There is no tool like a blood pressure cuff that can measure precisely how we are feeling mentally. That’s why mental health experts have developed and refined methods to screen a patient’s mental health. One main way this is done is by having patients answer a series of written questions.
Mental health screening helps with stigma
“We know there is a persistent and unfortunate stigma with mental health that makes many people uncomfortable talking about their own mental health issues, even with their own provider,” said Dr. Daniel Jurczyk, a psychiatrist for Marshfield Clinic Health System. “With screening, patients have a chance to disclose any mental health issues in written form. I think sometimes it’s easier to circle something on a form than to say it out loud.”
Getting to the bottom of the issue
At Marshfield Clinic Health System, two primary patient surveys are in use to screen patients for signs of mental health needs. If patients register a higher than baseline score on mental health screening, that is a signal for the primary care provider to address it. Patients experience mental health symptoms for a wide range of reasons. Primary care providers can ask the right questions and involve the proper other specialties, to determine what is causing the symptoms.
“A patient could be showing mental health symptoms because they just had a heart attack and just aren’t feeling well. Or it could be that they have severe depression. Screening helps us get that conversation started and get to the bottom of what is going on,” Dr. Jurczyk said.
Primary care providers can prescribe antidepressants, but may also refer a patient to a mental health expert when more specialized care is needed.
A pioneering approach
“Marshfield Clinic Health System has been a pioneer with integrating mental health care with primary care. We are getting these two groups to work hand-in-hand. We have an integrated care nurse who works within primary care, but has special mental health expertise. She can help determine how best to meet a patient’s needs,” Dr. Jurczyk said.
This is also a way to speed up access to mental health care. The integrated care nurse can meet with a psychiatrist to discuss a patient’s needs, and then recommend medications and treatment plans to the patient’s primary care provider. This way, the patient can get treatment started immediately, rather than waiting to establish care with a new mental health provider.
If you have any concerns about your mental health, contact your primary care or mental health provider.