Why Mental Health Screening is a Crucial Preventive Care Step

Mental health is just as important as physical health. It’s easy to see the benefits of periodic screening given the prevalence of mental health conditions in the U.S. and their often-debilitating effects, from missed work to substance misuse, to suicide. Yet regular physical exams and cancer screenings are commonly accepted as preventive care, while mental health screenings are often not.

Just like checking for signs of cancer fosters early intervention, screening for mental health concerns can also identify issues before they become severe. This type of preventive service could help reduce our mental health crisis across a broad population. Consider these key benefits of regular mental health screening:

  • Early detection. Mental health screening can help identify issues like depression and anxiety early on before they become more severe. Early diagnosis leads to earlier treatment, which improves outcomes.
  • Prevention of progression. Catching mental health issues early prevents worsening of symptoms. It also makes early intervention possible.
  • Lower long-term behavioral costs. Treating severe mental issues that have already progressed can lead to higher costs for hospitalization and intensive treatment. Early screening and detection reduces the need for expensive treatments later.
  • Lower physical health care costs. Research has shown that physical health care costs of those with a coexisting mental health problem are 2.8 to 6.2 times higher (depending on the behavioral health condition) than costs for individuals without a behavioral health condition. Improving mental health decreases overall health care expenditures and may improve a company’s bottom line, particularly in self-ensured environments.
  • Improved functioning. Poor mental health can negatively impact a person’s ability to function at work, school, or in relationships. Early identification through screening can help mitigate absenteeism, presenteeism, employee turnover, school attrition, and family discourse.
  • Stigma reduction. Including mental health screening as part of routine preventive care reduces stigma and sends the message that mental health is just as important as physical health.
  • Better quality of life. Good mental health allows people to process emotions, manage stress, and get support during difficult times, all of which support overall well-being and living a fulfilling life.

Screening is a powerful tool to assess someone’s mental health before symptoms appear. Our health care system could start to make meaningful progress in addressing our current mental health crisis if screening was considered preventive care and covered by health insurance plans.

Mental Health Care Challenges and Opportunities

Expanding preventive mental health screening to Americans holds significant challenges in our current health care ecosystem. Many people who need mental health services don’t receive them due to barriers like high costs, lack of insurance coverage, shortages of providers, and social stigma. Our system has major gaps in access to care, integration of services, and prevention of mental issues. Digital solutions can help make mental health screening and care more comprehensive, affordable, and equitable in the U.S. in several important ways:

  • Increase access. Digital platforms can overcome geographic barriers and provider shortages by making screening tools available to the masses. For those in need, online therapy, chatbots, and mobile apps bring support directly to people in need.
  • Lower costs. Digital tools have lower costs per user compared to traditional in-office therapy. This helps reduce financial barriers to screening and mental health care.
  • Enable early intervention. Online screening tools and accompanying educational content can help people self-identify issues early and learn skills to manage them. This supports prevention and early treatment.
  • Reduce stigma. The privacy and anonymity of digital platforms may reduce stigma that keeps some people from taking screening assessments or seeking in-person care.
  • Increase convenience. The ability to conveniently access mental health screening and care remotely increases options for those who have difficulty traveling to or attending traditional in-office appointments.

Making Progress in Mental Health Care

Regular mental health screenings make early intervention possible, which improves outcomes for individuals and reduces societal costs related to untreated mental challenges. There is a long way to go to make mental health care accessible by all in the U.S., however, digital mental health platforms represent a great opportunity to begin to bridge gaps in care, give everyone access to screening tools, and connect them with the right care and the right time.