Integrating Mental Health into Health Care Would Benefit Seniors

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For too long in the United States mental health has been treated as a separate issue from physical health. The nation is now accepting and accommodating people who may be physically disabled. However, society still discriminates against those who may suffer from mental health issues. Socially, it is considered perfectly fine to seek medical help for a physical ailment. Seeking help for a psychological issue, however, carries a certain amount of stigma, resulting in feelings of shame or embarrassment.

This attitude towards mental health is reflected in the system of payment. Currently, many seniors find one set of rules and procedures exists in regard to health care for physical ailments, while an entirely different set exists when it comes to seeking mental care. This is true in spite of the fact that mental health issues like depression affect the elderly disproportionately and impact their physical health too.

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) already provides funding for community health centers that provide behavioral as well as physical health care. This is a step toward integrating the two. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton proposes making the funding permanent and increasing it by $40 billion over the next ten years.

Here are some of the advantages in consolidating mental with physical health care. Seniors from all walks of life will benefit from the integration of the two systems.

 

Improve Early Diagnosis

A significant benefit from rolling mental health services into health care is reducing the amount of time between diagnosis and treatment. It is impossible to adequately treat a condition if a care provider doesn’t know what the condition is. The current system tends to look for physical issues behind a set of symptoms before considering if mental issues may be the cause.

If mental and physical health care are operating under the same system, health care personnel are more likely to take a broader approach to diagnosis. Diagnosing the problems behind a given set of symptoms would include considering whether a mental health cause may exist.

 

Simplify the Treatment Process

The current system for treating these types of issues can be overly complex and involve many layers of care providers. This can result in elderly people—and their caregivers—feeling overwhelmed at the thought of seeking help for mental health issues.

Some elderly people are so hesitant to become ensnared in the morass of care providers, insurance requirements, and so on that they delay seeking treatment. They may even opt not to address their mental health issues.

By simplifying the treatment process and empowering care providers to address mental health issues more quickly, society can increase the likelihood that more elderly patients will seek and gain assistance. This in turn will help catch mental issues before they have a chance to develop into something worse. It will save patients from having to endure a condition simply because they don’t know how to get help.

 

Reduce Stress on the Elderly who Suffer from Mental Health Issues

Mental health issues frequently cause distress to elderly patients by virtue of being challenging to diagnose and treat. This is one reason why people over 65 report an increase in stress-related symptoms. Most of these reports occur once people begin suffering a psychological issue.

Elderly patients who suffer from these conditions have enough to deal with. They shouldn’t have to undergo highly stressful processes simply to get some help. Rolling mental health into the health care system will alleviate some stress. It will also encourage elderly patients to get the treatment they need.

 

Simplify Payment Procedures, Leading to Improved Access

With a little work, the Medicare and Medicaid payment systems can handle both mental and physical health procedures. This will simplify the procedures that many mental health providers must go through. It will lead to more provider participation in offering treatment for various mental health issues.

By simplifying payment systems and increasing provider participation, patients will gain improved access to mental health care providers. Elderly patients will be able to more quickly locate professionals who can assist them. Improved access will lead to better overall treatment results. It will improve the quality of life of many elderly mental health patients.

 

Improve Early Intervention

Some people who suffer from mental health problems only seek out help once it has become unbearable. Sadly, some people never reach this point, instead suffering from mental health issues for their entire lives.

By adding mental health procedures to the health care system, uniform practices can be developed. Health care providers will be able to better screen elderly patients for common mental health issues. This can lead to early treatment and, in many cases, prevention of the progression of a condition.

Lawmakers should seriously consider the benefits of adding mental health providers to the national health care system. The result will be a happier, healthier senior population.

 

 

Sources

Corrigan, Patrick. (October 2004). How Stigma Interferes with Mental Health Care. American Psychologist , 59(7): 614-625. Available at https://und.edu/health-wellness/healthy-und/how-stigma-interferes-with-mental-health-care-kay.pdf. Retrieved September 13, 2016.

Kohn, R., Saxena, S., Levav, I., Saraceno, B. (November 2004). The treatment gap in mental health care. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 82(11): 858-866. Available at http://www.scielosp.org/pdf/bwho/v82n11/v82n11a11.pdf. Retrieved September 13, 2016.

Thomas, Ken. Associated Press. (August 29, 2016). Clinton rolls out plan to fully integrate mental health into U.S. health care system. PBS NewsHour. The Rundown. Available at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/clinton-releases-plan-integrate-mental-health-care/). Retrieved September 13, 2016.

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