhaps we can designate one of the days in May as Integrated Care Awareness Day. A day set aside to bring awareness of the benefits of looking at one’s health as a whole rather than segregating mental health from physical health. With this year’s theme, Pathways to Wellness, it is an ideal time to increase awareness.

“The body must be treated as a whole and not just a series of parts.”
– Hippocrates (460 BC – 380 BC)

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