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Mental Illness Awareness Week Emphasizes Screening and Eliminating Stigma

October 10, 2018

During 1990, Congress established Mental Illness Awareness Week. The first week in October marks a time for mental health advocates to collectively educate the public about mental illness and fight the stigma attached to this illness. The week also includes National Depression Screening Day, dedicated to raising awareness and screening people for depression and related mood and anxiety disorders.

This year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is focusing on stigma, which “creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment.”

Millions of Americans live with a mental health condition:

  • One in five children ages 13-18 have, or will have a serious mental illness1
  • 43.8 million adults experience mental illness in a given year2
  • Mental health affects everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation3

Despite the magnitude of these numbers, mental health resources have been diminishing as a result of professional shortages, lack of funding for mental health initiatives, limited treatment beds, and regulatory barriers.

Hospitals are seeing more people coming to their emergency departments with primary mental health issues. In addition, people with physical problems frequently have an underlying mental health issue, and many of them repeatedly seek emergency care because their mental illness affects their ability to effectively manage physical health problems.

Lack of resources results in medical doctors who do not have psychiatric training, treating patients who need more extensive care, a gap that must be closed to treat the entire person.

The concept of whole person care recognizes that the mind and the body are not separate. An integrated care model enables a primary care doctor to serve as the lead physician working in combination with psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers. Communication among providers is stronger, and fewer patients fall through the cracks.

Unfortunately there are barriers to mental health and physical health integration. Payers use separate provider networks, billing and coding practices, accreditation metrics, and record-keeping requirements. Primary care providers who want to expand behavioral health services face restrictions on the types of services they can bill for and reimbursement rates are often low. There may be pre-approval requirements or other restrictions that make it difficult for behavioral health care providers to work with primary care clinicians.

Medical training that separates physical and behavioral health care works against the collaborative concept. Privacy regulations prevent providers from sharing information about mental health and substance abuse. And stigma discourages some patients from seeking help.

On the positive side, new payment policies, including models that begin to hold providers accountable for controlling overall costs, and government demonstration programs, are opening doors. As health care moves from fee-for-service payment models to value-based care models additional opportunities for integration and whole person care grow.

As advocates work to remove barriers and increase payments for mental health care, everyone can play a role in eliminating the stigma attached to mental illness. Learning how to avoid and address stigma is critical. NAMI provides these examples about the impact of stigma.

  • People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and discrimination, which can make recovery or treatment longer and more difficult.
  • Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States.
  • Even though most people can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need.
  • The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is eight to ten years.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15–24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.

Ask yourself the tough question, “Am I helping or hurting?” You can take NAMI’s stigma-free pledge and play a role in improving the quality of life for people living with a mental illness.

1 Merikangas KR, He JP, Burstein M, Swanson SA, Avenevoli S, Cui L, Benjet C, Georgiades K, Swendsen J. Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication--Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;49(10):980-9

2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-49, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4887. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014

3 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-49, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4887. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014

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