Behavioral Health Patient Stories
Healing Minds and Bodies Together
Mental illnesses are common. One in five American adults will experience a mental illness. Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and three quarters begin by age 24. And even though many behavioral health conditions are very treatable-with success rates higher than those for some medical conditions-mental health patients face barriers to care most physical health patients do not experience.
Denial, shame and social stigma discourage people from seeking mental health care. So do a lack of providers and insurance coverage. As a result, 60 percent of American adults with mental illnesses never receive treatment. For those who do, the average delay between onset of symptoms and beginning of treatment is long: typically 8-10 years.
Our nation has not committed adequate resources to the issue. Neither have our states. Iowa ranks 47th in number of psychiatrists, and Iowa's inpatient mental health beds are always full.
Communities readily recognize the problem. When Allen Hospital conducted our community health needs assessment in 2012-2013, we asked 100 participants to identify the Cedar Valley's most pressing healthcare needs. They cited better access to healthcare, coordinated chronic disease management and improved nutrition. However, their unanimous top priority was better access to mental healthcare.
Better access means more than adding providers. It also means treating patients' mental and physical health needs concurrently. Physical illness can cause or worsen behavioral health issues. Behavioral health illnesses like depression, alcoholism or drug dependency often mask underlying physical disease. Treating either without treating both only perpetuates the cycle.
Two of the Cedar Valley's largest mental health providers decided we can do better. Black Hawk-Grundy Mental Health Center became an affiliate of UnityPoint Health - Waterloo on January 1, 2015. We came together to coordinate physical and mental healthcare.
UnityPoint Clinic recently hired two psychiatrists and will recruit a third. We plan to integrate mental health professionals into two UnityPoint Clinics later this year. This will help address patients' mental health needs in the same place they usually go for healthcare services: their primary care physicians.
This is a big step forward. Mental health treatments don't work when patients can't get to appointments or pharmacies or can't afford their prescriptions. By putting mental health providers into primary care clinics, we can reduce access problems for patients and offer better care.
Our goal is not to provide more services,hospitalizations or revolving doors. We want to coordinate our existing services to make it easier for patients to get help. They will have better outcomes when we work to heal their minds and bodies together.