Behavioral health is a term that includes the prevention and intervention of both mental illness and substance use disorder.
From the outside, it may seem like an easy way of collectively referring to these conditions, but for the 43.8 million Americans who experience mental illness or 20.2 million who struggle with substance use disorder, it has a much deeper connotation. Behaviors are learned, and therefore they can be unlearned. If you’re struggling with addiction, depression or a phobia, there’s a lot of hope and power in realizing that, much like a broken arm, your condition neither defines you nor needs to be a permanent part of your life.
So, when we talk about the future of behavioral health, we’re talking about making healthy coping skills and habits another aspect of overall health, as well as putting the systems and resources in place to treat mental illness and addiction with the respect and urgency that we’d treat a broken arm.
Treating the Mind and the Body
For too long the medical profession has separated mind and body, and treated behavioral health separately from physical health.
For instance, if you’re experiencing a problem related to your physical health like pain, it’s obvious to go seek help. You’re not going to have to hunt down services and you’re not going to be afraid that someone is going to judge you for seeing a doctor. Unfortunately, with things like mental illness or addiction, it can be quite the opposite. When someone is experiencing emotional pain, they may not seek out treatment or isolate themselves for fear of being judged or just not being able to get the support they need.
Fortunately, we’ve realized that the mind and body are deeply related. Healthcare systems are responding by creating integrated programs and allocating resources to treat the two as one medical aspect of wellbeing. And that’s why we at Aspire Health Alliance, formerly South Shore Mental Health, often say that there can be no health without mental health. You can’t treat physical health as valid while stigmatizing behavioral health because they’re one in the same.
Healthier People Make Healthier Communities
Destigmatizing mental illness and addiction and providing convenient access to behavioral health services has the ancillary effect of making stronger, healthier communities.
Often we see communities in peril because the individuals within it are experiencing a sense of isolation, loss or desperation. These types of feelings that drive addiction and exacerbate mental illness also affect poverty, homelessness and crime. So, the more we can promote individual well-being, including mental and emotional health, the easier it is to improve community well-being.
Resources for Every Age and Stage in Life
Behavioral health issues can impact people at any time in their lives. In fact, those very early days of life and years of life – between zero and three years of age – is when we develop a lot of the decision-making processes that either help or hinder us later in life. As we grow and transition through life stages, there are both internal and external forces that affect our behavioral well-being.
That’s why it’s important to have the resources available to tackle a variety of behavioral health issues at the moment they’re most needed. For the new mother struggling with postpartum feelings of loneliness, the father who feels angry because he can’t provide for his family, or the child who’s contemplating self-harm after being bullied on social media – it’s absolutely critical that skilled support is available and accessible.
Integration of Services
If there’s one common thread for all of these developments, it’s the need to integrate medical and behavioral health services in order to more effectively treat the person as a whole.
At Aspire Health Alliance, formerly South Shore Mental Health, it’s our goal to make the resources, structure and staff available to treat substance use disorder and mental illness no differently than we would a physical injury or illness. If you’re battling depression symptoms, you can visit your primary care provider and be connected with a qualified expert who can help you through it.
It’s our hope that this integration of care and specializations will make behavioral healthcare more accessible and ensure that no patient feels they have to suffer through a mental health crisis or addiction alone.