Emotional health – how we process and react to our daily emotions – is the underpinning for mental and physical health.

And according to recent statistics, the population of the U.S. and world are less emotionally healthy than ever.

According to the most recent data from NAMI (National Association of Mental Health), one in five adults in the U.S. are actively experiencing mental illness.

Let that sink in.

One out of five people you pass on the street, work with, or possibly even your family members are dealing with everything from depression and anxiety to substance abuse or thoughts of suicide.

The fear, isolation, economic hardship, anxiety, and worry caused by the COVID-19 crisis has only added fuel to the smoldering fire of a mental health epidemic growing well before 2019.

While mental health problems themselves can seriously degrade quality of life, reduce productivity at work, and erode relationships with family and friends, the effects of mental health on physical health are often ignored or underestimated.

It’s time that the role emotional health plays in overall health is recognized, addressed, and included in a holistic treatment regimen. This is especially true for people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

We’re going to explore the crucial role of emotional health and discuss how healthcare professionals, employers, and health insurance providers can position emotional health to drive total health.

What Is Emotional Health?

Emotional health and mental health are often used interchangeably, but they’re two very different aspects of overall psychological health.

Mental health includes emotional, social, and psychological wellbeing and its effects on how we feel, think and act. It can be affected by daily events, disease, and genetic dispositions toward mental illness.

While this may sound similar, emotional health includes our daily emotional landscape and our reactions to events, and the way we process these emotions.

Being emotionally healthy means we have the tools to deal with daily events and human interactions in a healthy manner. If we can’t do this, it can have profound effects not only on our mental health, but our physical health as well.

In fact, emotional health is the key driver of overall health.

As the statistics show, current levels of emotional and mental well-being are at all-time lows.

How Common Are Mental Health Issues?

Very common – 1 in 4 adults experience mental illness at some time in their life. And remember the number above stating that 1 in 5 currently experiencing a mental health issue.

It’s a crisis that is hidden in plain sight:

  • 51.5 million adults have some form of mental health issue
  • Of the adults with a mental health issue, 14% have one, 5.8% have two and 6% have three or more
  • Only 44% of people with a mental health issue received professional care

While grim, these numbers are pre-COVID statistics. The ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated the mental health crisis.

Current U.S. Mental Health By The Numbers

The current state of mental health in America isn’t healthy with rising numbers of mood and anxiety disorders.

Much of the current crisis can be directly linked to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis: lockdowns, job losses, friends and family sick, constant worry over infection, the dehumanization of wearing masks, etc., etc. Current statistics on the state of our mental health paint a stark picture.

A survey of workers reported mental health symptoms since the beginning of the outbreak2:

  • Emotional exhaustion – 53%
  • Increased daily sadness – 53%
  • Irritability – 50%
  • Feelings of confusion – 42%
  • Increased insomnia – 38%
  • Increased anger – 32%
  • Feelings of guilt – 24%

If these numbers are shocking, it only further underlines the fact that most mental health issues either go unreported or untreated.

With the impact mental health has on all aspects of life, why does it remain a hidden epidemic?

Mental Health: A Hidden Epidemic

If the unhealthy state of mental health in the U.S. is affecting so many people’s quality of life, work, relationships, and physical health, why isn’t it given more attention? There are several reasons, rooted in societal prejudices toward mental health:

  • Lack of awareness

People suffering from a mental health issue may not even realize the gravity of the problem they’re facing. It may be written off as “feeling a little down”, anxiety, being overworked, or go completely unnoticed. But often, if real issues remain ignored or downplayed, they can turn into bigger problems manifesting in a variety of ways.

  • Social stigma

Among the Millennial and Gen Z populations, the stigma of mental health issues and seeking help has greatly diminished, there remains a general feeling of shame around admitting one has a mental health issue. Many feel they should “Just deal with it” and resist getting professional help.

  • Lack of access

While many insurance plans have coverage for mental health services, counseling, and substance abuse programs, private insurance companies pay 13 – 14% less for mental health care than Medicaid does.

Since COVID, however, the number of adults seeking mental health care has increased. According to a recent Harris Poll, in 2020 almost half (49%) of workers in the U.S. sought mental health care.

The reasons included:

  • 38% Coronavirus pandemic
  • 32% stress of working from home
  • 30% concerns about racial injustice
  • 29% job insecurity
  • 29% elections
  • 29% natural disasters
  • 13% other

The data are simultaneously concerning and promising. They reveal a high percentage of adults experiencing mental health problems while demonstrating that more are seeking the help they need to address these issues.

However, the data highlight and the need to confront this crisis head-on because it’s not only detrimental to the people experiencing it – it has profound economic costs.

Economic Impact of Mental Health Issues For Businesses

The effects of mental health issues on individuals are visceral and very personal. To even mention the economic impact of mental health on the economy, businesses and employers seems callous.

However, the economic impact of mental health issues in the workplace and society at large are in the trillions of dollars.

According to Forbes:

  • Mental health and substance abuse costs U.S. businesses $80 – 100 billion per year
  • Serious mental illness costs American adults as much as $193 billion in lost earnings per year
  • Depression alone accounts for 400 million lost work hours per year

These numbers are the impact of mental illness on its own. But the negative effects mental health can have on physical health add a whole new dimension to the problem.

How Mental Health Affects Physical Health

Traditionally, mental health and physical health were considered two separate entities. The effects of and treatments for one had little to no impact on the other. That simply isn’t true.

We now know that mental health greatly impacts physical health. So much so that it is considered a major influencer on physical health, as all health activities and conditions interact with mental health.

