Cutting National Healthcare Costs Through Broader Mental Wellness AccessIn 2010, over 6.4 million emergency room visits involved treatment for mental health conditions or substance abuse. That number is up 28 percent from just four years earlier. Though many of these cases may be due to serious illnesses or related injuries, too many are preventable with ongoing mental wellness management.

These visits cost America’s already overburdened emergency rooms millions each year. In 2003, mental health visits cost hospitals $20.3 billion. By some estimates, that number will nearly double to a whopping $38.5 billion in 2014.

The fact is, many of these visits are unnecessary. They can be easily be prevented by providing more access to mental health and wellness services, as well as to physical and mental wellness support. The good news is there are currently services that exist and, through the use of new of technology, more are on the way.

Mental wellness, like physical fitness, requires upkeep and management. The most common form of management in the U.S. is individual therapy. With nearly 100,000 licensed psychologists in the U.S., this is a popular option but can be limiting. Many rural areas lack access to these professionals and often services can be out of reach for lower-income Americans (although many professionals offer a sliding-fee scale to help those for whom payment can be difficult).

Peer support is an emerging form of mental wellness management. The peer support model is built on mutual understanding, dialogue and the sharing of practical coping solutions among group members.

This model is often less expensive and more readily accessible through community organizations, clinics and religious centers all over the country. Growth of the peer support group model would help break barriers to mental health access and cut costs for hospital emergency rooms nationwide through ongoing management.

In addition to brick-and-mortar solutions, the emergence of telehealth brings forth promising solutions. Those seeking mental health services soon will be able to connect with trained psychologists and even peer support groups via online video technology. This will provide critical access to those in underserved communities and those with little time to seek services outside the home due to work commitments.

To reduce the burden mental wellness issues place on our nation’s hospitals and get proper, ongoing care to those in need, we need to more closely examine our country’s mental health system. Too many are going without proper mental health management until it is too late.