Expanding Mental Health Support in Primary Care Offices

With the onset of COVID-19, mental health has been a bigger issue all across the nation. On top of social distancing and the growing fear of the virus, many have felt a sense of anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems that hindered with daily lives.

Access to mental health services is not always easy. Many reside in areas with not many mental health services available, and even if they are, some are intimidated to go to therapy or visit a psychiatrist. Financial concerns also come into the picture, as it can be expensive.

To aid with mental health concerns and provide necessary services, a new study revealed that more primary care physicians should provide mental health resources for patients.

The new research, published in Health Affairs in February 2023, applied the 2006 through 2018 National Ambulatory Medical Care surveys that recorded around 110,000 primary care physician visits to see if their mental health issue was involved in their visit in any way. Researchers studied how mental health services were provided during primary care visits, and if so, to what extent.

From 2006 to 2007 and 2016 to 2018, the percentage of mental health as the main concern for primary care visits heightened from 3.4 percent to 6.3 percent. During the same years, mental health being some type of concern for the visit rose from 10.7 percent to 15.9 percent. The researchers found that from 2006 to 2018, patients seeking their primary care physician for some type of mental health concern soared by approximately 50 percent, emphasizing the need for mental health support in primary care physicians.

The study also revealed how race and ethnicity came into place, with Black and Hispanic patients being 40 percent less likely than white and non-Hispanic patients to address and bring up mental health issues during their primary care visits.

With the shortage of mental health professionals and rising attention to mental health, research highlights the importance of mental health services being integrated during primary care visits. It is crucial that more and more primary care doctors have access to tools that are needed to measure patients’ mental health statuses.

Another study published by the Journal of Mental Health & Clinical Psychology said mental health support is crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many were severely impacted by limited social interactions, financial stress, anxiety about catching the virus, and more. People were isolated and many spent time indoors with no access to social life, physical activity, and necessary sunlight exposure. Social isolation can continue to bring long-term effects, as humans need social interactions to relieve stress and gain cognitive abilities. The pandemic also took a huge toll on health professionals, who were given an immense amount of work and burden to ensure the safety of the nation.

"The scope of primary care has widened and primary care physicians are more likely to be delivering whole-person care, and that includes addressing mental health concerns," said study author Lisa S. Rotenstein, M.D., in a press release. To ensure quality visits and provide necessary mental health services, the author highlights the importance of co-located therapy or psychiatric services to equip patients with an easy and smooth process to take care of their mental health.

They also mention the importance of extended visit time and a system that allows simple ways to document both mental and physical health necessities. "Primary care physicians welcome the opportunity to help their patients address mental health concerns, but often need better systems of support to provide the care patients want and need beyond their primary care visit."

Rotenstein concluded: "We know that mental health concerns are best addressed with a team approach. Primary care can be an entry point for patients, but we need to consider strategies such as co-locating primary care providers and psychiatry providers and offering longer visits that will enable primary care physicians to adequately address mental health needs."

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Karlyna Andersen
prefix 1 year ago
We had a psychologist and a nutritionist as well as a nurse who coordinated outpatient care for our patients. There were many occasions where that nurse was working after hours to get a Brest cancer patient etc an appointment. Often we would refer a patient to our psychologist for depression and such. Drugs alone are not the answer. Having someone there makes a big difference.
prefix 1 year ago