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Mental Health, Physical Health and the Social Barriers

May 25, 2021  |  Article

 

Yogin Shroff, Senior Partner and Chief Operating Officer

Mental health plays an increasingly important role in the social determinant picture. How does member mental health fit into the SDoH framework?



SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF MENTAL HEALTH

Mental health is inextricably linked to physical circumstances vis-à-vis the social determinants. According to the World Health Organization, “Certain population subgroups are at higher risk of mental disorders because of greater exposure and vulnerability to unfavourable social, economic, and environmental circumstances…”1

The following diagram traces the relation among physical health conditions, risk factors, mental health and population health.

SOCIAL ISOLATION AS A MEMBER HEALTH RISK FACTOR

Social isolation is one such circumstance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than one-third of individuals surveyed across age groups reported symptoms of anxiety disorder during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. See data from the Kaiser Family Foundation below.

While social isolation does not discriminate among age groups or population types, its effects have been most pronounced among 18-24 year olds — More than half of late adolescents/younger adults reported symptoms of anxiety over the same period.2

AN OLD CHALLENGE THAT CALLS FOR NEW THINKING

Mental health is an established pillar of the physical-mental-behavioral wellbeing triad. Nevertheless, improving member mental health circumstances often eludes healthcare professionals. Reasons are threefold.

First and perhaps most conspicuously, member mental health is difficult to arrest. Whereas physical ailments present with physical evidence, mental health is often opaque to the most trained observer.

Next, screening tools and techniques designed to elicit mental health disorders assume an environment of high trust; unless a member trusts the physician, the tool and the process, she or he is unlikely to disclose meaningful information through any health diagnostic.

Finally, while much progress has been made to destigmatize treatment of mental health and its various diagnoses, some social stigma prevails. For this reason the healthcare professional must not only diagnose an invisible malady, but must also recommend treatment where any such discussion is potentially unwelcome.

HOW CAN HEALTHCARE LEADERS IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH OUTCOMES?

The prevailing environment around member member health presents challenges that are many and varied. However, the modern healthcare professional can affect change via the 3 levers that follow.

THE ROAD AHEAD

In 1999, U. S. Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, famously stated, “There is no health without mental health.”3 His words were prescient. Two decades later the connection between physical health and mental wellbeing is so understood that many take it as given.

What remains to be seen is the way the healthcare industry will continue to evolve to address this link, and the positive effects any such activity will have on member outcomes over the long-term.

REFERENCES

1 World Health Organization. Social Determinants of Mental Health. Retrieved from https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/112828/9789241506809_eng.pdf?sequence=1

2 Panchal, N, Kamal, R, Cox, C, Garfield, R (2021, February 10) The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use. Retrieved from https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/

3 Friedman, Michael Dr., (2010, Dec 8) Why There’s ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ headshothttps://www.huffpost.com/entry/mental-health-whey-theres_b_793214

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