Connected Care for the Body and Mind
Mental health disorders are medical conditions that are just as common as many physical ailments. These conditions can affect anyone, at any time, and be just as debilitating. In fact, in the United States, 46% of adults will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.
Many people who have concerns about their mental wellbeing feel uncomfortable about expressing them. They feel that they will be judged or stigmatized. Some fear that they may lose their jobs. Consider what it would be like if there were stigmas attached to common medical conditions such as heart disease. At United Counseling Service we are aiming to reduce the stigma some people feel in expressing concerns about their mental wellbeing either by contacting UCS or speaking with their primary care provider.
You might be thinking, “primary care provider?” And you would be right. Historically, people tend to divide the world of mental health from physical health, but science tells us the body does not do that. The two are intimately linked and have significant effects on each other. Studies have shown that these mental health issues can have significant impacts on a person’s physical health and vice versa. When we are not caring for our mental health, not only will our behavioral symptoms likely worsen, but they also have the potential to exacerbate any medical conditions. Likewise, poor physical health can sometimes cause mental distress.
We already know that a large majority of people have regular visits to their primary care physicians. They are our front-line gatekeepers to access treatment for a variety of different disorders, which can often include mental health treatment. Studies show 50% of all behavioral health disorders are treated in the primary care setting, and 80% of people with a diagnosable mental illness will visit their primary care provider at least once a year. Further integrating behavioral health with physical health care is a way to recognize the linked nature of physical and mental wellbeing.
This could be the first step in widespread integrated health care, a system that blends medical with mental health services into one setting. Mental health providers placed in the primary care setting would work together with primary care providers to help manage the patient’s overall health. The practice could offer easily accessible treatment when psychiatric conditions are identified, as well as offer case management opportunities to address challenges such as poverty, family stresses, and housing insecurity.
While integrated health care is still rare, this successfully proven health care model has major potential to improve care for patients and help relieve the stigmas associated with seeking care for mental health issues.
United Counseling Service (UCS) is a private, non-profit community mental health center that has played an essential part of Bennington County’s integrated healthcare system since 1958. UCS has mental health clinicians located in many schools and Primary Care Offices throughout Bennington County. For more information about UCS visit www.ucsvt.org or call 802-442-5491.
Katie Aiken is the Family Services Intake Coordinator with UCS Youth and Family Service Division and a Graduate Student of Social Work at Our Lady of the Lake University.