When people suffer from anxiety, stress, depression, and other mental health issues, they can also be more likely to suffer from chronic medical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, estimates that about 37 million people in America have diabetes.
And while those people are up to three times as likely to develop depression than those who don't have diabetes, only between 25% and 50% of people who are both diabetic and depressed are properly diagnosed and then treated for both. This becomes an even larger problem because depressed patients are less likely to follow their treatment plan.
Below are some ways that healthcare providers can take a more holistic approach to patient care to help produce more effective results.
Expand the Health Care Team
One way that medical professionals can integrate mental health into internal medicine is to expand their healthcare team. In addition to nurses, physician assistants, doctors, and other medical specialists, the team in this case would include a behavioral health consultant.
This person could be a clinical social worker, a psychologist, or any other professional who's trained and certified in behavioral health.
This added team member wouldn't be there as a "hand-off" option should a patient require behavioral health support. Instead, the behavior health specialist would work with the rest of the internal medicine team to look at the whole individual.
By approaching healthcare from this type of team perspective, a patient can get all the care they need in one place — with each member of the team effectively and efficiently communicating so the patient gets the best and most personalized care possible.
Conduct Thorough Assessments
Once internal medical professionals are properly educated and trained in the importance of behavioral health, they can then work on conducting thorough assessments of their patients. Those who have diabetes, for instance, can be asked questions or given a survey related to how battling with the chronic disease affects their daily lives and, as a result, their mental health.
Similar types of surveys and questionnaires can and should be distributed not just to patients who are currently suffering from chronic medical conditions — or those at the greatest risk — but to all patients.
Break Down the Barriers
Despite mental health struggles being more acceptable today than ever before, there's still a stigma. Dr. Greg Duhon says that it's incumbent on medical professionals to help patients break down those barriers so they can address mental health concerns.
In much the same way that they engender trust in internal medicine by citing facts, stats, and studies, medical professionals can do the same with mental health.
By educating patients on the direct links between mental and physical health, professionals will engender similar trust and, as a result, help patients become more comfortable with getting help for mental health issues.
About Dr. Gregory Duhon, MD
Dr. Gregory Duhon, MD, is an Internal Medicine Physician and Hospitalist with acumen in ICU, emergency room, and crisis/pandemic management. Known for compassionate patient care, Dr. Duhon has donated volunteer time to provide medical care to flood victims and those affected by opioid addiction. Gregory Duhon is training for the Ironman and enjoys travel, cooking, and passion fruit propagation.