Harrison Miner is a third-year medical student pursuing a career in orthopaedic surgery with interests in clinical practice innovation and health care value.
A radio personality, a former congressman and an NFL wide receiver walk into a room. Rather than the setup to a joke, this was the scene at the 2019 Forbes Healthcare Summit as Charlamagne tha God, Patrick Kennedy and Brandon Marshall joined Mehmet Oz, M.D., — better known as Dr. Oz — for a frank discussion on their experiences with mental health care.
From anxiety to addiction to borderline personality disorder, each panelist had unique experiences interacting with the United States health care system. Despite the diversity of their diagnoses and upbringings, the unifying theme of their stories was a negative stigma toward mental health that kept them from receiving the care they needed for far too long. Now each of them works to remove the barriers to mental health care in the U.S.
Charlamagne and Marshall focused the conversation on shifting the public perception of mental health care to try to improve access. When asked how therapy has impacted his life, Charlamagne said, “I call it investing in your mental wealth. You have to take steps to find out what’s going on inside your mind.” While Marshall responded, “We need to change the narrative. … What I see is a shift from mental health to mental fitness. … It’s about performance.”
Meanwhile, Kennedy focused on the structural and economic barriers to mental health care access by calling for more significant government investment in the chronic care of mental illness rather than treating it as an acute issue. He said he believes that “the great force multiplier is now mental health in helping to reduce the overall cost of care.” By that he meant investing in adequate treatment of underlying mental health conditions will decrease the overall cost of care by reducing the need for emergency mental health services and the use of other medical resources for conditions that have mental health origins.
As a student at Dell Medical School, we discuss the impact of mental health frequently. Part of Dell Med’s mission is to provide high-value, person-centered care. In many ways, a focus on mental health accomplishes both aims.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have a mental illness. This means physicians, regardless of specialty, will likely serve patients living with mental health conditions. Yet, due to the stigma the panelists described, symptoms often go unrecognized or perhaps manifest as other physical symptoms. Studies that suggest an association between undiagnosed depression and increased utilization of other health services have demonstrated this.
These people require physicians trained to evaluate the whole person with a clear understanding of when to refer to a mental health professional. Not only is this approach person-centric, but it can also provide high value by avoiding invasive and costly treatments for people who would benefit most from first treating underlying mental health conditions. At Dell Med, I have had the opportunity to learn these skills through our innovative curriculum; from our faculty, who demonstrate this kind of patient-centered care daily; and during experiences in integrated practice units, where mental health providers are present in medical and surgical subspecialty clinics.
At the closing of the Forbes Healthcare Summit, an air of positivity surrounded the progress made over the past decade in mental health care. However, it was clear that we have a long way to go to make mental health care more acceptable and accessible in the next decade. Still, I was proud to be representing a medical school that is a pioneer in this endeavor and appreciative to those who made it possible.