Wallace Fox, APRN has 12 years’ experience in healthcare, working in a variety of settings from neuro intensive care to dermatology, and of course—primary care. Wallace is currently completing a post-graduate certificate to sit for boards to become a Licensed Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. He is passionate about treating the whole person, body and mind, and today he is sharing why primary care plays a critical role in improving the mental health epidemic.

Research shows that up to 30% of patients who engage in primary care will present with a mental health issue (Wittchen et al., 2003). Thankfully, primary care is uniquely positioned to address mental health concerns and have a positive impact on patient lives. Here’s why.

It’s affordable.

Primary care—especially value-based primary care—is a remarkably affordable option for patients to be seen for a variety of healthcare concerns, including mental health. Many patients avoid specialists and therapy because they can be highly cost-prohibitive and are not always covered by health insurance plans. Primary care is an excellent option to remove the cost barrier and allow patients to receive appropriate mental healthcare, regardless of their financial situation. 

It’s accessible.

We all know that medications for the treatment of psychiatric disorders work best when paired with therapy. But we also know that most therapists in our local areas are booked out for months—and especially for serious mental health concerns, this is too long for patients to get the help they need. Primary care in general, and direct primary care in particular, is a much more accessible option and can be the first line of defense for patients in need of mental health treatment.

Additionally, engaged primary care providers can improve accessibility of dedicated mental health resources for patients through their relationships with local resources like therapists and psychiatric providers and facilities. It’s critical that primary care providers work proactively to learn the services and processes of local resources so that when a problem arises, they are ready to act and engage their patients in the right care. 

It’s acceptable.

Stigma is often the greatest barrier to patients receiving treatment for their mental health concerns. But patients who may never go see a therapist will go see a primary care provider, and they may be more receptive to advice and treatment in a primary care setting if they already have an established relationship with their provider.

Additionally, addressing a patient’s mental health can have a positive impact on their overall health. For example, someone suffering from untreated major depressive disorder may not care if their A1C is 12.5. At times, they cannot muster the energy to go through daily routines, let alone care about a balanced diet and exercise. Placing emphasis on the physical benefits of mental health can encourage patients who may otherwise be uninterested to seek treatment.

We encourage anyone who may be struggling with their mental health to visit their trusted primary care provider for support and resources. Healthy people get help, and you are not alone!