In conversations around mental health’s place within our health care system, we often hear the joke, “When did our heads become separate from the rests of our body?” The essence of this “joke” is a testament to a growing frustration with how mental health services are kept separate from physical health services. Many patients have to go to one provider for their physical symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment, and then schedule a different visit with a different provider in a different location, for their mental health symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
To address this, CCMU and many other advocates around the state have been pushing for better integration between mental health and physical health services, combining access points for both mental and physical issues. According to a new article though, there might be even more we can be doing to make sure mental health isn’t treated as separate from physical health.
A Columbia University researcher, Dr. Eric Kandel, has published an article that pushes us to acknowledge that our brain is just one more essential organ in our body, and should be treated as such—like our heart or lungs. He says, “All mental processes are brain processes, and therefore, all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases.” This perspective confirms that we should be including psychiatrists and other brain experts, such as neurologists, in our integrated care teams, the same way we would include cardiologists or pulmonologists. And of course, working to improve coordination and care transitions between each member of that provider team.
Improving these systems of care is critical because mental health is a critical issue in Colorado. Our state consistently ranks among the top ten in suicide rates, and three in ten Coloradans are in need of mental health or substance use disorder care. According to the Mental Health Center of Denver, one in every five people in our community struggle with a mental illness.
This will take all of us working together, just as any important change effort does; fortunately, there are a few key places we can start. First, we can start talking about mental health issues in the same way we talk about physical health issues. We must remove the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Similarly, we need to start talking more about our personal experiences and challenges with mental health. Sharing stories is one the most powerful and effective forms of communication we have. Third, we need to begin to emphasize the importance of mental health treatment and preventive care with the same tenacity that we do our physical health. Lastly, we need to continue working to ensure our health care system effectively diagnoses and treats our whole selves at a single point of access, so every Coloradan can get the care they need, when they need it.