At least 1 in 5 people in every American community — rich or poor, rural or urban, young or old — live with mental illnesses. And they don’t have a sufficient supply of mental healthcare practitioners who are able to provide timely, affordable, high-quality care. The primary reason is that a divide between mind treatment and body care has been created by the U.S. health care system for years. Mental health care has been isolated from the rest of the health care system with segregated services, different methods, and payment amounts, making it difficult for people to receive it.
Nevertheless, due to a movement called integrated mental healthcare, this division is starting to erode. Integrated treatment puts mental health practitioners in other specialties, such as primary care and oncology, side by side alongside physical health professionals. Through experience in mental health and treatment embedded into these procedures, people can be easily linked to well-coordinated person-wide care. Even for those without other health problems, it is more common and less stigmatized to receive mental health care by a primary care provider.
Here’s how the program works: Through two simple questions, patients are tested for depression anytime they come to one of the primary care clinics. If the test appears accurate, or if other mental health issues are reported by a patient or primary care provider, a more comprehensive assessment is required. Patients who “graduate” from the program do well and follow up consistently for primary care. The centralized team tries other methods for those who are still coping or links them with specific knowledge of mental health providers.
The program a realistic, patient-centered approach with proven benefits, which in American health care is not straightforward to get through. In opening the gates to mental health, we will help satisfy one of the most urgent needs in our societies.