As a psychiatrist practicing in the Chicago area for the past decade, I have seen firsthand the impact mental illness has on our communities, especially in minority and underserved populations.
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate and is almost equal in prevalence across racial and ethnic groups. The disparity is rooted in the fact that African-Americans, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos are less likely to receive diagnosis for their behavioral health issues and have less access to mental health services. Even when programs are in place, these groups may not take advantage of them due to social and cultural stigmas about mental illness.
To raise awareness of the unique challenges in diagnosing and treating behavioral health issues among racial and ethnic groups, the U.S. House of Representatives proclaimed in 2008 that July would be recognized as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness month. The month honors the co-founder of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Urban Los Angeles chapter and long-time advocate for mental health education and support for individuals of diverse communities.
According to the Kim Foundation, 26.2 percent of Americans age 18 and older, an estimated 57.7 million people, suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. A CASAColumbia (National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University) report estimates another 40 million Americans age 12 and older, or roughly one in seven people, have an addiction disorder.
Yet, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 60 percent of those with mental illness received no treatment in the previous year, and only 4.1 million of addicts receive treatment every year. The statistics are sobering and point to the fact that there is a real need to improve treatment rates for all Americans.
To more effectively identify and treat behavioral health issues wherever our members go for care and services, WellCare has moved to integrate behavioral health into its care model. The solution lies in the coordination of general and behavioral health care to deliver mental health, substance abuse and primary care services in a holistic manner whether care is delivered by a mental health organization, primary care, a health center or hospital. This is the best way to address our members’ total health needs.
Additionally, we are looking at ways to use technology, like telehealth, to increase convenience and access to care and to increase our members’ comfort with seeking needed care. We also offer our members computerized cognitive behavioral therapy to help them identify signs and symptoms of mental illness and to provide a framework to help them discuss their concerns with their physicians.
I’ve seen mental illness wreak havoc on too many lives. The health care industry must embrace this kind of holistic approach to make a meaningful difference in the health outcomes of our nation’s most vulnerable populations.
Dr. Powell is medical director for WellCare’s Harmony Health Plan. She has significant clinical experience, including time in private practice, community mental health and as a hospital staff psychiatrist. Dr. Powell is a fellow of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and licensed in Illinois and Indiana. She is a member of the American Psychiatric Association, the Illinois Psychiatric Society, the American Association for Physician Leaders and the American Medical Association.