What are the biggest challenges for patients suffering from mental health?
Mark Peterson: Stigma often prevents people suffering from mental illness from seeking help. And if an individual does decide to get help, it can be overwhelming trying to understand where to get care and which resources are available. Additionally, wait times for first appointments are often further than a month out. Others may simply have trouble finding transportation to their appointments, managing costs or knowing which providers to trust for good care.
Mike Derkacz: Access to treatment options. Only 41 percent of adults in the United States with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Without treatment, individuals suffering from mental health disorders have difficulty in the workplace, have an increased risk of chronic medical conditions and higher rates of hospitalization. Organizations such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) state that addiction to drugs or alcohol is a mental health disorder. In the case of opioid addiction, every 16 minutes someone dies from an overdose. The “New England Journal of Medicine” published an article stating that neuroscience research continues to support the brain disease model of addiction and identified opioid use disorder (OUD) as a chronic brain disease and therefore needs to be treated as such. With access to proper care, many mental health patients and those affected by opioid addiction can reengage with their communities and live fully active lives. Dr. Jerome Adams, US Surgeon General said, “We need to make it easier to get help than to get high.”
How can patients and health care providers face these challenges?
MP: It’s important that the entire health care team, including pharmacists, build trusting relationships with each patient. It can be scary to get care. Making care approachable, more accessible and more goal-oriented has to be the objective.
MD: Change the discussion on mental health. Specifically in the opioid addiction space, we’ve been treating it as a criminal justice issue and not as a health issue. With many other diseases, we measure success in incremental changes. Addiction is treated as an abstinence-only policy and this thinking not only leads to misunderstanding but also misrepresents addiction and restricts mental health patients from being open to seeking out treatment and getting the support they need for long-term recovery.
What is one of the newest innovations in mental health treatment that you’re most excited about?
MP: More than 80 million Americans live in an area with insufficient access to psychiatrists. That is why telepsychiatry, or the ability to receive needed psychiatric support through remote video, has become so important. As the largest provider of outpatient telepsychiatry in the country, we have found that most people who use the service really benefit from it. In fact, more than 83 percent come back for return visits.
MD: The concept of Connected Healthcare and Personalized Medicine. We are seeing an uptick in apps created to help consumers gain access to meditation tools, therapy sessions, wellness, etc. and while these are fantastic tools, these are just the start. I am excited to see a seamless, real-time information sharing platform that can be personalized for patients who suffer from the burden of addiction. Not only can this help close the shortage gap with providers, especially those living in rural areas, but can create individualized treatment plans that help increase medication adherence. No one can tackle opioid addiction alone, neither from a treatment side nor from a prevention side. A connected healthcare system can monitor patient behavior patterns, identify high-risk locations for opioid use and offer support in real-time through personalized treatment, including the important aspect of psychosocial counseling.
How can we empower individuals to speak out about their mental health and fight the stigma of mental health issues?
MP: The more that people who have a mental illness vocalize what they are going through and the more open people become to hearing their stories, the more we will reduce stigma and increase the likelihood that people will seek care. Organizations such as MakeItOK.org provide adults [with] the tools they need to hold these types of conversations. Mental illness is a universal problem, and it needs a voice.
MD: Speak openly. We have social tools we can utilize to let our voices to be heard. The more we share our stories and the more we help others choose empowerment over shame, the more we can eliminate the stigma associated with mental health. If we see mental health stigmatized in media, we are responsible for calling it out and educating those around us to change the narrative — especially with opioid addiction and understanding that this is an impairment in the brain and not a weakness of character. By speaking openly about this, we increase our understanding, destigmatize mental health and encourage equality between physical and mental illness and ultimately expand patient access to treatment.