Poor mental health has been shown to affect nearly every physical system and includes:

  • Production of stress hormones
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Lowered immune response
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Digestive problems
  • Sleep disorders and insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chronic pain
  • Weight loss/gain
  • Headaches

On the flip side of this health interaction, poor physical health can cause mental health issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Irritation
  • Apathy
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders

They are two sides of a whole and nowhere is the interplay between physical and mental health more apparent than with people suffering from chronic diseases.

The Impact Of Mental Health On Chronic Disease

Chronic disease is the leading cause of morbidity and lowered quality of life today. In the U.S. alone, chronic diseases account for $3.8 trillion (90%) of the spending of the nation’s healthcare budget.

Chronic disease is the leading cause of death, killing more than 1.7 million per year and lowers the quality of life for millions.

Heart disease and stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity are the most common chronic diseases. These are often a result of lifestyle – a reflection of society at large. The causes are:

  • A sedentary lifestyle (lack of regular exercise)
  • Poor diet
  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive alcohol use

While the physical impacts are great, chronic disease also has a negative knock-on effect on emotional and mental health. Often people with chronic diseases will experience depression, anxiety, fatigue, chronic pain, insomnia, and eating disorders.

These negative mental effects feed back into the chronic disease causing all of the negative physical effects previously mentioned.

That’s why you can’t separate emotional, mental, and physical health – especially for chronic disease. To effectively manage and even reverse chronic disease, a patient’s emotional and mental health is just as, if not more, important as managing physical health.

The challenge becomes how to improve the emotional health of a person with diabetes who may be depressed so they will be motivated to exercise and eat right. Crucially, you have to help them not only make these lifestyle changes but to maintain them.

It’s not enough to make healthy lifestyle changes. To reduce and reverse chronic disease, these changes must become learned habits that they continue for their lifetime.

To do this, they must change their behaviors

Behavior Change Programs: Reprogramming Bad Behaviors

Digital behavior change programs, behavior monitoring, evidence-based health coaching – there are a wide variety of names for it, but it is one of the fastest-growing branches of telehealth medicine.

In response to the growing epidemic of chronic disease and the healthcare costs associated with it, new companies sprang up, combining health coaching, data science, artificial intelligence, real-time biometric data, apps, chatbots, video calls, and more to create state-of-the-art platforms to help people with chronic disease manage their conditions.

Chronic disease isn’t something you just get a shot for and you’re all cleared up. It consists of major life changes that have to be implemented daily.

For employers this is an attractive two-fer: it reduces healthcare costs as healthy employees have fewer healthcare needs and they’ve got healthier, more productive employees.

Participants in the program get the benefit of dramatically better health outcomes and quality of life.

There is a wide array of companies that provide these services, but all face the same problem:

Adherence.

The Challenge Of Adherence

Perhaps the greatest challenge facing behavior change and health coaching providers is the challenge of adherence.

Studies have shown that as many as 50 – 80% of participants in any medical regimen or health program don’t regularly follow it or quit altogether.

Just by human nature, we know how difficult it is to make new habits – especially healthy ones. Sitting on the couch is easier than working out. A piece of chocolate cake is tastier than a salad.

And if a person isn’t emotionally healthy, they won’ have the desire or motivation to make necessary healthy changes in their lives.

Is a 45-year-old pre-diabetic woman going to stick with her behavioral health program of exercising three times a week, eating healthy foods, and monitoring her weight if she becomes depressed and anxious?

Statistically, she won’t.

That’s why AlbumHealth developed a new strategy: active, data-driven engagement.

Unlike most virtual behavior change systems that are self-administered, our virtual health system doesn’t just provide resources to a client. Our health coaches actively engage with clients providing reminders, suggestions, and needed support.

This has given us an industry-leading standard of 84% adherence to health programs and a 94% client satisfaction rating.

Underlying this success is our dedicated focus on improving emotional health and positioning it to drive total health outcomes.

Positioning Emotional Health To Drive Overall Health

The importance of emotional health to the success of overall health cannot be overstated, but in a virtual behavior change program, how do you position emotional health to drive overall health?

This was the first question we asked at AlbumHealth when we tackled the problem of adherence. We recognized that no matter how technologically-advanced or clinically-validated your program if you didn’t put emotional health first, it wasn’t going to be successful. So, emotional health management had to be a priority.

We implemented several key strategies to improve emotional health of our clients:

  • An emotional health intervention program developed by Licensed Psychologists
  • An empirically-supported Emotional Health Therapies Program
  • Data-driven process to select therapies that are incorporated into a personalized Health Behavior Plan
  • Active, evidence-based engagement from health coaches
  • Regular surveys to track emotional health and provide verifiable, empirical data
  • A comprehensive 9-part Emotional Health Intervention Unit educational resource

No other virtual behavior change and monitoring program features such a robust focus on emotional health. This focus combined with active data-driven engagement is the difference that sets AlbumHealth’s virtual behavior change and monitoring program apart.

And the numbers tell the story themselves:

  • 6+ user engagements per day
  • 84% adherence
  • 94% user satisfaction
  • 100% of target health outcomes improved
  • $2,000 per employee saved
  • $1.7 million in claims reductions—for one client alone!
  • $6 million saved in MSK claims
  • 20% YOY savings over a 5-year period

We’re proud of the fact that we’ve helped companies save millions in healthcare costs and improve the overall population health of their employees.

But what gives us the greatest satisfaction is seeing participants reverse or improve chronic disease and dramatically improve their emotional health for a healthier, happier life.

Let AlbumHealth help you create verifiable, lasting positive health changes for your clients by exploring our website or contacting us directly for more information.


Sources:

https://nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/NAMI_YouAreNotAlone_2020_FINAL.pdf

https://www.statista.com/statistics/1169854/covid-related-mental-health-symptoms-in-workers/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

https://www.fightchronicdisease.org/sites/default/files/docs/GrowingCrisisofChronicDiseaseintheUSfactsheet_81009.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4988401/