While the majority of my blogs are strategic in nature, I was struck by the hypocrisy of expounding the virtues of early and routine behavioral health screening (especially during the COVID-19 crisis) without first disclosing that building ONEcare Networks is personal to me.
Depression, anxiety, and substance use have affected various members of my family – and myself – throughout my life. These recent months of increased isolation have inspired me to be more open with friends and colleagues about feelings of anxiety, moments of depression, and the persistent annoyance of this computer screen that I can’t seem to get away from. To my surprise, my openness has been reciprocated, seemingly granting others permission to talk about their own mood swings, irritability, exasperation and, at times, hopelessness. I have found myself even bonding with clients over how to schedule our work days in ways that allow “water cooler” breaks for self-care.
Like so many others, I worry about whether my openness about my mental health will be judged and if I might be personally or professionally ostracized, but I refuse to be a silent sufferer any longer. I think there is a parable here for healthcare, specifically the role of primary care in creating a safe place for physician-patient dialogues about behavioral health symptoms.
Recently, we pulled a ONEcare network report that measured the ratio of diagnosed behavioral health conditions over the behavioral health screening rate. Without surprise, we noticed that the screening rate dropped by 38% between March and June 2020 as fewer patients visited their primary care doctors due to COVID-19 (and those who did were largely seen via telehealth, which inhibited diagnostic screening). Interestingly, the diagnostic count increased by 13% in that same period, which suggests that the silent sufferers were no longer silent. This was a call to action for the 2,400 primary care and behavioral health clinicians in this ONEcare network, accelerating expansion of the network to ensure that each of these new patients, and those who would follow, would have timely, coordinated, effective behavioral health care from an integrated treatment team.
Like the ongoing opiate crisis, COVID-19 is inspiring people to break their silence about how behavioral health impacts their lives. Yet I can only imagine how many more are still afraid to come forward and brave the stigma of this disease, allowing symptoms to fester and metastasize into intractable consequences. Often, we share things with and answer questions from a primary care physician that we would not dream of saying to our closest friends, even our partner or spouse. While our primary care physician is likely not our therapist, they can be our gateway to discover answers for ourselves and, even more importantly, acceptance in treating a disease that inhibits a full, complete, and satisfying life.