Comment: Where to start when you need mental health care

The best place to start is with your primary care provider, who can refer you to the proper next steps.

By Mia Wise / For The Herald

We need to do more to address the mental health crisis we’re facing.

In 2022, more than 19 percent of adults experienced a mental illness, according to Mental Health America. This is the equivalent to nearly 50 million Americans. Unfortunately, almost a quarter of all adults with a mental illness reported that they were not able to receive the treatment they needed. This number has not declined since 2011.

We need to break down barriers to seeking care and normalize that it is OK not to be OK. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, and it is critical to seek care for your mental health.

But knowing where to start can seem daunting. What’s the right level or type of care? Talking with your primary care provider is often the best place to start with your mental health as well.

Physical health conditions, particularly with chronic illness, can cause or exacerbate mental health symptoms. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with diabetes are 20 percent more likely than those without diabetes to have anxiety at some point in their life.

Your trusted primary care provider knows your history, health and can help guide your best treatment plan. Medication, talk therapy or a combination of both might be appropriate depending on the condition. Many primary care providers are experienced in treating mild to moderate mental health conditions and can offer guidance if you need to seek additional care.

This is why we have adopted a whole-health approach at Kinwell Medical Group. Our clinics, which include ones in Snohomish County, provide primary care and behavioral health services. During a routine primary care visit, if the patient presents signs of mental distress or expresses concerns over their mental health, the primary care physician can coordinate an initial consultation with a behavioral health specialist on that same visit.

Another barrier to care for many people is the difficulty attending in-person appointments. For some, transportation can be an issue, finding a provider in their area can be a challenge or they feel more comfortable talking to someone in a familiar space. People living in rural areas often face a shortage of providers, particularly those specializing in behavioral health care. This can lead to long waitlists or trouble finding a provider who matches a person’s preferences.

There are several virtual care, or telehealth, options available, which offer broader access to care. These include video, phone, and text-based apps that connect people with doctors or therapists. To remove barriers around in-person care, many clinics offers virtual care to patients wherever they are located in Washington. The most important step you will take in your mental wellness journey is the first one. Remember that it can take some time to feel better. The process is different for everyone, and having a trusted provider who understands you and your health is invaluable.

Dr. Mia Wise is president and chief medical officer for the Kinwell Medical Group, with clinics in Lynnwood and Mill Creek and throughout Washington state.

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