Making Mental Health Achievable. Saving Lives

Making Mental Health Achievable. Saving Lives

Making Mental Health Achievable. Saving Lives


This article is adapted from a prepared speech prepared for MindShift, the largest conference for cognitive behavioral therapists. The speaker is Dr. Robert Bixby, executive director, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). MindShift 2015 is being held February 11-14 in San Francisco.

MindShift is bringing together more than 4,500 professionals from around the world to advance evidence-based approaches to treat mental illness, reduce substance use, and improve quality of life.

By Robert Bixby, Director, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

As a child, I spent a lot of time in the hospital during a very sick period of my life. And as a teenager I spent more time in the hospital.

Yet I did not grow up with all the tools I needed to make it through the experience. Indeed, I see a lot of young people do. I was one of them.

So it is with great pleasure that I am delighted to bring this workshop series to MindShift 2015, just a few days away, where mental health professionals will come together and discuss scientific research, clinical practice, and best practices related to this highly complex and often perplexing issue.

It’s my hope that attendees will leave the conference inspired, better informed, and more skilled in how they help their clients with mental illness achieve healthier outcomes.

Taking responsibility

Mental health issues affect all of us. They affect children and youth, adults, and the elderly. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance use disorders—the list is too long to enumerate.

Consider the insights and recommendations presented in research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry late last year. The latest nationwide study found that nearly one out of five patients—two million Americans—were treated for major depressive disorder in the four years before the data were collected. They are surprisingly common, so the burden of these conditions is significant.

When people do not have access to the treatments that will help them manage their mental health issues, they are often at greater risk for chronic physical illness and other serious health problems, placing them at higher risk for falling down the economic ladder, experiencing poverty, and being incarcerated.

My hope is that the conference will be inspiring and encourage participants to develop evidence-based approaches to tackle the social determinants of mental health. When mental health is addressed early on in life, we can dramatically reduce the incidence of mental health issues at any age. And there are certainly ways to integrate these approaches into our health care system.

For example, we know that interventions during times of separation can help children resolve mental health problems, while transition periods can provide opportunities for treatment. Perhaps by pairing the inclusion of children’s mental health issues with integrated physical health, we can ensure that we provide support to people throughout their entire lives.

Making good decisions

We also need to work to decrease the number of unmet behavioral health needs. The most common reasons for people to seek treatment with a psychiatrist are problems with depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders. By meeting each person where they are at that moment, we can make good decisions and guide their well-being as they navigate their way towards recovery.

To promote healthy behaviors, we must intervene and remove barriers for people as they begin life as adults. In general, fewer than half of adolescents with mental health issues receive recommended mental health services, and only one-third receive effective treatment.

So the next time you work with a client, tell them you understand their challenges and that you are on their side. As one audience member told me at the National Academy of Behavioral Health Annual Conference earlier this year, “You showed me that I was suffering from something. I realized I was not alone. I understood that I would need help to get well.”

It’s a call to action. Get in there and have those conversations. If your client is struggling with depression, alcohol, or substance use, and they know you care about them, they’ll want to be in your practice. But if you don’t tell them, they may never get the help they need.

Disclosures: MindShift donors include: Aligned Strategies, Ford Foundation, Jackson Group Foundation, MHP Healthcare, W&M Clinical and Translational Research Program, Scripps Translational Science Institute, UC San Diego School of Medicine, and The Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Guest Speaker: MindShift 2015 is sponsored by: Cigna, Kaiser Permanente, and the CDC.

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