America is in the midst of a mental health crisis—but hospitals and community-based organizations can partner together to identify and diagnose mental health issues before they worsen. Medecision is committed to improving health for all and bringing together the right resources is one way we can support this mission.

By Medecision

America is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 19% of American adults personally experienced a mental illness. In addition, approximately 10% of youths in the United States have severe depression—and 60% of those adolescents with depression do not receive any medical treatment for mental health. This is concerning, as rates of suicidal ideation are highest among youths. From January to September 2020, nearly 70,000 adolescents reported experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, according to Mental Health America’s 2021 report.

In January 2021, the American Psychological Association conducted a poll of American adults and found that stress in the United States is at its highest level since early in the pandemic. Of the people polled, 84% reported feeling stress-based emotions such as anxiety, sadness and anger in the two weeks before the survey was conducted.

The statistics don’t lie: America has a mental health problem, and it has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. But early intervention, improved access and partnerships can help turn the tide.

The Importance of Early Intervention for Mental Health

We know the importance of preventive health when it comes to physical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Yearly physicals and checkups, screenings, and general education about health conditions can be effective methods to diagnosing a disease early—and improving the chances of a full recovery or management. The same concept is true for behavioral and mental health.

When diagnosed early, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and other disorders can be managed with medication, therapy and other treatment options—meaning that individuals can still maintain a healthy and happy life. But when a mental health diagnosis is not identified or diagnosed until later, it can become detrimental to the individual. For example:

  • Individuals with undiagnosed mental health problems are at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness. One of the reasons for this is that people living with mental health disorders are more susceptible to issues such as poverty, disaffiliation and personal vulnerability, according to the Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness (IGH). In turn, the IGH suggests, homelessness exacerbates mental health issues and encourages feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as substance abuse.
  • Individuals with an undiagnosed mental illness are at risk of physical health issues. Neglecting your mental health can lead to physical health problems. Chronic stress has been linked to a higher risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Mental illness doesn’t just affect the brain—it affects the entire body.
  • Individuals with undiagnosed mental health issues may experience instability in day-to-day activities. Depression can make it difficult to get out of bed, get dressed or eat properly. Anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder can make it difficult to communicate with others, especially in stressful situations. Not being able to get out of bed or go to work could mean losing your job—which, in turn, creates financial issues and stressors. Left untreated, mental illness can cause a vicious cycle of stress and insecurity.

 Improving Access to Mental Healthcare

One of the reasons that so many individuals with mental health issues go undiagnosed is the lack of access to care. A 2018 study from the Cohen Veterans Network, a national nonprofit philanthropic organization, and the National Council for Mental Wellbeing revealed that lack of access is one of the root causes of the mental health crisis in America. The study—America’s Mental Health 2018—revealed that 42% of Americans saw cost and poor insurance coverage as top barriers to accessing mental healthcare. About 25% of Americans reported having to choose between mental health treatment and paying for other daily needs. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans stated they have had to choose between treatment for a physical health condition or a mental health condition because of their insurance coverage.

Improving access to care for mental health illnesses and substance abuse disorders is an urgent matter. And it’s one that should be important to hospitals and insurers alike. Patients with mental illness or substance abuse disorders are more likely to suffer from poor physical health and require expensive medical interventions. They are also more likely to receive Medicaid coverage than private insurance. Without addressing behavioral and mental health issues early on, hospitals will end up caring for these patients anyway—and likely lose money in doing so.

That’s why many hospitals and health systems are partnering with community-based organizations to meet the growing demand of mental healthcare needs in their area. For example, Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center (NFMMC) recently partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Buffalo and Erie County, New York, to respond to mental health needs that have stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership includes seminars, support groups, a help line and a family class that provides emotional support, education and practical resource information about treatment.

“Families are more stressed and affected by mental illness than ever before,” Taylor Lovric, caregiver coordinator at NFMMC, told Niagara Frontier Publications. “These services can provide relief and support in safe, confidential settings, and skills to really improve life for families affected by mental illness.”

NFMMC and NAMI are offering services via email, phone and online. For families without access to computers or privacy at home, the hospital offers loaner computers and confidential space to participate at NFMMC.

Partnerships like these between hospitals and community-based organizations are key to providing the early interventions and better access necessary to improve the future of mental healthcare in America.

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