Integrating people's mental health with their primary care is increasingly seen as vital to better overall health. In fact, this issue received a lot of attention from President Joe Biden in his recent State of the Union address. The president outlined the national mental health crisis and steps needed to address it right away.
This is welcome news. As those of us on the front lines have experienced firsthand, addressing mental health has become especially acute during the pandemic. Of special concern is the significant shortage of mental health providers, a national challenge that we need to solve now.
In addition to President Biden, last summer, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare, released a bipartisan Request for Information to help develop legislation addressing barriers to mental health services. It is exciting to see two branches of government and leaders from both political parties giving these issues the attention they deserve. And health policy leaders are clearly engaged as more than 300 stakeholders submitted their views to the Finance Committee, including Oak Street Health, one of the country's leading implementers of the behavioral health collaborative care model which integrates the work of primary care providers and mental health professionals to treat the whole patient.
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Many Americans experience generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, loneliness and grief—and the pandemic has certainly contributed to an increase in the prevalence of these diagnoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of the overall population will receive a mental health diagnosis during their lifetime and the Commonwealth Fund estimates that "about 1 in 4 Medicare beneficiaries have mental illness." The president's focus and the efforts on Capitol Hill are not just timely but badly needed. Untreated mental illness reduces Americans' ability to get the physical healthcare they need. People with depression often struggle to motivate themselves to go to doctors' offices, even if treatment is available once they get there. Depression remains the world's leading cause of disability.