Mental healthcare in the U.S. has struggled to keep up with a growing number of individuals with mental health needs. Many barriers have impeded its development, including a lack of political, financial, and research support. Because of its enormous potential impact, transforming mental health in America and worldwide has become a priority. Health advocacy organizations such as the WHO and Mental Health America indicate a critical need for systems of care that can effectively detect and respond to mental health needs. Overall health outcomes will continue to suffer until significant improvements are made to the way mental healthcare is perceived and delivered.
Read on to learn why the transformation of mental healthcare is so vital. Then understand the value of mental health outcomes as they relate to overall health. Finally, review how creating a patient-centered approach can make mental healthcare more accessible and effective.
One of the most significant barriers to a more effective mental healthcare system is the perceived division between physical and psychological health. Healthcare providers see many examples of interconnection between mental and physical health conditions. Heart conditions, inflammation, and the immune system have all been linked with mental health conditions, yet they are often categorized as separate issues. Medical healthcare has been prioritized and normalized, whereas mental health has been shrouded in stigma and lack of understanding.
Stigma can add further distress to individuals with pronounced mental health needs, especially when they encounter healthcare professionals who dismiss or devalue their symptoms. When these individuals feel marginalized, they feel shame and avoid seeking care. Recognizing this harmful impact and making changes would require a significant shift toward a more inclusive and accepting viewpoint of physical and mental health issues.
The urgency for the transformation of mental healthcare comes from sobering statistics and facts about individuals with disorders, especially those that go undetected and untreated.
As more leaders and healthcare providers recognize the consequences of allowing mental healthcare to lag behind, the push for transformational change can gain momentum. Nations around the world are committing to comprehensive support for mental healthcare and improving mental healthcare systems.
The transformation of mental health begins by first recognizing the value of mental health outcomes, then creating mental health systems to more effectively identify and treat conditions.
As mentioned earlier, stigma has played a significant role in devaluing mental health outcomes. And as research uncovers more connections between psychological and physical wellness, improved recognition of mental health outcomes leads to a more integrated perspective on overall health. The World Health Organization (WHO) summed up the need for an integrated viewpoint in a report by stating that “there is no health without mental health.”
Governments and leaders can give mental health outcomes the same importance as medical health outcomes by showing meaningful support—with actions and money, not just words. By lessening the stigma about seeking care, the barriers to quality mental healthcare become lower, as does the health burden of untreated disorders. This can be accomplished by seeking strong advocate leaders and taking a public health approach with promotion and prevention strategies.
Planning for the growth of a more robust mental healthcare system takes time and money, and effective leadership is needed to ensure these measures are put into place. Federal and state legislatures must work towards developing consistent funding sources and policies for services, especially for vulnerable populations. This includes committing funds to build a more integrated electronic record infrastructure and robust information system. These supportive actions take place over many years, and leaders committed to a better mental health system are needed to keep progress moving forward in the long-term.
Many individuals with mental health issues have gone without adequate recognition and care for years. And due to chronic stressors from the COVID-19 pandemic, the shortcomings of the current mental health system have never been more apparent.
Leaders who can promote the idea that mental health is for everyone can help shift perspectives away from pathology and stigma, helping individuals feel more comfortable getting mental health support at all levels of need.
Promotion and prevention strategies have a positive track record of changing the course of major health issues affecting the population. One of the most significant public health campaign achievements during the twentieth century was centered around vehicle safety. With carefully crafted messages pushing for systemic legal and policy changes, prevention efforts changed the trajectory of motor vehicle deaths.
A similarly committed preventative approach can improve awareness of risk factors leading to mental health disorders. Rather than focusing on those who have already developed mental disorders, prevention campaigns promote information at a population level, educating everyone about how to reduce their risk of developing conditions.
For example, families facing poverty contend with additional stressors, fewer resources, and less access to mental healthcare. Protective factors, such as positive parenting and conflict resolution skills, can help families develop better resilience. Teaching families how to cope with stressors in their environment improves not only their daily functioning but also their overall health outcomes.
A patient-centered mental healthcare system puts the needs of each individual first. Increased early detection and screening can limit the impact of disruptive symptoms where they are first noticed, thus reducing the odds of untreated chronic disorders developing. This can be done by improving recognition of mental health needs in environments where symptoms are likely to emerge, such as schools, workplaces, and primary care clinics.
Create visible access points in all public sector environments, such as primary care facilities, schools, the justice system, and community health organizations that serve vulnerable populations. This reduces the effort needed to seek support or treatment, making it more likely that individuals will take the first step.
Mental health support should be accessible, affordable, and available to everyone. This means expanding access to telehealth services, enforcing mental health parity laws to ensure equal insurance coverage, and making more available non-clinical interventions such as peer support services.
Improve the range of resources from prevention to recovery, not just symptom control for diagnosed disorders. Once in the mental healthcare system, individuals should have access to different care options that meet their level of need.
The mental healthcare system is often viewed as separated from the medical world, but health leaders know that mental well-being is closely connected with overall health. They understand the stakes if mental healthcare continues to lag behind. With hope for the future, the transformation of mental healthcare pushes forward.