AnxietyMental health professionals need to be part of primary care teams to ensure that patients get complete care that addresses both mental and physical health, according to the head of the American Psychology Association (APA).

In a panel hosted recently by the White House’s National Conference on Mental Health, Norman B. Anderson, PhD, said the U.S. needs to end the traditional separation of substance abuse and mental health problems from physical health problems.

They need to be integrated,” said the APA CEO. “There need to be mental health professionals as part of primary care teams,” he added, noting that while physicians should routinely screen for depression and substance abuse, having a mental health professional on the team would ensure that patients get immediate care and referrals if necessary.

The panel was chaired by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Other panelists included former Sen. Gordon H. Smith, R-Ore., who is now CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters; actress Glenn Close, co-founder of Bring Change 2 Mind; APA member Barbara Van Dahlen, PhD, founder and president of Give an Hour; and Janelle Montano, a speaker for ActiveMinds, a nonprofit organization that empowers students to talk openly about mental health issues.

Anderson said the APA is working to increase access to mental health care and help reduce the stigma often associated with seeking it through:

  • Helping the YMCA of the USA develop educational tools and resources to help 18,000 full-time Y staff and 49,000 summer employees who work with youth to identify the signs of depression and other mental health problems in young people and refer them to appropriate resources. This initiative will launch in time for the summer camp season, after which materials will be made available to YMCA afterschool programs. 
  • Forming a partnership with the American Council on Education and NASPA — Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education to produce a report that will review trends in student mental health and highlight evidence-based practices that contribute to student well-being. The publication will be disseminated to leaders of the nation's postsecondary institutions and campus mental health providers and will serve as a foundation for presentations at higher education-focused conferences. 
  • Joining with the Association of American Medical Colleges in calling on members to submit educational materials aimed at preparing future health professionals to provide comprehensive, integrated mental health care. Materials will be freely accessible through AAMC’s new MedEdPORTAL®  iCollaborative Mental Health webpage.

The APA is also in in preliminary discussions with Microsoft Corp. to create a “Skype in the classroom” series that will bring together nationally recognized mental health experts and community-based mental health providers to talk with adolescents about mental health. The plan is to use Skype to talk to classes and record those discussions so they can be shared with other schools.