In recent years, we’ve seen growing recognition and appreciation for what I’ve witnessed during my three decades as a mental health professional and behavioral health executive – our mental health is directly linked to our physical health, and vice versa. If you’ve ever experienced stress, anxiety, grief, or depression, you’ve likely felt the toll it can take on your body.
More than happiness, mental well-being impacts a deeper sense of purpose and potential, our ability to genuinely flourish. When we connect with and care for others, and are cared about by others, we’re more likely to achieve an overall positive and hopeful emotional state driven by a sense of belonging and satisfaction with life, work, and relationships. It also means having the capacity to handle and adapt to life’s stressors, which is good for the mind and body. At Florida Blue we believe there is no health without mental health, and this guides how we support the people and communities we serve.
People with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and other diseases according to an article in the nationally recognized Lancet health and science journal, and those with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions. The interdependence of physical and mental well-being is driving changes to the health care eco-system, where mental health screening is being integrated with primary care so we can understand and deliver personalized care for the whole person, including their social and cultural needs.
One person dies every three minutes in the United States from alcohol, drugs, or suicide according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in five adults and one in six youth experience a mental health episode in any given year, and these statistics are getting worse. We don’t have enough psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to treat current demand, and are facing a significant behavioral health workforce shortage over the next decade. To improve access to a trusted professional, we must not only reduce the waiting times for appointments, but also combat the stigma surrounding mental illness. Unfortunately, due to those stigmas, it can take a staggering five to 15 years for someone in need to reach out for help and during that time, a person’s physical and mental well-being is negatively impacted.
While these figures sound alarming, there’s help. At Florida Blue we’re more than a health insurance company; we’re a health solutions company. That’s why we’ve recently added hundreds of mental health providers to our network and improved both virtual and in person access to care. We’ve acquired a majority stake in a leading behavioral health company that’s using technology to connect people quickly to mental health support and resources. Through the Florida Blue Foundation, we’ve also provided 46 grants totaling $15.3 million to organizations across Florida to help improve access to and quality of mental health services, particularly for underserved and uninsured communities. We’re partnering with community nonprofits such as the Children’s Home Society of Florida in Pensacola, which provides counseling in hundreds of schools, homes, offices and online – wherever children and families are most comfortable. These innovative and local collaborations accelerate convenient neighborhood access to culturally relevant mental health counseling, and empower people to find meaning, joy, and purpose.
Recently, 700 people gathered for our annual Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards which focused this year on improving mental health access and well-being. Organizations and individuals share ideas for supporting children, seniors, employees and each other. Our Foundation awarded nine grants for innovative and successful work to improve mental well-being in Florida.
Locally, Connie Bookman, a licensed clinical social worker and founder and CEO of Pathways for Change, was a first-place winner and received a $100,000 award to support her organization. Pathways for Change is a nonprofit that provides mental health, social services, and re-entry support for those who have served time in prison. Bookman has long focused on providing practical, life, health, and vocational skills to individuals in need while preserving each person’s dignity and hope for a better future.
Reimagining health care will require new and creative partnerships with organizations inside and outside of health care to improve the overall well-being of individuals of all ages in our community. By working together, we can make lasting changes that increase access and meet the unique needs of our community members.
As neighbors, leaders, family members, and as individuals, we must recognize that whole-person health includes mind and body. Recognizing, appreciating, and addressing both the physical and mental needs we’re facing now and in the future is the only way we’ll truly thrive.
Dr. Nick Dewan is vice-president of behavioral health for GuideWell and Florida Blue.
This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Mental well-being drives our ability to flourish | guestview