The Business Case for Behavioral Health

February 17, 2020

// By Howard Gershon, LFACHE //

With the shift toward value-based care and the assumption of risk, many health care organizations are beginning to understand that they must address behavioral health in conjunction with physical care for patients.

Behavioral health issues are in the news every day, whether it’s a national sports figure who has committed suicide, a new mother who has harmed her child as a result of postpartum depression, or a schizophrenic young adult who has gone off his meds and committed a crime. The following statistics from the National Council for Behavioral Health provide a look at how many people face a mental health or substance use challenge, whether we choose to see it or not:

  • In the U.S., almost half of adults (46.4 percent) will experience a mental illness during their lifetime.
  • Five percent of adults 18 or older experience a mental illness in any one year, equivalent to 43.8 million people.
  • Of adults in the U.S. with any mental disorder in a one-year period, 14.4 percent have one disorder, 5.8 percent have two disorders, and 6 percent have three or more.
  • Half of all mental disorders begin by age 14 and three-quarters by age 24.
  • In the U.S., only 41 percent of the people who had a mental disorder in the past year received professional health care or other services.

It’s the last statistic that should raise a red flag for hospitals and health systems. The fact that there is such a significant unmet need is driven home in most communities when not-for-profit providers do their tri-annual Community Health Needs Assessment required by the Internal Revenue Service, which inevitably results in behavioral health issues being one of the top-three critical needs in almost every community in the United States.

So why is it that our nation’s hospitals and health systems have not solved this problem? Historically, many organizations have avoided addressing behavioral issues for reasons that include safety and security concerns, physician coverage challenges, poor financial performance, and more.

But with the shift toward value-based care and the assumption of risk, many organizations are beginning to understand that they can no longer avoid addressing this need.


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