People are used to monitoring their physical health to some degree. They may look after their health by reporting for annual checkups where primary care physicians examine their weight, their blood, and they make sure that their body is in good shape overall. However, there’s one key element of health that those same doctors tend to overlook: mental health.
In 2018, 47.6 million people in the United States experienced mental health issues. Of those people, only 43% received treatment. What many fail to realize is that those mental health issues affect so many other parts of our lives, including our physical health. For instance, those diagnosed with depression are up to 40% more likely to develop cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Unfortunately, most primary care physicians are more likely to suspect a physical reason for a physical problem.
Instead of addressing the mental health issue at the source, they may recommend simple changes in diet and exercise or prescribe medication. Neither of these will actually resolve the key issue at hand. By examining only one part of the picture, they are unable to fully comprehend what you’re experiencing, and as such, are unable to treat you effectively. That’s why we believe in providing integrated care, a strategy that is far more successful in providing patients with accurate diagnostics and a customized treatment plan.
What Is Integrated Care?
To fully understand integrated care, you need to grasp the concept of what behavioral health is. Behavioral health is a term that encompasses your mental health, mental health-related symptoms, and health habits. All of it is connected. Integrated care involves the merging of behavioral health with traditional physical health when providing services to a patient- making it a one-stop-shop for all your health needs. To do this effectively, integrated care facilities involve a team of medical and behavioral health clinicians cooperating together to assess your health in a more thorough, comprehensive manner. They’ll look at both your mental and physical health status to determine what may be causing health problems. The team includes a variety of specialists, such as oncologists, cardiologists, neurologists, and more, all in one location. With the combination of their skills and knowledge, they can then develop a much more in-depth treatment plan that better reflects your health needs.
What Are the Benefits of Integrated Care for Mental Health?
Most primary care physicians look for specific health indicators during your visits. Those generally do not include screenings for illnesses such as anxiety and depression. If the subject of mental health does come up, there are limited tools at your doctor’s immediate disposal. As clever as physicians are, they can’t possibly know everything. They can attempt to prescribe medication that may or may not be effective, and they can refer you to a third-party psychiatrist for counseling services. Once that referral has been made, however, your doctor receives no further notifications concerning whether you proceeded to seek treatment from the psychiatrist, making it difficult for them to continue assisting you with mental health in the future. This is a problem.
With integrated care, you have access to primary care with behavioral health management. What this means is you have various doctors with different specialties, all working together to offer you the most comprehensive service. Because of the way integrated care is structured, there is seamless communication between all parties. This means that your medical doctors can work directly with your behavioral health clinicians, allowing them access to information on your current progress. With this info they are able to work together to give you the best care.
If you need more medical help, they can coordinate this with your behavioral health clinicians to ensure that you’re receiving adequate support. For example, your clinician might recommend you try medication. Your physician can then help go over your options and determine what might work best, while the clinician helps you work through any difficult symptoms. If the medication doesn’t work for you, you can discuss any negative physical or mental side effects with the assurance that this information will be classified as important and it will be easily accessible in the future via your medical history.
In some cases, physical ailments can result in behavioral health complications. Suppose someone is experiencing sudden paralysis after a car accident. One member of the team can monitor your physical health and determine when you can start physical therapy. Another person can help you with the exercises to help your body heal. And another can help address any feelings of depression or trauma you may be experiencing in the aftermath of the incident.
With integrated care, the benefits are two-fold. You are far more likely to be appropriately diagnosed, and after the diagnosis, you are more likely to receive effective and comprehensive treatment.
Why Is It So Critical that Mental Health Illnesses be Diagnosed and Treated?
It may be hard to imagine what benefits integrated care can provide for you if you’ve never sought behavioral health services in the past. The truth is that there is a substantial portion of the population experiencing mental illness without even realizing it. What makes this dangerous is that untreated mental illness continues growing worse and worse over time. What starts as a few off-days may evolve into a few off-weeks, then months, perhaps even an entire year. Eventually, it will start to manifest in other symptoms that affect your physical health, like sleep deprivation or sharp changes in your eating habits, which can, in turn, put you at a higher risk of experiencing heart disease or a stroke. But, there are other effects beyond the physical ones.
People with severe, untreated mental illness often find it creeping into all areas of their life. Socializing becomes more difficult, and your work performance starts to suffer. Eventually, you might lose your job altogether, heaping financial strain, fear, uncertainty, and even guilt on top of everything you’re already trying to handle. In this position, it’s common to start feeling extremely isolated and at a loss. For some, the situation deteriorates to such a degree that they feel they have only one option left. In the United States, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death amongst those aged 10-34, and the 10th leading cause overall. Of those individuals, over half were undiagnosed.
Integrated care practices are much better equipped to screen for and diagnose mental health issues, whether they’re mild challenges or severe health hazards. In addition to diagnostics, your team is also better equipped to provide you with the tools you need to regain control of your life and learn how to manage your symptoms. Because of the way in which the team is structured, you have a powerful support system that’s able to guide you through every step, monitoring your progress along the way.
Breaking Down Barriers to Holistic Healthcare
In a traditional medical setting, there are more than just communication barriers at work. When your physician refers you to a separate person for specialized care, you also have to consider whether or not seeking that person is a viable option. Do they accept your insurance? Can you afford the cost of the services? What sorts of methods of payment do they have available? Where are they located? The more specialists that are involved, the more complex the situation is going to be. Ensuring you have the proper insurance coverage for your usual procedures can be difficult enough, let alone trying to read over the details of three or more institutions.
The success of integrated care has been documented extensively, not only via individual patient stories but also through measured observations in a controlled environment. A study conducted to assess the effectiveness of integrated care from 2010 to 2013 revealed that patients received a higher level of quality and were able to address any health concerns, such as depression and diabetes, more effectively. Findings also showed that integrated care patients ended up spending less money than their counterparts at other practices. This means that in addition to being successful, integrated care is also a more affordable healthcare solution.
At the Sage Neuroscience Center, our priority is ensuring that everyone has equal access to the kind of holistic healthcare offered by an integrated care practice. Our primary care team and behavioral health providers work together to evaluate every aspect of your health and address any concerns you may have from all angles.
Learn more about our integrated services or call us to discuss a custom care plan for you or your loved one.
Imani is a writer who is passionate about helping others through her work. Her own struggles with mental health and experience in therapy give her a unique perspective to empathize with our patients and readers. Her experiences influence the articles that she writes. In her free time, Imani enjoys traveling, making YouTube videos, reading, and obnoxiously singing to show tunes.
*All blog content that is written by Imani is approved by a licensed mental health professional.*