The following article is contributed by San Luis Valley Health, Behavioral Health Program Manager, Audrey L Reich Loy, LCSW, LAC 
 
As we come to the end of May, (Mental Health Month) I’d like to take a moment and speak to why this issue is so imperative, ESPECIALLY in our medical setting.  One in four adults−approximately 61.5 million Americans−experiences mental illness in a given year. One in four.  
 
Because our hospital treats our entire community, you or someone you know will likely work with a patient suffering from a mental health condition.  We know that mental and physical health are fundamentally linked. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines: health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.   The WHO states that “there is no health without mental health.”  Poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions.  People with serious mental health conditions are at high risk of experiencing chronic physical conditions.  People with chronic physical conditions are at risk of developing poor mental health.  If we want our community to live well, we have to recognize mental health as our issue.
 
So what can you do? 
1. Help to de-stigmatize “mental illness.”  Nationally, more and more healthcare providers are adopting screening for mental health as a “6th vital sign,” just as important as blood pressure, pulse, and weight.  The more we talk about mental health with our patients, the more we begin to normalize mental health as a piece of overall health.  The sooner we can intervene, the better the outcome for the patient, just like any other health condition.  That’s why preventative screening is so imperative for good health outcomes. 
2. Get educated.  Mental illness often does not “look like” what we think it does.  When mental illnesses are talked about, the language used to describe them is typically clinical and impersonal at best. These clinical words often don’t do justice to what life with a mental illness feels like.  The more comfortable you are with the language, the more you will make it comfortable for those you work with to talk more about their condition and seek help.  How can we normalize mental illness as another health condition, similar to diabetes or heart disease?  The stigma associated with mental illness would end if society becomes more supportive of the mentally ill. 
3. Support someone in getting help.  Most mental health conditions present symptoms around age 24, but often times people are afraid to get help, or don’t know help is available.  Currently, only approximately 40% of Coloradans with mental illness are receiving treatment.  If this were the case for other life-threatening medical conditions, it would be an outcry!  How can we treat mental illness treatment the way we address other health conditions?
 
Once a patient has been screened, getting them resources is imperative.  Help works!
  •  75% of surveyed patients in one study said treatment helped to gain control over their lives. 
  •  81% of surveyed patients in one study said treatment helped them to get well and stay well. 
  •  90% of surveyed patients in one study said treatment made them more likely to keep appointments and to take medication. 
 

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