Symposium on physical health, mental wellness

People with mental illnesses need to work with their primary care physician and other health care providers to make sure they aren’t part of an alarming statistic that says people with mental illnesses die 25 years earlier.

That was the message repeated by numerous presenters in a day-long symposium, called Integrating Physical Health and Mental Wellness, hosted by the Anoka County Mental Health/Chemical Health Director’s Network in early November at Lord of Life Church in Ramsey, for professionals in social work, psychology, counseling and  health care, as well as service consumers.

According to keynote speaker Dr. Anil Sipahimalani, medicine is a three-legged stool with medicines, surgery and procedures and mind-body interactions.

“Since 60 to 90 percent of doctor visits are for conditions related to stress, the mind/body or self-care approach is a vital component of effective health care,” Sipahimalani said.

“Compared to the general population, people with serious mental illness on average lose 25 years of normal life span; even more if substance abuse is involved.”

Sipahimalani backed up his point with statistics for people with mental illnesses.

Rates of health risks, including smoking, obesity and physical inactivity, are two to three times that of the general population, while rates of heart disease and diabetes are two to six times that of the general population, he said.

Other factors that make medical illness more prevalent in psychiatric patients include decreased medication compliance and lack of follow through on doctor’s recommendations, Sipahimalani said.

Everyone may be impacted by the connection between depression and diabetes, he said.

That’s because severe depression almost doubles health care costs in diabetic patients and is associated with a higher rate of diabetic complications, Sipahimalani said.

Sipahimalani told the 175 professionals attending that they could help educate consumers on the importance of being aware of their risk factors, such as body mass index, blood pressure, fasting blood glucose, lipid profile, smoking history and alcohol overuse or illegal drug use.

Professionals can coordinate care with primary care physicians regarding any chronic disease, he said.

Better nutrition is key.

“What’s good for your heart is good for your brain,” Sipahimalani said, referencing omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins.

Exercise, sleep and social connectivity are important, too, he said.

According to another presenter, Jerry Storck with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, the goal of the 10 by 10 initiative. is to reduce the mortality average by 10 years over the next 10 years.

Currently, the median age of death for people with persistent mental illness is 55, Storck said.

Community program presenters represented Ramsey County, Central Minnesota Mental Health Center, Spectrum Mental Health, Vail Place, Community Options and Touch Stone Mental Health. Common themes included measuring progress on lifestyle changes and building a care plan centered on the individual for best success.

Years ago, cigarettes were dispensed as rewards for good behavior and some people with mental illnesses were isolated to stay out of trouble, according to Tracy Hinz, LICSW, Central Minnesota Mental Health Center.

“We owe it to our clients to shift gears,” Hinz said.

Today’s focus is on empowering people to make better choices, she said.

Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah commended the participants for learning more about integrating and coordinating services.

“There’s power in integrated care to help people with mental health and substance use disorders achieve optimal health, happiness, recovery and a full and satisfying life,” Sivarajah said.

This was the third symposium in the last few years under the heading of “Integrating Care, Transforming Lives.”

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