Mental Health Is Public Health

Public health is not a recent phenomenon, but it has been prevalent in the public consciousness recently because of COVID-19. Everyone started tuning into what the experts were saying about the spread of the disease and its severity. There was a large emphasis on infection control, personal protective equipment, and vaccine campaigns. 

For much of the past two years, we paid attention to public health guidance more than we possibly ever have as it altered our daily lives in both small and significant ways. When something devastating occurs, we want to have the appropriate information to know how to protect ourselves and others. Mental health deserves and requires the same approach.

How Does Mental Health Fit Into Public Health?

Some people may have a kneejerk reaction against including mental health under the umbrella of public health. There are several valid reasons to view them as entirely separate. One such reason is the nature of infection. Someone with COVID-19, for example, can catch the illness and spread it to others. This rapid and unmitigated spread caused it to become a pandemic. That does not happen with mental health conditions; someone cannot catch depression from another person or infect someone else with anxiety. We cannot ask people to wear masks or gloves to ward off addiction.

Even though the prevention of mental health disorders does not fit that mold does not mean it doesn’t affect public health. If public health is the maintenance of well-being and prevention of illness at the community level, mental health certainly plays a role. Mental health significantly affects individuals, with effects reaching the societal level. With the prevalence of mental health disorders steadily increasing, the problem is becoming more pronounced. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 21% of the entire adult population in the United States had at least one mental health disorder in 2020. Of that 21%, only 46.2% sought services for their condition. Almost a quarter of the adult population is struggling with their mental health, yet less than half are able to get the help they need. A high prevalence and even higher discrepancy require a closer look and an effective approach.

Mental Health at the Individual Level

The first person mental health affects is the person living with it. Conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and substance abuse affect people in profound ways. When someone struggles with their mental health, they may not be able to live life on their own terms as they grapple with distressing symptoms. They may have trouble determining their goals, whether those concern their education, occupation, or family. 

Mental health can impact someone on the most basic level by making it difficult to provide for and take care of oneself. Even for those able to function well enough to keep up with the obligations they have, it can be difficult to enjoy any of it or find fulfillment.

Mental health can impact those around the affected individual. Families often take on a caregiving role for those struggling with their mental health. Whether that looks like helping their loved one financially, supporting them emotionally, or taking them to and from treatment, the situation can take a toll on everyone involved. Relationships can become strained during this time, even for the closest and most loving families. When someone is not able to access treatment, the negative aspects of the situation can become exacerbated.

Implications of Mental Health on Society

In addition to profoundly impacting individuals and families, mental health conditions can also affect the broader community. This effect is typically measured by analyzing the global burden of disease (GBD). GBD looks at the impact of many different health conditions, both mental and physical. It is a way of comparing the severity of various conditions that are often difficult to compare due to their differences. For example, how are heart disease, substance abuse, diabetes, depression, and stroke-related? Each of these conditions has a different set of symptoms, affects different parts of the body, and has different causes, yet they were all top contributors to the GBD in the United States in 2019. 

To measure GBD, researchers estimate the number of years of life lost due to early death as well as the number of years of healthy living lost due to a condition. This is combined to create the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) metric. Substance abuse causes the second-highest number of DALYs after heart disease, while depression ranks ninth. This means that more healthy years of life are lost due to addiction than to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, stroke, or lung cancer.

In addition to the tremendous loss of life and quality of life from mental health conditions like addiction and depression, mental health disorders have detrimental economic effects. Both direct and indirect costs factor into this. Direct costs refer to the cost of treatment, including hospitalization, medication, and therapy services. Indirect costs refer to the wages lost due to missing work, early retirement, and early death related to mental health conditions. 

For many people, mental health treatment is prohibitively expensive, and these direct and indirect costs add up. They also can impact the productivity of the workforce and the economic growth of the nation as well. Mental health can no longer be neglected because it concerns all of us in some way.

With the rise of mental health conditions and the increasing consequences on quality of life and economic potential, we need an effective response. Those who are struggling with their mental health need timely and compassionate services that can deliver on their promises. The behavioral health industry is no stranger to this increase in demand, especially over the last few years. Lightning Step Technologies recognizes the needs of those seeking services as well as the needs of those providing services. Our All-In-One system combines an EMR, CRM, and RCM in one seamless platform designed to keep your staff organized and efficient so they can focus on what’s important: your patients. To schedule a demo, click here

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