Panelists at SAMHSA’s special session, “Behavioral Health is Essential to Health—A New National Communication Opportunity,” included (left to right) Lynn Cooper, David W. Price, Saul M. Levin, Mary Jane England, SAMHSA’s Mark A. Weber, and session moderator Thomas E. Backer.
SAMHSA’s Special Session: Behavioral Health is Essential to Health
To help highlight the important connection between physical health and behavioral health, SAMHSA presented a special session at the Atlanta conference, “Behavioral Health is Essential to Health—A New National Communication Opportunity.”
Five panelists, including SAMHSA’s Mark A. Weber, M.B.A., Director of the Agency’s Office of Communications, were introduced by session moderator Thomas E. Backer, Ph.D., President, Human Interaction Research Institute. In addition, SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D., offered her comments from the audience.
How does a key message from SAMHSA, particularly “Behavioral Health is Essential to Health,” make its way to primary care physicians and their patients? According to Dr. Backer, health care and behavioral health care providers, employers, insurance companies, Government agencies, health communications professionals, and the media all need to work together “to deliver messages that change minds and change behaviors.”
Each panelist discussed gaps in the health care system and ways improved communications could address those gaps. The following comments are a sample of their responses.
Focusing on primary care and screening. “We need to communicate to health practitioners that substance abuse and mental health screening needs to take place as a routine practice in almost every medical setting,” said Lynn Cooper, Deputy Director, Pennsylvania Community Providers Association.
Ms. Cooper framed her response through her experiences as a person in recovery. “In my medical health care treatment, we never got to the fact that alcohol was my biggest problem,” she said. “I was sent for brain scans for headaches, sent to gastro-endocrinologists for stomach problems. Nobody ever asked how much alcohol I was drinking every day. If my doctor had known I was drinking six or seven goblet-size glasses of wine every day, he might have had a different referral for me.”
Integrating behavioral health. “I believe mental health and substance abuse issues are exactly like any other primary care illness or disorder that you may have,” said Saul M. Levin, M.D., M.P.A., Vice President, American Medical Association. “It’s just like diabetes; it’s just like hypertension, and it should be treated as such.” Physicians need to understand that no matter what specialty—surgeons, pediatricians, family practice doctors, internists, psychiatrists—they should be asking the same questions of everyone who comes into their practices.
Dr. Levin added: “Ask, how much do you smoke? How much do you drink? What’s your food intake like? Are you depressed? What are the signs and symptoms of depression? Are you anxious? What drugs may you be on, both prescription and illicit drugs?”
Communicating this message. “It’s our problem,” said David W. Price, M.D., Medical Director, Kaiser Permanente National Continuing Medical Education Program. “It’s not just the psychiatrist’s or the social worker’s problem.”
Dr. Price addressed ways of communicating to the average primary care practitioner this message of universal screening for mental health and substance use. “We have to incorporate into our medical education strategies to help doctors. Number 1: screen efficiently. Number 2: help doctors do this in a time-efficient manner, because they have a waiting room full of patients.”
Saving money. “I was privileged to chair the Institute of Medicine’s Quality Chasm Report on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders,” said Mary Jane England, M.D., President, Regis College, Weston, MA. “The conclusion in that study says we will never have quality health care until we integrate mental health and substance use disorders into primary care.” In most cases, employers are willing to provide measures for integrated care if they see it is cost effective, Dr. England added.
Meeting the unmet need. “Marketing is all about identifying an unmet need and then developing a strategy to meet it,” said SAMHSA’s Mark Weber. He emphasized that his role as a panelist was to listen to the concerns of Agency stakeholders who could inform the direction of SAMHSA’s communication efforts. “What we’ve just heard from each of our panelists is that there’s clearly an unmet need here.”
Mr. Weber welcomed the panelists to help SAMHSA develop a strategy and respond to this challenge. “It is critically important to advance the health of our Nation,” he said.