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Should Mental Health be Integrated into Primary Care?
By Themedica on December 8, 2008 8:56 AM |
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Millions of people around the world are affected with mental disorders, which are linked fundamentally with a number of chronic ailments such as cancer, heart disease and AIDS. integrate-mental-health-primary-healthcare

Mental disorders affect about 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older in a given year. Often requiring treatment with pharmaceutical drugs, many a times these disorders are detected and treated in time, on other occasions however, they go undetected and result in a substantial burden to patients, families and communities.

Citing many benefits, a recent WHO publication titled “Integrating mental health into primary health care: a global perspective,” suggested integration of mental health services with primary care. The report also provides advice on how primary care can be scaled up and implement such an integration. The following are some of the justifications supporting integration of mental health and primary care.

  • The heavy burden of mental disorders: Mental disorders aren't confined to a geographical territory, they are a challenge to populations around the world. Not only do they impair the affected individual, but also pose economical hardships on the family and the society.
  • Mental and physical health are interdependent: A number patients are afflicted with mental health problems as well as physical problems at the same time. Further, physical health issues can sometimes affect mental health too. Hence, integrated primary care services will enable treatment in a holistic manner, addressing physical disorders when they surface and at the same time prescribing central nervous system drugs for mental disorders, as and when needed.
  • It will increase access to mental health care: There's a huge difference between the prevalence of mental disorders, and the number of people getting treatment for these. This is true for all countries. An integration between mental and primary care will decrease this gap. This is so because people would be able to seek mental health services close to their homes, and this will also allow them to keep their families together without disturbing their daily activities.
  • It will make mental healthcare affordable: This is so because primary care services for mental health are less costly than psychiatric hospitals. Also, patients will be able to curtail indirect costs that go along with finding specialist care in distant locations.
  • Good health outcomes ensue with primary care for mental health: A greater number of patients treated for mental disorders in primary healthcare lead to good outcomes, especially when the healthcare provided is linked to a network of services at secondary level and within the community.
  • It will promote respect of human rights: Primary healthcare mental health services can play a major role in diluting the stigma and discrimination linked to psychiatric illnesses. In addition it will even decrease the risk of human rights violations occurring in psychiatric healthcare facilities.

Many countries around the world already have "primary care for mental health" programs underway, some of these include Argentina, Australia, Belize, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and the UK. With so many benefits of an integration, mental healthcare services rendered by the medical industry should improve a lot with an integration.


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