News | Published May 7, 2013 | Written by Timothy Derstine, MD, medical director, behavioral health services, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Mental health key to overall health

May is Mental Health Month.

As part of its observation in our area, the second Centre County Partnership for Community Health brown bag lunch will be today at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in State College.

The topic — mental health — was identified as one of the six priority health needs of the region during the Health Summit in February at Mount Nittany Medical Center. Enthusiasm for participating is growing. More than 40 community leaders and residents attended last month’s brown bag lunch discussion of obesity and diabetes. We are hoping for an even greater response today.

The purpose of the brown bag lunch program is to engage community members in regular conversations in the next five months to see how our residents are faring.

In its “Pathways to Wellness” campaign, Mental Health America emphasizes the importance of social determinants of health when considering the health of a community. Learning exactly what that means can be very eye opening.

Our ZIP code may be more important than our genetic code, according to some health care leaders. The social determinants of health are the conditions in which children youth, and families are born, grow up, live and work. The quality of and accessibility to health care also is a determinant. Where you live can be a significant indicator of how well you live — and how long.

Creating a framework that incorporates the social determinants of health can provide a more complete picture of why people initially become ill and what it will take to restore their health.

Mental health is an essential component of overall health and well-being. The fact is, our overall well-being is tied to the balance that exists among our levels of emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health.

This list of facts at a glance helps to demonstrate the impact of social determinants on mental health:

  • Children living in poverty are seven times more likely to have poor health than are children in higher-income households.
  • About 30 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth report having been physically abused by family members because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
  • African Americans are 30 percent more likely to report experiencing serious psychological stress than non-Hispanics and whites.
  • In 2006, adults without a high school diploma were 50 percent less likely to have visited a doctor in the past 12 months, compared with those with a bachelor’s degree.
  • About 3.5 million individuals are homeless in America.

The Centre Region consists of a number of ZIP codes. What is different about each one, and where can we do a better job of addressing the social determinants that affect overall health and well-being?

Mental health is considered one of the six key health topics in our community due in large part to the lack of access to services, and to the stigma associated not only with having a mental illness, but with seeking and receiving treatment.

There is a discrepancy between the way behavioral health is viewed and the way physical health is viewed. The lack of funding and inadequate insurance reimbursements for behavioral health and drug and alcohol services demonstrate this disparity.

It is commonplace for insurance companies to put annual and/or lifetime limits on care for mental health issues. This is a practice we as a society would not tolerate for diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or cardiac care or for patients with many of the other chronic illnesses that need ongoing management and treatment.

Moving forward to serve our community in the area of mental health may mean a combination of strategies.

Policymakers should consider the impact of social determinants of health as a framework when developing policies.

State health directors should incorporate behavioral health into a broader public health plan for Pennsylvania using social determinants of health to guide the drafting of its provisions.

Communities should pursue policies that ensure that healthful food, safe housing and living wages are available for everyone in the community.

The opportunity exists for creating a more accessible pathway to wellness as individuals, social service agencies and policymakers begin to realize how vital their contributions can be.

The brown bag lunch series provides the forum for this discussion among all parties.

Tim Derstine, MD, is a psychiatrist with Sunpointe Health and medical director for the behavioral unit at Mount Nittany Medical Center.