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May 17, 2018

Increasing Both Awareness and Compliance During Mental Health Month

Written by: Compliance blogger


Mental health is something that encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Together, these three factors can affect how we think, act, handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. This month, organizations across the country are working to educate the public, provide mental health resources, and fight the stigma associated with mental illness as part of Mental Health Awareness Month. This month of awareness is particularly important when one reflects on the fact that an estimated 1 in 5 adults in the United States is living with a mental health condition. For healthcare professionals, this month can serve as a good time to review healthcare compliance regulations that apply to mental health care and patient mental health information.

Mental Health Care and Compliance
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office for Civil Rights (OCR) recently published a HIPAA Helps Caregiving Connections Fact Sheet to clarify how HIPAA relates to mental health care. This fact sheet is designed for psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurses, clinical social workers, mental health counselors, and other healthcare professionals who provide treatment to patients with mental health conditions. Throughout this document, the OCR discusses how mental health professionals can remain HIPAA compliant while also using their professional judgement to share patient information based on what is in the best interests of their patient.

One of the most important considerations regarding the sharing of patient information under HIPAA is in relation to what is needed to mitigate a risk of harm to the patient. In fact, the OCR points out that “HIPAA helps professionals by ensuring that mental health information can be shared to prevent harm when the provider believes that it is necessary and the information is shared with someone who can help lessen the potential harm.” HHS also provides a wide variety of resources related to mental and behavioral health to serve as a “one-stop resource” for providers seeking guidance about how HIPAA applies to mental health and substance use disorders.

Learn more about healthcare compliance and the development of effective compliance programs with professional education courses such as the HIPAA Privacy & Security Training Program and the July 2018 Corporate Compliance Training Camp provided by the American Institute of Healthcare Compliance.

Mental Health Statistics
In 2016, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducted a National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They found that approximately 18.3% of adults aged 18 years of age and older had experienced some form of mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in the past year. Severe mental illness (any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that was severe enough to interfere with major life activities) had a lower rate of occurrence, with about 4.2% of adults having a serious mental illness within the previous year. Expanding the lens of these statistics to a lifetime rather than single-year scope, an estimated 31.2% of adults will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime and approximately 21.4% of adults will experience a mood disorder (such as depression, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, et cetera) at some point in their lives.

Among adolescents, SAMHSA found that 12.8% of individuals aged 12-17 had experienced a major depressive episode within the past year. In terms of more general mental illness experiences, the National Comorbidity Survey showed that 31.9% of adolescents experienced some form of anxiety disorder. Behavior disorders followed closely behind at 19.1% and mood disorders were the third most common with an occurrence rate of 14.3%. In addition, approximately 40% of surveyed youth who experienced one type of mental health condition also met the criteria for another category of mental illness.

A few years ago, during Mental Health Awareness Month 2015, Thomas Insel, who was Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at the time, published an article discussing mental health by the numbers. In this article, he not only examined the prevalence of various mental health conditions but also what those statistics might mean for the average American. Former Director Insel concluded his article with the powerful statement, “While the numbers alone are compelling, the personal stories of families and individuals affected by mental illness complete the picture of why finding ways to prevent and treat mental illness is such an urgent need.” Current NIMH Director Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD echoed this sentiment in a NIMH Science Update article earlier this year.

Some Mental Health Resources
There are a number of locations where both everyday individuals and healthcare professionals can learn more about mental health and reach out for assistance if need be. MentalHealth.gov is one such government website about mental health that provides a number of educational and crisis-related mental health tools. The American Psychiatric Association also offers a number of materials for patients and their families to learn about various mental health conditions as well as a wide variety of resources for mental health professionals.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a number of mental health resources available for healthcare professionals. These resources cover adult and children’s mental health, information about coping with disasters or traumatic events, and links to external resources with organizations such as SAMHSA, NIMH, the WHO, and more. Finally, CMS provides a number of educational resources for providers who may recommend preventative services to their patients such as examinations, wellness visits, or mental health screenings. These resources include:

During Mental Health Month, there is no better time to take advantage of these numerous and thorough resources to learn about mental health, mental health care, and compliance.


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