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Behavioral Health

Why Don’t We Treat Mental Health Like Cancer and Cholesterol?

A local organization is looking to make mental health screening, measurement, and tracking more common.

Dallas-based Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute is a finalist for a $10 million prize that could transform mental healthcare statewide. The institute is one of five finalists for the Lone Star Prize, which is sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies and looks to fund solutions that lead to healthier communities.

Around 150,000 people experience depression in Dallas County, and nationwide only 10 percent of those people experience a remission of their symptoms. The nature of depression means that many won’t seek the help they need, while others are unable to get care because of financial or transportation hurdles. The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute provides data, recommendations, and guidance to enhance behavioral health care, with offices across the state.

Detection is another issue, says Andy Keller, the president and CEO of MMHPI. While cholesterol, blood pressure, and cancer screenings are routinely part of a primary care appointment, mental health is not treated with the same seriousness until someone is suicidal or uncontrollably crying. “If you look for something and measure its presence, you’ll do a better job treating it,” Keller says. “But we’re not doing that. It’s just it’s just not done with the same level of precision that we bring to other branches of medicine.”

To address these issues, MMHPI hopes to positively impact how depression is tracked, screened, and treated around the state. Winning the Lone Star Challenge would help them expand a screening and treatment program they have developed with UT Southwestern. The program is what Keller calls “measurement-based care,” where a physician would keep track of mental health indicators over time, just like they track cholesterol or blood sugar levels. This allows the physician to more closely monitor their condition and recommend changes or referrals as necessary. Another part of the solution is collaborating with a mental health behaviorist who can do an assessment during the primary care visit and refer to a psychiatrist if necessary. The changes are meant to be implemented through a primary care relationship, where health workers can help bridge the gap to communities that can be weary of the medical industry. The prize would help MMHPI expand the screening and treatment to Dell Medical School in Austin, Texas Tech in Lubbock, and possibly others.

Keller says that implementing these practices will have an outsized impact. In past studies where similar processes are in practice, remission of symptoms grew from 10 to 40 percent.  “It’s like one plus one plus one equals 10,” he says. “When you put these things together, they become a powerful intervention that has been shown.”

Between 50 and 75 percent of suicides are caused by depression, and almost 4,000 Texans die each year from suicide, so a reduction of symptoms has real impact. “This is something that can change a lot of lives,” Keller says. “There’s tens of 10thousands of additional people who can be helped to do better, work better with their families, and live their lives.”

“The finalists for the Lone Star Prize are answering the call just when Texas needs them the most,” said Lyda Hill, founder of Lyda Hill Philanthropies via release. “Amid the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding long-term solutions to improve the lives of Texans is more critical than ever. Our communities need the vision of these hardworking teams who are committed to making a difference by improving health outcomes, boosting the workforce, and protecting the environment.”

MMHPI competed against 172 other proposals to improve communities, and their proposal was reviewed by 96 philanthropic and civic leaders, including subject matter experts. The winner will be announced this spring. Its major partners include UT Southwestern Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care, Dept. of Global Health and Social Medicine Harvard Medical School, Dell Medical School Department of Psychiatry, and Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use. Learn more here.

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