Until recently, the biomedical model has downplayed the association between physical and mental health. New research provides concrete evidence of the link between physical health problems and the need for mental health care.
In the new study, researchers found that people who experience a physical health problem are three times more likely to seek mental health care than patients who report having no physical ailment.
A wide range of physical health problems – including back pain, cancer and diabetes — were linked to seeking mental health services, say Oregon State University researchers.
The study, found online in the journal Health Services Research, is the first nationally representative study that statistically shows a major link between physical health and mental health.
In the report, study authors call for better-coordinated care between medical and mental health providers.
“I see this study as a way to set benchmark data so that policy makers can determine how to best transition to a system that hopefully will coordinate physical and mental care,” said lead author Jangho Yoon, Ph.D., a health policy economist with OSU.
“The Affordable Care Act is supposed to have better coordinated care and interplay between physical and mental health providers, so this has really important implications because before our study, baseline data didn’t exist.”
In the study, researchers reviewed data from 6,000 adults who responded to the 2004 and 2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys. Yoon only used people who had not reported a previous physical or mental health condition.
Compared to those who did not have a physical health problem, people who developed a physical health condition had a threefold increase in the likelihood of seeking mental health care.
“The interplay between our physical and mental health has long been suspected,” Yoon said. “When I have back pain, I feel stressed. And if it impacts my ability to work, or to do my usual activities, then I can feel upset or even a bit depressed. But no large scale studies existed that showed the statistical proof of this correlation.”
Researchers say the study included people who sought mental health providers, prescriptions for mental health issues, or both.
The study also found that those patients who said they perceived their health issue as severe were more likely to seek mental health services, reports Yoon.
Investigators say use of a simple screening tool, such as the 16-question Substance Abuse/Mental Illness Screener (SAMISS), could be a component of a tradition visit to a medical provider.
This quick screen can help health providers attain proper mental health treatment for their patients.
“This is a win-win,” Yoon said.
“There is a chance of cost-savings in our medical system if we identify potential mental health problems early, before they become more severe. And more importantly, coordinated care and early intervention leads to better health outcomes, and better care for the patient.”
Source: Oregon State University