It’s something a lot of individuals don’t like to discuss with others, yet it’s an issue with which many Americans struggle. It’s a problem that can be easily addressed but for which most people don’t seek treatment. 

We’re talking about mental illness. An estimated 21 percent of the United States’ adult population report having mental, behavioral or emotional disorders, and one in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year. 

It’s not only adults, though. More than 2.5 million youth in the U.S. have severe major depression. 

Mental illness hits physicians especially hard. Doctors have higher rates of burnout, depressive symptoms and suicide risk than the general population. Among female physicians, the relative risk of committing suicide is 2.27 times greater than the general female population. 

Barriers to Mental Health Treatment 

What many individuals with mental illness have in common is their reluctance to seek treatment for it. Only about 10 percent of mental health patients are treated by a psychiatrist, a number that has increased every year since 2011. They also face disproportionately high rates of poverty, housing and employment discrimination and criminalization. 

Untreated mental illness can have serious consequences. Research shows that patients with severe mental illness die earlier, have more medical illnesses and receive worse medical care than those in the general population. 

The direct and indirect costs of mental illness are estimated to total up to four percent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), exceeding the burden of cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease combined. One study estimated a $210.5 billion annual cost to the global economy from major depression alone. 

Barriers to mental health treatment are numerous, from fear of stigmatization and discrimination to a shortage of mental health professionals in every state in the U.S and long wait times to see a provider. Some individuals simply don’t know where to go to receive treatment for mental illness. 

Race and income are other obstacles. Individuals in racial-ethnic minority groups not only have less access to healthcare, but they also are 20–50 percent less likely to initiate mental health service use. Patients with low income are less likely to know where to access mental healthcare. 

The COVID-19 Effect 

Individuals of all ages have experienced heightened levels of stress, depression, anxiety and substance abuse since the COVID-19 pandemic began. In 2020, one in five people reported that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health, partly spurred by a lack of physical and social interaction — even at work — to avoid being infected by the virus. 

Even with the pandemic seemingly transitioning to an epidemic, many individuals continue to struggle with mental health issues — especially students. Almost 90 percent of college students are experiencing stress or anxiety as a result of COVID-19, and four percent of U.S. youth had a substance use disorder in the past year compared to about eight percent of adults. 

Not surprisingly, the mental health of healthcare professionals continues to be negatively affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. That’s because they’re at increased risk of moral injury and mental health problems when dealing with challenges of the covid-19 pandemic. 

Top Technology Tools for Promoting Mental Health Treatment 

Technology can be employed by providers and integrated with other medical care to better serve the mental health needs of their patients — as long as it’s utilized correctly. As noted by Vibrant Emotional Health (formerly the Mental Health Association of New York City), advances in technology offer the potential for greater access to mental health care at lower cost with better outcomes. 

By using digital health tools such as HIPAA-compliant portals and two-way text messaging, providers offer their patients both convenience and anonymity. This enables patients to securely communicate with their provider in a confidential way that meets their specific needs. Patients who otherwise might avoid mental health treatment may reach out for help. The key for providers is tailoring messaging to provide personalized care to those patients. 

These digital health resources are also beneficial for providers. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that physician practice leaders reported positive effects of mental and behavioral health integration on their practices, such as creating an increased sense of providing high-quality patient care and meeting more of their patients’ needs. 

Another way technology is being used to encourage patients to seek treatment for mental health issues is through population health management. For a project with the Maricopa County (Arizona) Health Department as part of an “Advancing Health Literacy to Enhance Equitable Community Responses to COVID-19” grant, the Providertech team utilized the social vulnerability index (SVI) to determine high SVI communities within the county. That data is being leveraged to identify racial and ethnic minority populations at the highest risk for health disparities, low health literacy and greatest need. 

As those populations have been identified in partnership with collaborating Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in Maricopa County, the health department is using Providertech’s CareCampaign solution to automate and scale outreach to those individuals with the goal of improving clinical outcomes that were impacted during the pandemic, reducing misinformation about vaccinations and reducing barriers for patients to access care using technology. This strategy utilizes Providertech’s key technology tools while also enabling the project team to access to a rich message content library influenced by behavioral economics. The result is personalized messaging for the public health campaign, thereby improving outcomes and the care of those priority populations. 

Talk with our solutions team to understand how CareCampaign will enhance your patient outreach strategy.