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Policy Changes and Disease Management: Keys to Halting Premature Death of the Mentally Ill

Jul 3, 2008
Mental illness is a mysterious condition in our world. As more information is found about mental disabilities, the more mysterious they become. Recently more research has shown worse news for those with mental illness. According to the National Council Fact Sheet, mental illness may be linked to a premature death for some. Those with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major clinical depression seem to die, on average, 25 years earlier than normal.

The cause of these premature deaths is yet unknown, but there are certain conditions that may point to an answer. For example, sixty percent of the premature deaths of those with schizophrenia involved cardiovascular conditions or pulmonary and infectious diseases. The linkage of mental illness and premature death is made worse by those with serious mental illness having less access to treatment for physical health conditions.

However, there is still work that can be done to aid with the problem of premature death of those with serious mental illnesses. Policy makers can provide assistance by creating programs that make more resources available to help give those with mental illnesses access to better physical healthcare. One example of such as policy change would be to require those providing public mental health to assess the mental and physical health of a patient.

Louisiana and Missouri have taken strides by financing the linking of mental and physical health treatment. Funding has gone to promote integrated healthcare between mental health and primary care providers in the states. Other state legislatures should follow in step by creating a link between public healthcare and mental healthcare. This would require the creation of new infrastructure in both industries.

Besides creating policy changes, the premature death of the mentally ill can be curbed through management of mental diseases. Although treatment for such diseases may not be possible, carefully monitoring may aid in catching problems leading to premature death. Typical medical care is not adequate for such instances and sometimes misses the needs of mentally ill patients.

To manage mental illnesses, planned care needs to be provided. This may require reorganizing provider roles and common practices in order to focus on new problem areas. Also, patients should be encouraged to manage their own disease. This would require careful training and easier access to those trained in monitoring mental illness.

One way to acquire the above goals is to implement a disease management program or DM program. These programs aid those with persistent medical problems and provide greater quality with lower cost. In these programs, patients are given education on self management and healthcare is coordinate across the spectrum. The adoption of DM has been encouraged by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services and is currently used for asthma, diabetes, hypertension and other chronic medical conditions. The implementation of such a practice to those with mental illnesses is not a far step.

Dealing daily with a mental illness is enough of a struggle for patients and families without the addition of linking early death to mental illness. The research and prevention of this problem is crucial and hinges on changes in policy and practice. These policy changes will aid in helping researchers find the links between mental illness and premature death. The method used to find these links will not only improve the physical health of the mentally ill but will, in the case of DM programs, also give them the ability to manage the disease that plagues them daily.
About the Author
The author is the Director of Marketing and Communications at The National Council. The National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) association. For more information, visit http://www.thenationalcouncil.org.
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