The COVID-19 pandemic has shined much needed light on “whole person health” by highlighting the correlation between behavioral health and overall wellness. Many people with behavioral health challenges experienced worsening symptoms throughout the pandemic, while others struggled with conditions for the first time and didn’t know where to turn.
Understanding whole person health — and where to find resources that can help you support both your mental and physical health — is key to protecting and improving your overall well-being.
Whole person health is the recognition that our mental and physical health are interconnected and that an illness rarely affects a single body part or system. When you consider that nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness, and six in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, it’s easy to consider how one might impact the other.
Benefits of whole person health and how to take action
According to Dr. Rhonda Randall, D.O., Chief Medical Officer at UnitedHealthcare, implementing integrated health care approaches has positive outcomes for patients, physicians and caregivers. By exploring health behaviors (like smoking, physical activity and eating habits), the community and environment where we live and work, genetics, behaviors and socio-economic influences on our health, physicians and patients create a comprehensive picture of the patient’s goals and create a comprehensive plan of care.
Here are three key ways this approach can help you, or someone you love — and how to take action.
1. Improve one area, improve the rest. Research shows that improving one area of a person’s physical, emotional and mental health can benefit the others. For example, we have long known that gut health is directly linked to mental health, but whole health argues these connections run throughout the entire body.
Take action: Take a moment to reflect on your health — what are you missing, and what are your goals? Make a list, then talk about it with your care team. Together, you can make a plan to address the changes you’d like to make.
2. Make mental health checks part of your regular health routine. As we age, chronic, or ongoing, conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain and others, tend to surface more frequently, but research suggests mentally healthy adults reported the fewest chronic diseases of all ages. By starting to care for your mental and behavioral health as soon as possible, patients can help safeguard the body for its future.
Take action: Just as we make yearly visits to our primary care physicians, it’s essential to prioritize regular mental health maintenance checks, whether with your physician, a specialist, or free self-assessment tools. It’s no secret that, for many, the pandemic has intensified and worsened mental health issues. The silver lining? Broad recognition has reduced the stigma and more than ever, virtual tools are available to help maintain treatment plans, improve access and remove cost barriers.
3. Prioritize preventive care to reduce health care costs. Chronic conditions, frequent trips to specialists and prescriptions are key drivers behind expensive out-of-pocket healthcare costs. By investing in whole health — examining diet, exercise and mental health, in conjunction with regular primary care visits — you can improve your health as well as your long-term financial health.
Take action: As you build your health team, look for professionals who subscribe to the whole health model and will proactively seek to coordinate care with other providers supporting your physical and mental health. When physician teams communicate effectively, patients become centered in their care.
Taking charge of your whole health
More and more, patients can be the drivers of their own health care journeys. Minor changes such as investing in self-care, improving lifestyle choices and early behavioral intervention if needed are key steps in ensuring overall wellness.
For more health and wellness information, visit UHC.com.