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Why your doctor cares about your mental health

Mind, Body, Show on Corporate Home

In any given year, about 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness. In 2020 in particular, mental health concerns skyrocketed. By September of last year, more than 8 out of 10 adults experienced moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

If you are experiencing challenges with your mental health, it can be overwhelming to know who to talk to or how to get help. But the first step is simple: talk with your healthcare provider.

The link between mental and physical health

It surprises many people to learn that your mental and physical health are inextricably connected. How your body feels can affect how your brain feels—and vice versa.

Researchers have long studied how your mental wellness affects your physical wellness. Mental health conditions, particularly depression, can increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. In fact, depression is just as significant a risk factor for heart disease as smoking and high cholesterol.

In addition, more than half of all Americans receive a mental health diagnosis at some point in their lifetime. This means that more than half of Americans may also have an increased risk for many of these chronic health conditions.

Why you should talk with your doctor

Many people don’t realize that mental health conditions are treatable. For some people, lifestyle changes, talk therapy and learning new coping skills can significantly improve mental health. For others, medications like antidepressants lead to a significant improvement in quality of life.

Start by talking with your healthcare provider about your symptoms. When you receive help for a mental health condition, you lower your risk for:

  • Chronic health conditions, which are often treatable or preventable
  • Hospitalization due to a mental health crisis
  • Suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15-34 in the United States

What Adventist Health is doing to help

Many people don’t seek treatment simply because they don’t know the signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder. Raul Ayala, MD, family medicine provider, explains that Adventist Health has implemented screening tools to help your healthcare provider identify if you are struggling with mental health.

“Our first step in helping people with mental health concerns is identifying when patients need help,” Dr. Ayala explains. “We have started using a screening questionnaire to help give us a more well-rounded view of each patient’s well-being.”

The questionnaire asks questions to help identify depression, such as:

  • Do you struggle with making simple decisions or finishing small tasks?
  • Do you feel “fake” when you smile?
  • Does it feel like there’s a glass wall between you and the rest of the world?
  • Do you find yourself growing very irritable about minor things?
  • Do you feel like there’s nothing to look forward to?

Each patient who visits an Adventist Health primary care clinic receives a mental health questionnaire. Because of this screening tool, we can help more patients who need support.

How treatment can help

Just like heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions, getting treatment can make a huge difference in your overall well-being.

Rebecca Dragomani, behavioral health nurse practitioner with Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, has witnessed firsthand the difference appropriate mental health treatment can make. “I had a patient present with a complaint of abdominal pain,” she shares. “When I read through their chart, I found they had had several workups already with no conclusive findings.”

When Dragomani offered this patient the mental health screening tool, she was surprised to see a positive screening for symptoms of moderately severe depression and anxiety. “When I sat down to talk with them about their symptoms, I found out they were the only one working in their family, spent most of their time on the road, and that both their spouse and child experienced significant recurrent health issues.” Dragomani prescribed antidepressants to the patient, and within weeks the abdominal pain completely went away. “I discovered that this patient had suffered in silence for a whole year—just because no one had ever asked them about their mental health.”

If you experience symptoms of a mental health condition, find a healthcare provider near you.