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Just 1% of Adults Believe Nation Handles Mental Health Well

Three-quarters of adults gave a failing grade to the nation’s health care system when asked how it treats mental health conditions, according to a recent Gallup poll. Just 1% of Americans said treatment of mental health deserved an “A.” 

While those statistics are discouraging, they reflect key truths about the challenges that patients with mental health conditions face when seeking health care.  

An overarching issue is the disparity in perception of mental and physical wellbeing. At least 70% of Americans believe society views mental health conditions differently than physical ones, and insurance benefits for mental health may be difficult to navigate in the midst of symptoms.  

Further, 52% of those in the Gallup survey said affordability was a top barrier for mental health care and more than four in ten cited difficulty finding a provider.  

The Interplay of Mental Health and Physical Conditions 

Doctors have long drawn the connection between successful treatment of mental health concerns and improved physical health. A reverse relationship, with untreated mental health conditions taking a toll on the physical body, also exists. 

The challenges of mental illness can make it more difficult to care for the physical body as well. Patients experiencing serious mental health symptoms may struggle with properly taking medications and getting enough physical activity. Mental illness can also impede patients’ ability to advocate for themselves in medical situations. 

Mental and physical conditions, and their treatments, often affect one another. For example: 

  • Some mental health medications exacerbate weight gain, while weight-control medications may impact mood.  
  • More than a third of patients with heart disease also experience depression, and young adults who take medication for depression can be at increased risk of heart attack or stroke.  
  • Untreated stress and anxiety may complicate diagnoses for a range of conditions from migraine to heart murmurs to stomach ulcers. 

The wide array of symptoms required for diagnosing cancer and rare diseases may be complicated or obscured by patients’ mental health symptoms. Further mental health challenges may emerge when patients learn their conditions are incurable. 

Treating the Whole Patient for Better Outcomes 

The challenging global circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on many of these challenges, yet solutions have been slow to materialize. Mental Health Awareness Month, observed each May since 1949, is a reminder to take mental health treatment just as seriously as physical health. Holistically considering both the mental and physical health of every patient must be a priority for improving outcomes. 

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