May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which means it's a good time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health conditions. Through patient engagement strategies, your health system can connect patients with the right resources, provide support, and reduce the stigma about mental health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on patients' mental health. In fact, a KFF report found that during the pandemic about 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, which has increased from one in ten adults who reported these symptoms from January to June 2019. Now more than ever, it is critical to better understand mental health struggles, explore the best patient engagement strategies that will drive action in mental health patients, and ensure that mental health conditions or their stigma don't prevent individuals from seeking help.
More People are Seeking Mental Health Services
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research shows that mental illnesses are common in the United States, affecting tens of millions of people each year. While estimates suggest that only half of people with mental illnesses receive treatment, the results of our U.S. Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey show the number of people seeking care is growing during the pandemic.
The survey revealed the number of consumers seeking mental health treatment jumped by 10% during the pandemic, and 26% said that the events of the past months including the pandemic, presidential election, and social inequality have caused them to seek mental health treatment.
Prior to the pandemic, older age groups (55 and older) made up the largest percentage (40%) of consumers seeking mental health treatment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, younger consumers (aged 35 to 54) made up the largest portion (47%) of those who answered that they sought treatment for issues related to the pandemic, the Patient Engagement survey found.
More troubling is the finding that nearly one-quarter of consumers (23%) missed their appointments with their healthcare providers due to their mental state. For these patients, a missed appointment increases morbidity and can be life-threatening. In fact, according to a study from the University of Glasgow, patients with mental health conditions who missed more than two appointments per year had an eight times greater risk of death during the follow-up period compared with those who missed no appointments.
Patient Engagement Strategies for Mental Health Month
Mental Health Month gives health systems a chance to reach out and provide support to patients struggling with their mental health. Often, mental health diagnoses, as well as related symptoms and stigma, prevent people from seeking the services they need. Strategies such as the ones below can encourage patients and providers alike to talk openly about mental health and its impacts.
Check-in with patients via text or broadcast messaging. When it comes to behavioral and mental health, it's important to build trust through communication. With text messaging, you can remind patients of upcoming appointments, promote classes that improve mental health, and share other mental health resources. For example, this resource from the National Institute of Mental Health gives tips to help patients talk with medical providers about their mental health and prepare in advance of their appointments. Sharing a resource like this prior to an appointment with a new patient can help make them more comfortable during the appointment and let them know exactly what to expect.
Offer classes on stress reduction habits, mindful meditation, or yoga. Gratitude, relaxation, and exercise are all helpful strategies to manage stress, anxiety, and other effects of poor mental health. Maximize attendance to your classes & events by offering them both in-person and online. In addition, let patients know if you have any support groups available. For some patients, it will be easier for them to speak to those that relate to their experience rather than a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist.
Get connected to the community. Many behavioral and mental health patients aren't just going to walk through your door, so you need to connect and engage with them outside of your organization. Find and partner with mental health resources in the community and help patients connect through outreach and engagement. Primary care physicians can provide initial mental health screenings, and referrals to mental health specialists can give patients the information and confidence they need to get the necessary support.
Support staff in the same ways you help your patients. Provider and staff burnout and resulting workforce shortages are rated as the most potentially disruptive forces hospitals and health systems face. Knowing how to prevent, identify, and respond to mental health issues, while also optimizing resilience, well-being, and performance is of the utmost importance as health systems look to retain and attract talent. The Workplace Mental Health Institute has a number of recommended workplace activities to observe Mental Health Month.
Mental Health Month provides a platform for patient engagement strategies to help engage and educate patients about mental health. To learn more about the increasing need for mental health services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, download our U.S. Consumer Trends in Patient Engagement Survey whitepaper.