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LETTER: Program integrates mental health professionals into primary care

As the behavioral health consultant for Valley Community Health Centers, I was both encouraged and discouraged by a recent legislative interim committee meeting discussing behavioral health needs in North Dakota.

As news stories have described, there still is a great need for quality behavioral health services in North Dakota. The cost of not having these services is significant, both in terms of the negative financial impact and how it affects the quality of life of North Dakotans.

One of the topics at the committee meeting was how behavioral health is involved in the primary care setting. When people think about where behavioral health services are provided, they usually think about mental-health or drug-treatment facilities, not primary care. The reality is that about 20 percent of primary care visits include at least one mental health concern.

In order to address some behavioral health concerns in our area, Valley Community Health Centers has established a model that offers behavioral health care in a primary care setting. This model is known as "behavioral health integration."

In behavioral health integration, behavioral health consultants work alongside primary care providers. Together, they address patients from a holistic perspective.

The consultants visit with patients in the same exam room as the primary care provider. Rather than viewing the patient as a sum of diseases and conditions, we consider the whole person and the variety of factors that impact the person's overall health. These include their mental health and other factors such as their work, family and social relationships.

Although behavioral health needs still loom large in North Dakota, I am encouraged that our Legislature has recognized this and is trying to improve the state's quality of life.

Robin Landwehr

Grand Forks