May 2016 marks the 67th time the United States has observed Mental Health Awareness Month. One in four American adults lives with a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition. As many as 50 percent never seek or receive help due to stigma, lack of information, cost or lack of health care insurance coverage.
Primary care providers can be in the forefront to start changing that equation by helping patients who may be reluctant to ask for help or don’t know where to find it. We can speak up early, and in relatable terms, so that people do not feel isolated and alone. Caring is the key to breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illnesses and to show folks that they are not alone in their feelings and their symptoms.
Mental health is essential to their overall health and well-being. Life events and stressors affect us all. The primary care provider’s most powerful screening tool for mental health issues is making a relevant inquiry, observing the patient’s demeanor, and using active listening skills. Getting an affirmative indication about a mental health issue is step one and, after expressing empathy, the next step should be an exploration of treatment options— sometimes a medication trial can be initiated in the office, more typically the patient should be referred to a therapist who can better evaluate and diagnosis the situation, but plans for follow up discussion should always be made.
In primary care, providers should consider that a patient may have an underlying mental health issue in the face of unexplained physical symptoms or complaints— the higher the number of somatic complaints, the higher the risk that they may have a mood disorder. Also patients with significant past trauma and those with obesity, substance use/abuse, and other chronic health problems would be individuals where inquiry regarding mental health concerns would be appropriate/
We want people to know that while mental health and substance use conditions are common, they are extremely treatable and individuals can and do go on to recover and lead full and productive lives.
By The Numbers And Beyond Them
Each year, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s about 43.8 million people, or around 18.5 percent of the country. The stigma and lack of awareness surrounding mental illness is costing America about $193.2 billion each year in potential productivity and wages lost.
Populations at special risk are those from minority communities— Hispanic Americans and African Americans turn to mental health services at about half the rate of Caucasians; Asians do so at a third of the rate.
About a third of students with mental health issues drop out of school. Between 18 and 22 U.S. military veterans commit suicide every day.
Mental and emotional health concerns are not always easy things to talk about, but the earlier they are acknowledged, the better. The more patients get asked about it, the more comfortable they feel talking about it. It starts to feel so normal, that it doesn’t feel like a shameful thing to talk about anymore. The fact that we are addressing it when they come to primary care and make it part of normal care can help take away from the stigma.