The interplay between emotional wellness and physical health

In the second year of the pandemic, the Pew Research Center reports that about a fifth of adults in the United States (21%) have severe psychological distress, including nearly three in ten (28%) among those who say the outbreak is changing did her life in “a great way”. As the mental health epidemic worsens within the pandemic, it is important to understand the interplay between emotional well-being and physical health.

Research has shown that high levels of anxiety are linked to a 9.5-fold increased risk of causing a heart attack in the two hours following an anxiety episode. A scientific opinion from the American Heart Association states that “Depression and negative mental illness are linked to a less healthy heart and body … and improved mental health can lead to a healthier heart and body. “

As the integration of mental and physical health care continues to improve, they often take somewhat parallel but separate paths. Because of the stigma associated with diagnoses, behavioral disorders can be overlooked and remain neglected for years. In fact, the average delay between symptoms appearing and treatment in America is 11 years.

At the same time, the United States has huge inequalities in both access to health care and treatment. Those at risk, who are often underrepresented minorities, are the least likely to receive mental and physical care, testing, and costly treatments and therapies. 13.8 percent of African Americans and 17.3 percent of Hispanics reported having fair or poor health, compared with 14.2 percent of non-Hispanic whites. In 2018, 8.7 percent of African American adults and 8.8 percent of Hispanic adults received psychiatric benefits, compared with 18.6 percent of non-Hispanic white adults.

Although the number of integrated primary and behavioral clinics increases, integrating workflows remains a difficult task and the industry is in shortage of providers as the pool of certified psychiatrists dwindles. Every year, millions of Americans with mental illness struggle to find mental health care – also because people don’t have the same access to mental health providers as other medical providers.

With mental illness becoming more prevalent, providers alone do not have the bandwidth to address the problem on a large scale. To improve health holistically for all patient populations, the industry must adopt a precision-based approach to health that leverages data- and measurement-based care to guide prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, and includes artificial intelligence technologies built from racial and racial-free datasets become cultural bias.

Providers need bold, scalable solutions to make emotional wellbeing accessible to all – starting with tools to scale the quantification of behavioral health symptoms. Providers cannot manage what cannot be measured, and digital health tools can play an important role in identifying and managing behavioral health to promote people’s mental wellbeing and ultimately physical health.

Healthcare organizations can use remote clinical decision support tools to deliver the right care in the right place at the right time. This improves patient care and engagement, and enables providers to identify and treat symptoms of mental illness on a large scale. Technology solutions can also provide ways to integrate mental and physical health care workflows, making screening, monitoring, and alerting for symptoms of depression and anxiety much easier. Digital health solutions help identify patients in need, take social determinants of health (SDOH) into account, support temporary providers and enable data-driven care.

As society tries to make our world a better place after the pandemic, this is a chance to see how emotional well-being directly affects physical well-being and to prioritize the provision of mental health treatment sooner. By adopting powerful digital health tools, the health industry can reach out to more people, especially minorities, to ensure everyone has the opportunity to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Photo: eakrin rasadonyindee, Getty Images

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