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Innovative approach pinpoints solutions to mental health issues

Just like diabetes and hypertension, mental illness is an ailment that is treatable; and if untreated can cause morbidity and mortality.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 26.2 percent of Americans age 18 and older— more than one in four adults—suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That translates into 57.7 million people.

That same research shows as many as 70 percent of primary-care visits stem from mental health issues. Most primary-care doctors and their staff lack the training or the time to fully address the patients’ wide range of psychosocial issues. Realizing this gap in care, Magellan Health Services of Arizona developed a model of care that integrates physical and mental health and addresses the individual’s whole health needs.

Nearly three years ago, under Gov. Jan Brewer’s leadership, Magellan launched Integrated Health Homes (IHH), and now operates six in Maricopa County. Through coordinated care and unique therapeutic interventions, Magellan is effectively managing the physical and behavioral health needs of 1,500 individuals challenged with severe mental illness.

The IHH model includes far more than just co-location of behavioral and physical health care services. It’s about whole-person care, which includes training of peer support team members in Stanford’s Chronic Disease Self Management Program and providing support for hospitalized individuals. The most important aspect, in my mind, is the improved quality of life and satisfaction with care that members are voicing about IHH. Through innovative treatment planning the IHH medical and behavioral teams pinpoint solutions to successfully manage chronic physical health conditions.

There are several success stories that illustrate how IHHs are overcoming significant barriers in acquiring health care services for a person with mental illness:

• One man, who had been misdiagnosed with anxiety, learned at his IHH he had a congenital heart defect.

• A woman was frequently being readmitted to the hospital with breathing problems until it was discovered at her IHH that symptoms of her schizoaffective disorder were preventing her from using her prescribed inhaler.

• A woman has lost 70 pounds since her IHH nurse practitioner discovered she was pre-diabetic and provided self-care guidance.

Success stories such as these abound since Magellan began providing an integrated solution for our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

It’s forward thinking such as this that will help more and more people come out from the shadows of mental health stigma and receive the care they need for their mental — and physical — health needs.

Someday, we’ll celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month for all the successes in treatment, rather than needing to raise awareness about illness that is as real as diabetes or heart disease.

— Dr. Shareh Ghani is chief medical officer for Magellan Health Services of Arizona, manager of central Arizona’s Regional Behavioral Health Authority since 2007.

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