Spotlight: Behavioral health

The Guilford County Department of Public Health is acknowledging this week as National Public Health Week. National Public Health Week runs April 2 through April 8. Today’s spotlight is focused on behavioral health. NPHW is an initiative of the American Public Health Association.

About one in every five U.S. adults — or more than 43 million people — experience mental illness in a given year. And one in five youth ages 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point in their lives. Mental illness is associated with billions of dollars in care and lost productivity each year.

Screen Shot 2018-04-02 at 7.00.22 PMAt the forefront of today’s behavioral health concerns is an epidemic of opioid addiction that’s killing thousands of Americans each year — 91 people each day — and overwhelming local law enforcement, public health and child protective systems. The epidemic is so bad that it’s the main factor driving the recent decline in average American life expectancy.

Addiction: Since 1999, overdose deaths from opioids, both prescription opioids and heroin, have increased by more than five times. In 2016 alone, opioids were involved in more than 42,000 U.S. deaths — that’s more than any year on record. Every state has felt the impact of the addiction and overdose epidemic, but some states are being particularly hard hit. For example, in Ohio, increasing abuse of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, drove a more than 32 percent increase in drug overdose deaths between 2015 and 2016.

Mental illness: Across illnesses and injuries, brain disorders represent the single largest source of disability-adjusted life years in the U.S., accounting for nearly 20 percent of disability from all causes. Nearly 7 percent of U.S. adults, or 16 million people, have had at least one major depressive episode in the last year; about 18 percent experienced an anxiety disorder; and about half of the more than 20 million adults struggling with addiction have a co-occurring mental illness. Less than half of U.S. adults with a mental health condition received any care in the past year.

Suicide: The U.S. suicide rate increased 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, going up for both men and women and among people of nearly all ages. In 2015, suicide was one of the nation’s leading causes of death, taking the lives of more than 44,000 people. As with most health issues, suicide doesn’t affect all communities the same: Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are at significantly higher risk of suicide , as are American Indians and Alaska Natives.

What can I do?

Support policies that acknowledge addiction as a chronic and preventable disease. Recent data show that only about 10 percent of the millions who need addiction treatment actually get it. But some policies do make a positive difference, namely the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion. Spending on Medicaid-covered prescriptions for both opioid addiction treatment and overdose prevention went up dramatically after ACA implementation — meaning the law is opening access to what is often life-saving care. Advocates warn that rolling back Medicaid access would be especially devastating for states dealing with rising overdose death rates.

If you’re a health professional, learn about CDC’s opioid prescribing guidelines for chronic pain and share them with colleagues.

Support parity for mental health. The ACA established parity between physical and mental care, designating mental health and substance use disorder services as essential health benefits that insurers must cover. The result:the ACA expanded parity protections for 62 million Americans.

#SpeakForHealth in support of the ACA and its success in opening access to mental health and addiction care. Visit APHA’s advocacy page to stay informed on the latest policy issues, and write to your members of Congress.

Learn more about suicide warning signs and help others find support:


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