Integrated healthcare: the benefits of a whole-person approach

December 03, 2019 Services integrated-healthcare

When someone has a broken leg or experiences difficulty breathing from a lung condition, it’s readily apparent and fairly easy to diagnose. So people with these conditions are generally receptive to seeking professional help to treat the problem. When the issue is depression, addiction or another behavioral health issue, however, many are more willing to try to “fix” the problem themselves.

There are many reasons for this — mental health and addiction issues can be more difficult to identify, and there is often a stigma around the issues themselves, as well as the treatment.

“Sometimes our biggest healthcare challenges are invisible to see,” shares Sandra Abdullah, the Clinical Director of Behavioral Health for Nevada Health Centers (NVHC).

Watch: If we treated mental health like physical health

The Mental Health Stigma

Many people struggling with a mental health issue have been told it’s all in their head, or if only they were stronger, they could fix it themselves. Clearly, nobody would advise someone with diabetes or lung disease to “shake it off.”

As the National Alliance on Mental Illness shares:

“Most people who live with mental illness have, at some point, been blamed for their condition. They’ve been called names. Their symptoms have been referred to as ‘a phase’ or something they can control ‘if they only tried.’…Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain.”

While the mental health stigma is slowly being addressed, it’s not happening quickly enough. The danger is that it affects millions of Americans who experience some form of mental illness and/or addiction each year. And these numbers cross all ages, races and socio-economic groups.

That’s a lot of people — children and adults — potentially not getting the help they need out of embarrassment or fear. Not only is the behavioral health issue going untreated, but it can also affect physical health.

“It is imperative that people understand the connection between mind and body,” Abdullah says. “When patients leave emotional disturbances untreated, it will forever compromise anything a provider is trying to treat medically.”

The Importance of Integrated Healthcare

After a 30-year career in behavioral health, Abdullah is pleased to be leading the charge on integrated healthcare at NVHC, an approach that suggests everything going on with a patient — physical, mental and behavioral — is interconnected.

With a mission to treat all of their patients as whole people, NVHC offers behavioral health services in addition to the rest of their suite of services from mammograms and dental to pediatric and general family health.

NVHC’s Whole Person Approach

NVHC’s medical doctors spend the necessary time to find out what mental health and addiction issues their patients might be dealing with that could affect their physical health. Behavioral health professionals take the same approach, working with their patients to ensure they’re addressing the whole person, not just mental health or addiction symptoms. NVHC medical and behavioral healthcare professionals consult and refer to each other when they identify an issue outside of their field of expertise.

“In a nutshell, the connection that we help patients make between mind and body will determine the outcome of anything they’re dealing with — including their recovery, stability and quality of life,” Abdullah explains.

Nurse practitioner Adriene Rivera has been with NVHC for four years and in practice since 2013, but she has been a fan of integrated health for most of her life. “My grandmother was a psychiatrist, so I know how important mental health is,” she shares. “Now as a medical professional, I know that if you don’t address that aspect, it’s harder to build a trusting relationship with our patients. And it’s much more difficult for them to manage their physical health if they’re struggling to manage their mental health.”

Abdullah gives the example of a patient experiencing chronic pain, which can lead to depression. The depression might cause the patient to struggle with getting out of bed and to miss medical appointments, which affects their ability to address the physical pain. The converse of this is also true in that a patient struggling with mental illness may not exercise or eat right, which could exacerbate or create a physical problem.

“Nobody is just a body part — heart, lungs, limbs,” Rivera says. “Everything is connected. We’re all connected internally and to each other.”

Accessible Behavioral Health Services

As with other areas of the practice, behavioral health services are available to NVHC patients (through clinics in southern Nevada and telehealth in the rest of the state), regardless of ability to pay. Payment methods include Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance or a sliding fee scale for those without insurance.

  • Addiction counseling: NVHC’s licensed alcohol and drug counselors support patients as they work to overcome addiction. This care involves developing recovery plans and after-care strategies for a range of addictions, including alcohol, opioids and gambling. Counseling services are offered on an outpatient basis.
  • Psychotherapy: NVHC’s licensed clinical social workers use psychotherapy, or talk therapy, to help patients with a broad range of mental illnesses and emotional challenges. Psychotherapy can help eliminate or control troubling symptoms, increasing overall well-being. These services are offered through in-office talk therapy for individuals, families and couples of all ages, as well as group therapy sessions.

The benefits of behavioral health counseling can be seen in all areas of life, including:

  • Improved relationships
  • Parenting support
  • Emotional wellness
  • Healthy communication
  • Better life balance
  • Self-discovery and growth
  • Increased ability to regulate emotion and manage stress
  • Strategies to increase social support, coping skills
  • Better control of thoughts

NVHC has identified these conditions that may benefit from behavioral health counseling, though this is not all-inclusive:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Unmanaged anger
  • Anxiety
  • Bullying
  • Chronic impulsivity
  • Depression
  • Family conflict
  • Fighting
  • Grief/loss
  • Harming self
  • Hallucinations
  • Homicidal thoughts
  • Irritability and crying all the time
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Running away
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trauma/PTSD
  • Excessive yelling
  • Eating disorders
  • Changes in sleep habits
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Hopelessness or guilty thoughts
  • Marital/relationship issues

Nevada Health Centers has the resources you need for overall good health. If you’re interested in learning more about how NVHC might be able to help you live the life you want, call 800.787.2568.