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The interplay between emotional wellness and physical health

Charity, care, cost, expense

In the second year of the pandemic, the Pew Research Center reports about a fifth of U.S. adults (21%) are experiencing high levels of psychological distress, including nearly three-in-ten (28%) among those who say the outbreak has changed their lives in “a major way.” As the mental health epidemic within the pandemic worsens, it is crucial to understand the interplay between emotional wellness and physical health.

Research reveals high levels of anxiety are associated with a 9.5 fold increased risk of triggering a heart attack in the two hours after an anxiety episode, and a scientific statement from the American Heart Association notes that “depression and negative psychological health conditions are associated with a less healthy heart and body…and improving psychological health can lead to a healthier heart and healthier body.”

While the integration of mental and physical healthcare continues to improve, they still often run on somewhat parallel but separate tracks. Due to the stigma associated with diagnoses, behavioral health conditions can be overlooked and go unaddressed for years. In fact, the average delay between symptom onset and treatment is 11 years in America.

At the same time, there are great inequities in both healthcare access and treatment in the U.S. The highest risk patients, who are often underrepresented minorities, are the least likely to receive mental and physical care, testing and costly treatments and therapies. 13.8 percent of African Americans and 17.3 percent of Hispanics reported having fair or poor health compared with 14.2 percent of non-Hispanic Whites. In 2018, 8.7 percent of African American adults and 8.8 percent of Hispanic adults received mental health services compared with 18.6 percent of non-Hispanic White adults.

Although the number of integrated primary and behavioral health clinics is on the rise, workflow integration remains a tough task, and the industry faces a shortage of providers as the pool of board-certified psychiatrists is decreasing. Each year, millions of Americans with mental illness struggle to find mental health care – in part because people lack the same access to mental health providers as they have for other medical providers.

As mental illness becomes more and more prevalent, providers alone do not have the bandwidth to address the problem at scale. To improve health holistically for all patient populations, the industry must adopt a precision-based health approach that leverages data and measurement-based care to guide prevention, diagnosis and treatment and embraces artificial intelligence technology that is created from datasets that are free of racial and cultural bias.

Providers need bold, scalable solutions to make emotional wellbeing attainable for everyone — beginning with tools to scale quantifying behavioral health symptoms. Providers cannot manage what cannot be measured, and digital health tools can play an important role in identifying and managing behavioral health to benefit people’s mental wellness, and ultimately, physical health.

Healthcare organizations can leverage remote clinical decision support tools to provide the right care at the right time in the right place – enhancing patient care and engagement and enabling providers to identify and manage mental illness symptoms at scale. Technology solutions can also provide pathways for integrating mental and physical healthcare workflows – making screening, monitoring and alerting for depression and anxiety symptoms much simpler. Digital health solutions aid in identifying patients in need, addressing social determinants of health (SDOH), supporting time-strapped providers and making data-driven care possible.

As society looks to improve our post-pandemic world, it is a chance to recognize how emotional wellbeing directly impacts physical wellness and to prioritize providing mental health treatment sooner. By embracing powerful digital health tools, the healthcare industry can reach more people, particularly minority groups, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy, fulfilling life.

Photo: eakrin rasadonyindee, Getty Images

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