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Primary Care's Role in Mental Health

Oct 9, 2020 By Alyx Sternlicht
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The past seven months have been a whirlwind of emotions and uncertainty. From the pandemic to protests and the election, many people have been left navigating feelings of fear, distress, and anxiety. According to a July survey by the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, more than a third of Americans now show signs of clinical anxiety and depression. That’s compared to just 11 percent in the first half of 2019.

While mental health conditions may be on the rise, many people are still not seeking care. In the U.S., approximately 57% of people with mental health conditions don’t receive treatment. Reasons for this can vary. Some people don’t know how to find a provider, while others may avoid getting help due to fear of stigmatization. When people do seek care, they are often referred to out-of-network providers (such as therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists), making care expensive and out-of-pocket. Those who seek in-network care may struggle to find a provider who is taking on new patients, accepts their health insurance, is the right fit, or has appointment availability.

Why primary care should play a role in mental health

What many people don’t realize though is that their primary care provider is a great option for getting mental health care. We consider mental health an essential part of primary care, and believe that mental health doesn’t always have to include psychotherapy or medication. PCP’s are equipped to treat the whole person, knowing that the physical affects the mental and vice versa. PCPs can help establish the right care plan specific to peoples’ unique needs, whether that’s identifying lifestyle changes, finding a therapist or coach, or prescribing medication.

Most people head to their PCP for help with physical concerns, but don’t actively seek care from their provider for mental health issues. In fact, one survey led by researchers at UC Davis, found that over 40 percent of adults don’t tell their doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of depression. Many chose to omit this information due to the belief that mental health was outside their primary care provider’s purview.

However, emotional well-being and physical health are deeply interconnected. Oftentimes mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, can cause physical symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia, headaches, digestive issues, changes in weight or appetite, and various others. Likewise, poor mental health can impact sleep quality, cause insomnia, affect eating patterns and weight gain or loss, impair productivity, concentration, communication with others, motivation to exercise and take medication as prescribed, and cognitive functioning.

If left untreated, mental health conditions can negatively impact one’s personal and professional relationships, as well as lead to severe long-term health effects. Having a better picture of your emotional well-being can help your PCP better treat your physical symptoms and vice versa.

How One Medical supports mental health

At One Medical, we believe your mental health is just as important as your physical health. We’ve incorporated mental health care into our standard primary care model, and our providers can effectively screen, diagnose, and treat everything from day-to-day stress to major depression. With longer appointments, our PCPs have the time to discuss your mental health in detail, identify issues and develop a personalized care plan, tailored to your specific needs. With same-day appointments, members can get care quickly rather than waiting weeks for an appointment with a therapist or other behavioral health specialist. Throughout treatment – whether that’s in house at One Medical, or elsewhere – our PCPs will proactively reach out to members to check in, ensuring continuity of care, using in-app reminders, messages and surveys.

Our suite of behavioral health services, Mindset by One Medical, is included as part of our standard, comprehensive primary care membership. This includes our core primary care, such as mental health specific appointments, medication management or specialist referrals, as well as universal behavioral health screenings before all annual, Live Well visits and our group visits, called Wellness Series. Wellness Series are programs led by providers and health coaches to help reduce stress and anxiety, sleep better, improve your mood, and more – all in a supportive group setting.

At One Medical, we want to normalize going to your primary care provider for more than just physical ailments. Getting mental health help from your PCP is not only clinically effective, providing a more holistic approach to your overall wellbeing, it’s usually more cost friendly, too.

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Alyx Sternlicht

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.