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4 Reasons Mental Health Support Is Crucial To Cardiometabolic Health

Written by Dr. Tejaswi Kompala, Senior Director, Clinical Strategy, Chronic Condition Management, Teladoc Health

While depression doubles diabetes risk, 75% of people go untreated. Discover how integrated mental health support boosts cardiometabolic outcomes by enabling personalized care when patients need it most.

Poor mental health can be both a driver – and a consequence – of cardiometabolic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and obesity. For example, studies show that obesity not only increases one’s risk of depression, but depression can also increase the odds of developing obesity. As we mark Mental Health Awareness Month, here are four reasons why integrating mental health support into chronic care management is so powerful:

#1 Supporting mental health also improves cardiometabolic health outcomes.

We know that mental health challenges directly contribute to negative health impact—and that includes diagnosable conditions like anxiety and depression, but also daily stressors like occupational stress, financial stress, and disease-related stigma. It’s one reason why integrated mental health support is a key component of all our chronic condition programs.

The treatment for a person struggling with emotional eating looks very different than someone with chronic pain and limited mobility—but both can benefit from mental health support, which our data shows can help accelerate improved health. An abstract recently presented at Society of Behavioral Medicine’s Annual Meeting showed members in Teladoc Health’s chronic condition management programs who also engaged regularly with our mental health program saw >30% additional reduction in systolic blood pressure and >10% additional average weight loss, compared to those who only engaged in the chronic condition management programs.

Our data also revealed that engagement in mental health programs occurs during periods of uncontrolled glucose and/or blood pressure, further emphasizing the importance of just-in-time adaptive interventions along with a continuous approach to whole-person care.

#2 Mental health conditions often go untreated.

According to the CDC, people with diabetes are two to three times more likely to have depression, yet only 25% to 50% of people with diabetes who have depression are diagnosed or treated. As a clinician, I see that gap as a powerful opportunity to make interventions. And with digital tools available, mental health care has become significantly more accessible – not only for diagnosed conditions like anxiety and depression, but also other common challenges like diabetes distress or body dysmorphia.

From my own years in clinical practice, I am all too familiar with the toll a chronic condition can have on the mental and emotional health of a patient. Embracing tools that bypass traditional boundaries can make the difference between a well-maintained chronic condition and struggling with poor health in silence.

#3 Integrated support can enable greater personalization.

When it comes to chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity, it’s all about having a personalized approach. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. For example, one individual may want to work with a registered dietician to do a deep dive into calories and macros, but another person may need to work with a behavioral health specialist to focus on emotional eating or healthy coping mechanisms. A health coach who can offer tailored dietary recommendations to one’s cultural preferences can better manage an individual’s risk factors.

Similar to working with a nutritionist, mental health support can offer equally personalized care. There are many behavioral components to chronic care regulation and care plans should take factors like cultural preferences and social drivers in addition to physical and mental health into consideration.

#4 Digital mental health programs provide care when – and how – the member wants to engage.

Successful behavior changes are about daily actions over time, and digital mental health programs help make sustained engagement easier. Virtual care can do so much in terms of convenience and access to care, and beyond that, digitization of care allows for us to understand what interventions and messaging resonates most with that member. Our advanced use of machine learning and predictive modeling has transformed and improved the way that we can engage and support individuals.

Integrating mental health support through holistic chronic care teams offers clinicians a longitudinal view into how patients manage their condition and can inform changes to improve their care plan.

In my own practice, I’ve also seen how behavioral health can help people understand their own cognitive biases or fears around what weight loss “success” may look like, helping set realistic expectations.

The reciprocal link between mental and physical health is well-documented, and yet so many diabetes and weight care programs treat cardiometabolic conditions in a silo. For me, mental health awareness month is another reminder of the power of whole-person care. We know individuals benefit from a single, unified experience for managing both their mental and physical health. It’s time that mental health support is recognized for its critical role in chronic condition management.

** This content was originally published on Forbes

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