Behavioral Healthcare: Overview
In any given year one in four Americans will experience a mental illness or substance abuse disorder. Mental illnesses are brain disorders characterized by disruptions in thinking, moods and/or behavior. Substance abuse disorders result from the inappropriate use of alcohol, prescription drugs or illegal drugs. Up to 50 percent of the mentally ill population also has a substance abuse disorder. Given the intertwined nature of mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders, the healthcare community frequently uses the term “behavioral healthcare” when referring to the treatment of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders.
Behavioral health conditions are no different than physical illnesses, like cancer, in that appropriate treatments and supports are necessary to help people cope with the symptoms of their illnesses and to help them lead fulfilling lives. One differentiating factor is that mental illnesses generally have a longer recovery time than physical illnesses. Behavioral healthcare can be complicated given that many individuals have a dual diagnosis of a mental illness and substance abuse disorder, but successful treatments exist for most conditions.
Behavioral Healthcare Now and in the Future
While progress has been made, obstacles remain in the quest to provide optimal behavioral healthcare. Over time, care for those with mental illness has shifted from more institutionalized settings to more community-based settings. Touted as a more humane way to treat patients, deinstitutionalization has resulted in a shift away from longer inpatient stays to shorter outpatient care. Yet for some individuals, longer term inpatient care is often what is needed, but the system is no longer set up to handle people who are either treatment resistant or who have more intensive needs. The opioid epidemic has highlighted the need for additional treatment options for individuals seeking to recover.
Staying healthy encompasses more than just physical health. Behavioral healthcare, which refers to the treatment of mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders, is an important component of an effective healthcare delivery system. The Center for Health Affairs applauds federal legislation requiring insurance companies to provide equal coverage of mental and physical illnesses – a change intended to ensure that more individuals diagnosed with certain mental illnesses or substance abuse disorders receive the behavioral healthcare they need.
The Center has been a leader in bringing together area behavioral health leaders through the Behavioral Health RoundTable of Cuyahoga County and the Northeast Region Public-Private Behavioral Health Collaborative. Working collaboratively with key partners, The Center helps to convene behavioral health experts who work together to find and implement solutions to some of our communities’ most challenging problems.