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Stop the insanity

Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

When it comes to addressing mental health issues, Einstein would consider most of us as insane.

Mental health remains a great taboo in this country. Too few are brave enough to talk about it, and too many continue to think that if mental health issues are ignored they will simply go away. This could not be further from the truth.

According to the United States Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), one in five American adults experienced a mental health issue in 2014, and one in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression. Additionally, serious mental illness is estimated to cost our country $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year, and mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization for those age 18 to 44 (Source: NAMI).

These statistics aren’t something we should be afraid or ashamed of, they are simply facts that we should use to inform and improve our health care system.

The quickest path to progress is to begin discussing mental health the same way we discuss other health conditions like the flu, diabetes or cancer. All are common; all greatly affect our lives and the lives of those around us; and all can be treated, managed or even cured.

Furthermore, it needs to be widely known that admitting to or being diagnosed with a mental health problem does not disqualify you from being a high-performing employee, spouse or parent. In fact, HHS reports that when employees are properly treated for their mental health problems, it can result in lower health care costs, increased productivity, lower absenteeism and decreased disability costs. They also note, “Studies show people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely.”

So why do so few get the help they need?

Time is a commonly cited excuse. For others it may be the “embarrassment” of visiting a psychologist’s office.

Fortunately, forward-looking providers are developing integrated, collaborative models which embed mental health professionals into their care delivery and care management teams. In so doing, mental health services are being made more accessible at the doctor’s office. This not only allows health professionals to get a more complete picture of a patient’s overall health, but also helps them devise integrated treatment plans most likely to work for that particular individual.

Many pilots for integrated mental health and primary health care have been successfully implemented across the country with good outcomes, and Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is supporting several such pilots in Wisconsin.

In addition, technology is giving us accessibility tools to address mental health care in ways not previously possible – including the ability to see therapists via your phone or personal computer without leaving the house. One such service is called LiveHealth Online Psychology.

Launched in Wisconsin at the beginning of this year, LiveHealth Online is covered by many health insurance plans, including those used by the majority of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Wisconsin customers. This includes Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield policies purchased on the federally-facilitated health insurance exchange.

Regardless of how care is delivered or where one seeks to get help, the important thing is that we not sweep mental health under the rug or make those confronting difficult issues feel like outsiders. Mental health issues affect the home, workplace and communities, and just because one is “normal” does not mean they cannot suffer from depression, substance abuse or anxiety.

You may not need to pursue mental health services for yourself, but remember that for about 20 percent of those around you, getting timely and affordable mental health services can make a huge difference in both their quality of life and physical health.

As business leaders we cannot afford to ignore Einstein’s adage about insanity. We all need to be brave enough to talk about mental health — anything less won’t improve the health of our companies, our communities or ourselves.

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Dr. Michael Jaeger is Regional VP and senior clinical officer for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Wisconsin. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he has more than three decades of combined experience as a practicing physician, residency educator and health plan medical manager.

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