Why Your Doctor Cares About Your Mental Health

Apr 3, 2024


In any given year, about 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness. In 2020 in particular, mental health concerns skyrocketed. By September of 2020, more than 8 out of 10 adults experienced moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

If you are experiencing challenges with your mental health, it can be overwhelming to know who to talk to or how to get help. But the first step is simple: talk with your healthcare provider.

The link between mental and physical health

It surprises many people to learn that your mental and physical health are inextricably connected. How your body feels can affect how your brain feels—and vice versa.

Researchers have long studied how your mental wellness affects your physical wellness. Mental health conditions, particularly depression, can increase your risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. In fact, depression is just as significant a risk factor for heart disease as smoking and high cholesterol.

In addition, more than half of all Americans receive a mental health diagnosis at some point in their lifetime. This means that more than half of Americans may also have an increased risk for many of these chronic health conditions.

Why you should talk with your doctor

Many people don’t realize that mental health conditions are treatable. For some people, lifestyle changes, talk therapy and learning new coping skills can significantly improve mental health. For others, medications like antidepressants lead to a significant improvement in quality of life.

Start by talking with your healthcare provider about your symptoms. When you receive help for a mental health condition, you lower your risk for:

  • Chronic health conditions, which are often treatable or preventable
  • Hospitalization due to a mental health crisis
  • Suicide, which is the second leading cause of death in people aged 15-34 in the United States

What Adventist Health is doing to help

Many people don’t seek treatment simply because they don’t know the signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder. Raul Ayala, MD, family medicine provider, explains that Adventist Health has implemented screening tools to help your healthcare provider identify if you are struggling with mental health.

“Our first step in helping people with mental health concerns is identifying when patients need help,” Dr. Ayala explains. “We have started using a screening questionnaire to help give us a more well-rounded view of each patient’s well-being.”

The questionnaire asks questions to help identify depression, such as:

  • Do you struggle with making simple decisions or finishing small tasks?
  • Do you feel “fake” when you smile?
  • Does it feel like there’s a glass wall between you and the rest of the world?
  • Do you find yourself growing very irritable about minor things?
  • Do you feel like there’s nothing to look forward to?

Each patient who visits an Adventist Health primary care clinic receives a mental health questionnaire. Because of this screening tool, we can help more patients who need support.

How treatment can help

Just like heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health conditions, getting treatment can make a huge difference in your overall well-being.

Amanda Creott, LCSW, a behavioral health provider at the Adventist Health Feather River Health Center, has witnessed firsthand the difference appropriate mental health treatment can make.

“Sometimes mental health conditions can present themselves as physical issues, such as a racing heartbeat, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, or neck and shoulder pain, to name a few," Amanda explains. "When my patients and I work together to explore beyond the physical symptoms they are experiencing, we actually discover they are depressed, anxious, or experiencing mental health challenges from past unresolved obstacles in their lives."

Treatment, whether through counseling sessions, a prescription medication like an antidepressant or a combination of options, often does more than just help the individual’s mental outlook — their physical symptoms are resolved as well.

“This is why it is so important for healthcare providers to also ask about mental health symptoms in addition to health questionnaires," Amanda says. "When patients give honest answers during their mental health screening, their provider can join together with other sources of support, such as a psychiatrist or therapist, to help meet the patient's mental health needs.”

Amanda explains that a team approach to meeting a patient’s needs can create a fuller picture of what the patient is experiencing. “It's like having a cardiologist and a primary care doctor — both providers work together to give the patient the best experience in caring for their heart health; caring for mental health, mind and body, is equally as important,” she assures.

If you experience symptoms of a mental health condition, find a healthcare provider near you.