You can’t have a healthy body without a healthy mind. Many people think of the relationship between body and mind as one-sided: if you exercise and eat right, your healthy body will nourish your mind. And, while there’s no denying that physical health can help us feel great, your mind can affect your body just as drastically.
Neglecting your mental health can lead to serious physical health conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. And, mental health conditions can also take a toll on your immune system, keeping you from being able to fight off that spring cold as easily as you’d like to.
That’s why access to high-quality, holistic healthcare is so important. Most people have yearly check-ins with their primary care providers, but how often do people think to schedule regular appointments to monitor their mental health? The World Health Organization has found that between 30-80% of people choose not to seek treatment for their mental health. Not only does increasing access to behavioral health care help to diagnose and treat more patients, but it also helps fight the stigma attached to having a mental health diagnosis. Introducing behavioral health services into your CHC, FQHC, hospital, or health system is an excellent first step towards eliminating stigma in your community.
Holistic care means treating the whole human
It’s impossible to treat a patient effectively without considering their mental health, as mental health affects every aspect of a person’s life. Someone with a mental health condition may struggle with productivity at work, be less engaged and present in their personal life, and even be more prone to physical ailments.
Many social determinants of mental health also affect patients’ access to quality care. Someone living in a low-income area is more susceptible to certain health conditions and less likely to have easy access to behavioral health services. Being diagnosed with a mental health condition can make patients feel as if they’re perceived differently for it, but getting consistent and high-quality holistic care can help fight that stigma.
If a patient came in with a painful sore throat. Likely, the doctor wouldn’t just run a strep test and then be done. They would test for all possible conditions to get to the root of the problem. The same theory should apply to behavioral health care. If a patient is struggling with fatigue, a provider shouldn’t just check for mononucleosis — they should also look for symptoms of burnout or mental health disorders. It’s impossible to treat a patient’s body without treating their mind as well.
Educating your organization on mental healthcare
Whether your healthcare organization is planning to start your behavioral health program from scratch or considering whether you should expand your services, your work can make a big impact on your community. But starting that process can feel overwhelming. Remember, a lot of the critical work around building a successful, patient-first behavioral health program starts with your own care team.
Effectively preparing your providers to support patients with mental health conditions is all about education. Your organization can educate your staff on different behavioral health conditions and common diagnoses they might encounter and empower them to have better conversations surrounding mental health.
One important skill to teach is person-first language (for example, you would say a person diagnosed with schizophrenia, not a schizophrenic). It may seem like a minor change, but switching the way you categorize or classify your patients can help them feel more empowered to have real, vulnerable conversations about their situation.
Your care team also needs to recognize that treatment of people with mental health diagnoses can have a unique emotional impact on providers. Your organization should emphasize the importance of your providers not becoming desensitized to patients’ challenges, and you should work to prevent burnout by opening up communication channels with your providers and implementing support systems at the organizational level. It’s important for your organization to not become desensitized to your patients’ challenges, nor to take them home with you at the end of the day.
Implementing your first behavioral health program
You’ve thought about bringing mental health care into your organization, and you believe it’s a good fit for your patient populations. Now comes the process of actually implementing behavioral health services into your workflow.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you move forward:
- Your patients will likely be discussing topics that are very personal and vulnerable when they come in for a behavioral health appointment. Because of this, you should house your behavioral health services in a space that allows patients to feel comfortable opening up. Your space needs to be physically and mentally safe for patients and have procedures in place in the event that a patient expresses an intent to harm self or others or becomes combative.
- You’ll also need to be ready to make a change in how you schedule providers. Mental health care cannot run on a traditional medicine model in which a patient waits for half an hour to meet with a doctor for a short conversation. You should plan to schedule ample time for the important conversations between providers and their patients.
- If this is your organization’s first experience with psychiatry, you’ll want to make sure you hire nurses, medical assistants, and doctors who have experience working in behavioral health care. Consider looking into telepsychiatry to find the best possible providers from all around the country.
- Check out some of these resources to learn more about the benefits of behavioral health integration from an administrative point of view and directly from nurses in the field.
The mind-body connection in everyday life
You now have a headstart into building out holistic care within your organization — but what about for individuals? Mental health and wellbeing are just as important for those without diagnosed behavioral health conditions as those who you’ll likely be treating.
We’ve compiled some ideas for how you can put mindfulness and self-care into your everyday wellness routine:
- Think of the place in your life that you generally experience the most stress and try to make that a mindfulness practice. For example, maybe you could practice deep breathing while driving during rush hour.
- Our lives move quickly, and we’re busier than ever — it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Remember to slow down and breathe every once in a while to ground yourself and remind yourself that everything is going to be okay.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help. Often, as behavioral healthcare professionals, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re not susceptible to mental health conditions in the way that others are, but that’s not true. Anyone and everyone can struggle with their mental health, and there’s no shame in reaching out for a helping hand.
Integrating behavioral health services into your organization can take work, but we believe you and your patients will both benefit
One of the most challenging parts of starting a behavioral health program can be finding high-quality providers that seamlessly fit into your organization. One potential solution is telepsychiatry. With telepsychiatry, your patients can get the care they need, and you can work with the best possible providers regardless of if they’re in your area or not.
To learn more about how Iris Telehealth can help you implement a telepsychiatry program, contact us, and we’ll be happy to provide you with the information you need to get started.