Psychotherapy is Good for your Health

When the alarm rang at 6:00 am, Susan Smith could not possibly get out of bed. She was still exhausted, having slept poorly. Her stomach felt upset and she just didn’t feel right. She called in sick, something she had been doing a lot recently. When she saw her doctor later that day, he again found nothing wrong with her physical health. Noting that she had seen him four times in the last three months with the same complaints of difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, tense stomach and lower back pain, he modified her sleeping medication and inquired about her stress level. “My boss is giving me a bad time. She says I’ve been missing too much work and my productivity is way down. Maybe I need a vacation.”

Susan Smith is a fictitious person, but people in situations like hers are everywhere. Maybe she is depressed, anxious, or abusing a substance. She repeatedly visits her doctor when she may likely need to see a mental health professional. Meanwhile, she is using health insurance dollars to no avail and losing her company money.

Most people focus on their medical needs when shopping for health insurance, and it is an appropriate focus. The vast majority of health care dollars go towards the nation’s physical, rather than psychological, health. However, as the above vignette and the following statistics indicate, an individual’s psychological health is interwoven with their physical health. Broadening the focus to include both physical and psychological health in health care packages results in insurance that is a more comprehensive and accurate reflection of people’s needs.

Consider these statistics:

Mental illness is the third most limiting health condition, in terms of being able to perform major daily activities, exceeded only by cancer and stroke. Regarding inability to work, mental illness is the most limiting health condition. (Mental Health Policy Resource Center, Database, 1990)

The impact of mental illness and substance abuse on workplace productivity is well documented. These disorders can impair an employee’s ability to function productively, increase the chance of employee injury, and increase employee absenteeism. (American Psychological Association, Practice Directorate, June 1992)

60% of all physician visits are by people with no physical problem. This figure rises to 90% when stress-related illnesses are also included. (Gail Schapes, Ph.D., The California Psychologist, March 1992)

80% to 90% of all industrial accidents are likely related to personal problems and employees’ inability to handle stress. (Neil Thakur, James M. Jacobson, J.D., American Psychological Association Practice Directorate. June. 1992)

According to the insurer Northwestern National Life, the average cost per person in lifetime disability payments for stress related illness is $73,270. However, the average cost to rehabilitate a stress-disabled employee is only $1925 — a savings of over $71,000 per employee. (Walker, C.K., 1991, Stressed to Kill. Business and Health, Sept. p. 42)

Six of the top ten health problems chosen by over 400 corporate leaders as most seriously affecting their companies’ work force can be treated by mental health professionals. The problems, along with their ranking, were: Cigarette Smoking (#2), Alcohol Abuse (#4), General Mental Health Problems (#5), Stress (#6), Drug Abuse (#9), and Depression (# 10). (Yanson, J., 1991, The National Executive Poll on Health Care Costs and Benefits. Business and Health, Sept. 1991, p.61-71)

Susan Smith’s doctor referred her to a mental health professional. If she was diagnosed and treated for depression, she would have a 77% chance of a better outcome than depressed patients who did not receive treatment. (Robinson, L.A., Berman, J.S., and Neimeyer, R.A., 1990. Psychotherapy for the treatment of depression: A comprehensive review of controlled outcomes-research. Psychological Bulletin. 108, 30-49.)

If she was diagnosed and treated for panic disorder, she would have a 70-90% chance obtaining “significant relief” through psychotherapy. (Office of Scientific Information, 1992, Panic Disorder Fact Sheet, National Institute of Mental Health)

If she was diagnosed and treated for alcohol abuse, “brief motivational counseling, self control training, social skills training, and marital behavioral therapy are among the types of treatment found both most inexpensive and most effective in eliminating or reducing the effects of alcohol abuse”. (Holder, H., Longabaugh, R., Miller, W.R. and Rubonis, A.V., 1991, The cost effectiveness of treatment for alcoholism: A first approximation. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 52 (6) 517-540) Referrals to community resources, such as AA, are also part of alcohol abuse treatment.

Susan Smith, and thousands like her, suffer from mental disorders that are treatable through psychotherapy. Gone untreated, they cost employers in lost productivity and cost insurance companies in over-utilization of medical benefits. Mental health is a large part of overall health. Choose an insurance package that includes adequate and easily accessible mental health coverage. After all,

psychotherapy is good for your health.