Mental health is an essential component of overall health and shapes who we are and how we interact with the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. Mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life.” October is designated “Mental Health Month,” making it a good time to reflect on mental health in our society overall and explore what factors may be addressed to promote prevention and crisis response. It is critical for healthcare organizations to have a comprehensive, integrated, and targeted multi-faceted strategy in place to address prevention and provide a response to mental health while promoting equitable access to care.
The importance of mental health care has been highlighted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the start of the pandemic, one out of eight people globally was living with a mental health disorder, and initial estimates showed a 26% and 28% respective increase in anxiety and depression, due to the COVID pandemic. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one out of five U.S. adults experience mental illness, 17% of young people aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder, and one out of 20 Americans live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention now lists suicide as the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. These statistics show the imperative need to address mental health.
Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes a relationship between mental and physical illness and well-being wherein chronic illnesses can affect physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development. Increased depression and anxiety are common complications of chronic illness. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) lists three critical relationships between mental and physical health:
- Poor mental health is associated with an increased risk of chronic physical conditions
- People who have serious mental health conditions have a high risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions
- People who have chronic health conditions have a higher risk of developing poor mental health
For these reasons, both NAMI and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) recommend universal screening and monitoring of mental health for both adults and youth.
Recent positive steps have been taken to help address both preventive and crisis response. The Mental Health Justice and Parity Act of 2022 bill introduced earlier this year will create a grant program for mental health first responder units if signed into law. It adds additional requirements for both governmental and private insurers to provide parity between the coverage of medical services and mental health services. This will promote increased access and more equitable care for those in need.
In addition, as a complement to nationwide 911 services, and in response to a significant increase in mental health distress and rising suicide rates, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) dedicated the three-digit nationwide phone number 988 as the mental health lifeline. This plan follows the national 911 emergency protocol that is identical throughout every community in the United States. There are urgent realities driving the need for this crisis service transformation across the country. Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) reported that there is one death from suicide every 11.5 minutes, and the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS) notes nearly 100,000 people die from drug overdoses annually. With 988, access is available through every landline, cell phone, and voice over internet device across the country. For equitable access, services are available in Spanish, with additional interpretation services offered in over 150 languages.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the auspices of the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, has created a roadmap for the integration of behavioral health services to promote equitable, accessible mental health care that is evidence-based and culturally responsive. This type of care is person-centered and helps drive better health for the entire population.
It is critical for us to work with our communities to address the factors that contribute to both positive and negative mental health outcomes for children, adolescents, and adults. Social determinants of health have a significant impact on overall physical and mental health and can be part of a preventive strategy that addresses clean water, housing, affordability, safety and violence, health behaviors (such as smoking, substance use, physical activity, or nutritional intake), and access to care. There are several recommendations to embrace in mental health care transformation:
- Incorporate strategies to integrate mental health care and support that is equitable, accessible, and promotes patient-centered care
- Increase community investment to address the social determinants of health that impact overall physical and mental health and well-being
- Design and advocate for policies and practices, both institutional and governmental, that support the inclusion of health equity, social determinants, and mental health as core principles and practices underlying the provision of care, as well as legislation that supports people and communities in achieving wellness
It is heartening to see efforts on the policy, public health, research, and treatment fronts shifting the narrative towards a more holistic and inclusive definition of health. The hope is that, with these efforts, mental health will achieve parity with other healthcare priorities. At Nordic, we are proud to partner with our clients to combine people, data, and technology in ways that promote better mental health and more equitable communities.