Talking to your doctor about mental health is essential
Many people struggling with mental illness do not receive care despite the large amount of resources available
By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente
About one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness each year, yet about 60 percent of those people don’t receive mental health services.
That’s according to data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which also reports that 50 percent of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14, and 75 percent by the age of 24.
“Perceived stigma is a huge deterrent to patients seeking medical care. It is the reason that many patients are never diagnosed with or treated for significant mental health issues,” said Dr. Carol Venable, internal medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Frisco Medical Offices. “I try to reassure patients that mental health issues are extremely common, and are concerns we welcome being brought up to us at clinic visits.”
So, if you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one who many be suffering from mental illness, where can you find the appropriate help? Often, a primary care doctor is a great first step.
“I think there is a perception of mental illness as something isolated from the rest of medical care,” Venable said. “As providers, though, we tend to view mental health concerns as a critical part of medicine and one that often affects many other aspects of health.”
Mental health resources
Mental health resources vary greatly depending on a patient’s scenario. Some patients might require regular therapy and maybe medication, while some patients might need a more robust intervention such as inpatient psychiatric care.
“Counselors and psychiatrists frequently are involved in our patients’ care. Alcohol and drug rehabilitation may be critical adjuncts. There are even now some helpful webinars and apps available to assist with certain modalities of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation,” Venable said. “At Kaiser Permanente we also have a team who follows up with patients with more severe mental health issues to ensure that they are receiving the care they need.”
There are consequences not only to patients who do not obtain the help they need, but also to family members, communities and the economy. Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billon in lost earnings per year, but the consequences to human lives are much more severe. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United Stated, and this third leading cause of death for children aged 10 to 14. It is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24.
“We spend a lot of time and energy in primary care trying to be sure our patients are plugged in with counselors or psychiatrists when needed. Tremendous resources are required in terms of the follow up,” Venable said. “I think that families can do a lot in terms of decreasing the stigma of mental illness for family members and encouraging them to seek help.”
Because of the prevalence of mental illness in this country, mental health issues affect nearly everyone either directly or indirectly through friends, family or colleagues, Venable said. “But it can be hard to talk about, even with loved ones. Together, by breaking down the stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health, we can create a culture of acceptance and support.”
She recommends reading more at FindYourWords.org, a resource that provides tips for how to say the right thing to a loved one, as well as tips for listening to someone in need.
Venable said the National Institute of Mental Health offers excellent resources for anyone looking to learn more about mental illnesses and how to treat them. Learn more at http://www.nimh.nih.gov.