8 Good Reasons for Integrating Mental Health into Primary Care

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In the UK, common mental illnesses affect the lives of up to 26% of young women and 9% of young men directly. If left untreated, it creates an enormous toll of suffering, disability and economic loss for the affected individual, their family, their community, and as a result, the UK economy.

The 2016 analysis by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) calculates the cost of late intervention at nearly £17 billion per year. To be precise:

In England and Wales, the state spends £16.6 billion per year – equal to £287 per person – on the cost of late intervention.

Integrating mental health care into primary care

Despite the proven success of early interventions in mental illness, only a small number British young people receive even the most basic treatment and support.

The WHO (World Health Organisation) in collaboration with Wonca (World Organisation of Family Doctors) proposes integrating mental health care into primary care as the most effective way of dealing with the problem.

8 convincing reasons for integrating mental health into primary care

The benefits of this solution are significant, ranging from resourcing under-serviced communities to increasing the likelihood of positive outcomes for both mental and physical health problems. The following eight reasons build a compelling argument for integrating mental health care into primary care:

1. Overlap in prevalence

Mental health disorders are as prevalent in (all) societies as physical disease. The London Mental Health Report estimates that 1 in 4 individuals will experience a diagnosable mental health condition, with a third of these experiencing two or more conditions at once. With mental illness as widespread as physical disease, it makes sense to utilise existing primary care services and structures for the treatment of both.

2. Mental health affects us all

The impact of mental illness cannot be contained to the individual- or familial sphere. The economic and social hardships affect individuals, families, communities and the society as a whole. It is thus in the best interest of every member of society to have mental health services made easily accessible to everyone.

3. The co-dependency between physical and mental health

The realms of mental and physical health are so intertwined that many people who’ve been primarily diagnosed with a health problem in one, are likely to suffer from a comorbid condition in the other realm. Integrating health services lowers the risk of underlying conditions going undetected and provides carers with the opportunity to apply holistic diagnoses and treatment.

4. Closing the gap between demand and provision

Mental illness is the single largest source of disease burden in London, more than cancer and cardiovascular disease, and yet few receive treatment. Utilising existing primary care networks is an effective way of closing the gap between the prevalence of mental disorders and those receiving treatment and support.

5. Encouraging health-seeking behaviour

The best way to encourage those in need of mental health services to seek out care is to make them freely and easily accessible. Integrating these with primary care means that people can access mental health services closer to their homes, posing as little as possible disruption to daily activities and families.

6. Promotion of mental health

Community-based services facilitate mental health awareness and prevention campaigns while making it easier to maintain long-term monitoring and support of affected individuals.

7. Trading stigma with human rights

Mental health services delivered in primary care settings promotes human rights by combating stigma and discrimination, within the community and health care settings.

8. Primary care for mental health is affordable and effective

Integrating mental health into primary care greatly increases the potential for early intervention to take place. Where primary caregivers are tasked with responding to the warning signs, risk factors and early manifestations of mental illness, treatment can take place when it is most efficient and cost-effective.

Improving long-term health outcomes of your community

Acute and chronic mental health care like psychiatric services, hospitalisation and incarceration are not only more expensive but also less effective than early intervention. While the die has been cast for generations past, health care commissioners, donors, and foundations have the power to improve the mental and physical health outcomes of children and young people by investing in early intervention services.

The Bridge Partnership Network specialises in tailoring early intervention programmes for local communities. Whether you have just started out in your own community or have a wealth of successes to share: we’d love to hear from you. Join the Bridge Partnership Network or contact us to learn more about our Mental Health Commissioners Network.

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