Smoking used to be everywhere and normalized in this country until we agreed it was a major health hazard and began attacking it from all angles. Today, untreated mental health is an outsized contributor to poor physical health outcomes and runaway healthcare costs. It’s time to take the same attack-from-all-angles approach to untreated mental health conditions.

Author: Chuck Hollowell

Mental health drives physical health.

If you are living with untreated depression, anxiety, or any number of serious mental health conditions, it can be hard to take good care of your physical health.

You may not be eating well, sleeping well, or getting enough exercise. You may not be filling your prescriptions or taking your medications as prescribed. You may also be engaging in harmful activities, like self-medicating with opioids or other drugs.

We all intuitively know this, right?

We don’t have to rely on just intuition and anecdote though. This is increasingly being documented by studies.

Great, we know that mental health is a MAJOR driver of physical health.

So, what to do about it?

It wasn’t that long ago that we, as a country, were asking that same question about smoking. It took a while to finally get a national consensus that smoking was 100%, without-a-doubt, a major contributing cause to massive numbers of poor health outcomes – and avoidable healthcare expenses. But once we all agreed on that, we went to work, and through a broad range of initiatives, both public and private, we made incredible progress.

This is the collective realization we need to reach about untreated mental health.
• It is a MAJOR driver of physical health.
• It impacts millions of lives, families, and communities.
• It leads to hundreds of millions of dollars in avoidable healthcare costs.

And then we need to get just as dogged about addressing this root cause.

From the big to the small, public and private. Everything from raising awareness, to addressing stigma, to promoting low-cost self-care, to making mental healthcare more accessible.

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and I can think of no better time to call out untreated mental health as the new smoking.

Like smoking, it will be a big fight with many fronts. And it will take partners and perseverance.

At Siftwell, we are committed to being a part of that fight. We are building predictive analytics solutions that show the hidden drivers of costly and chronic health conditions – such as untreated mental health conditions – allowing our health plan clients to engage with their highest-risk members earlier and with more precision.

This is going to take a collective effort. Let’s get to it.