A Mental Shift

Records are made to be broken. We hear this old adage used in the sports world on a regular basis – describing the shift that often occurs when an emerging star supplants existing records or the status quo.

In the world of health, similar shifts can occur – sometimes incremental, sometimes monumental. In 2010, a massive study was the first to show that at some point around 1990, and for the first time in history, more people were dying from chronic diseases than from infectious diseases. That shift set in motion a ripple effect, impacting public health, healthcare, the economy and numerous other industries. Look no further than recent changes to food labels and hospital beds for proof of that ripple.

Health researchers may have recently uncovered the emergence of yet another shift; this time, in terms of where we spend our healthcare dollars. New research shows that the United States now spends more money on mental health than on any other health condition, totaling a whopping $201 billion in 2013. Heart conditions ranked 2nd, costing the US $147 billion.

Twenty years ago, spending data told the complete opposite story. In 1996, heart conditions were at the top of the list, costing $105 billion annually, and mental health came in second, totaling $79 billion. Then, at some point around 2004, mental health supplanted heart disease as the costliest health condition. Why did this happen? Yes, mental health diagnoses increased over the last two decades, but it’s also because managing heart health actually became cheaper compared to other conditions.

While this shift toward costly mental health conditions is not to be celebrated in the way the Golden State Warriors recently broke long-standing records of the Chicago Bulls, the necessity for industries (healthcare and beyond) to take notice and adapt is apparent. As we grow more accustomed to living longer with less-costly heart conditions, it’s likely that mental health conditions, such as dementia, will continue to rise – along with associated costs.

May is Mental Health Month – a time to raise awareness about mental health challenges. It’s also a time to raise critical questions, such as how do we grapple with this mental health shift? Is it incremental or monumental? What can we learn from previous disease shifts, or from our experience with heart conditions? Answering these questions and preparing for the future will be key elements to helping us reach our goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!


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