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    Although usually treated separately, mental health and physical health can influence each other in many important, surprising ways. Ignoring one or the other in your benefits offering can significantly impact your employees’ quality of life, your business and, more specifically, your healthcare costs.

    This is the first of several articles we’ll publish this year describing how behavioral and physical health conditions co-occur, how that impacts employer healthcare costs and the growing recognition of the importance of integrated medical and behavioral healthcare.

    How Mental Health Affects the Body

    Mental health affects more people than you think. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness tells us almost one in five U.S. adults – 43.8 million people – experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Whether depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction or any one of a wide range of problems, poor mental health can affect your ability to make healthy decisions and affect your body’s ability to fight off chronic conditions.

    In a BlueCross BlueShield article, psychiatrist and BCBS medical director Dr. Ann Marie Oberheu says neglecting your mental health can lead to more serious health complications, including:

    • Heart disease
    • High blood pressure
    • Weakened immune system
    • Obesity
    • And premature death

    “Depression alone causes the abnormal function of neurotransmitters in the brain,” says Dr. Oberheu. “This can lead to chronic fatigue, insomnia and increased sensitivity to aches and pains.”

    How Physical Health Affects the Mind

    Since the mind and body are connected, the physical state also affects the mental. For many physical medical conditions, the effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms; they can impact the patient’s psychological well-being, as well, affecting his or her quality of life.

    In an article by the Mental Health Foundation, they explore the mental health ramifications of a seemingly benign physical illness – psoriasis. Apparently, the effects of this fairly common autoimmune disease (as many as 7.5 million sufferers in the U.S.) go much deeper than the red flaky sores on the surface of the skin. The dramatic emotional effects include:

    • About 1/3 experience anxiety and depression
    • 1 in 3 experience feelings of humiliation
    • 1 in 5 report being rejected and stigmatized
    • 1 in 10 admit to contemplating suicide

    Even worse, emotional distress can trigger a psoriasis flare, which, of course, triggers further stress. This cycle can be very troublesome for both mind and body.

    In an article posted by Everyday Health, this connection is further explained by Dr. Charles Goodstein, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City. He says the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind,” says Dr. Goodstein, “can influence the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which, in effect, control much of what goes on within the body.”

    What Does It Mean For Employers?

    When a mental disorder – for example depression, anxiety, substance abuse – co-occurs with another illness, it is often more difficult to treat the physical condition as well as the mental one, outcomes tend to be poorer and costs are higher.

    There is growing awareness that mental and medical illnesses, particularly chronic conditions, frequently co-occur. Studies have shown that up to 40% of medical claims costs may be a direct result of behavioral health conditions.  We know that 25% of the total population suffers from multiple chronic conditions and that 29% of adults with a medical disorder also have at least one behavioral health disorder.

    As businesses seek ways to control ever-increasing healthcare costs, there is growing recognition that mental health must become part of an employer’s overall healthcare plan. Traditional health & wellness as well as population health management programs do not address the impact of behavioral health conditions on physical well-being and the associated costs.

    That’s why Espyr®has developed Spotlight®. Spotlight is a unique population health management program that addresses the large hidden costs of behavioral health when certain behavioral health conditions are co-morbid with chronic physical health conditions.  Spotlight uses proprietary data analytics modeling to identify those individuals who are at highest risk for future medical claims andare most likely to engage with a behavioral health coach.  This information is then used to create a plan for targeted and individualized behavioral health interventions.

    For more information on Spotlightor how Espyr can help your company deal with today’s complicated health issues, call 888-570-3479 or go to



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