Practical Solutions to Crisis in Mental Health

Healthy body starts with healthy mind

There aren’t many deadly animals in Alameda today. And yet, the human body thinks it’s in grave danger — releasing cortisol, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure — several times a day. That’s because the way the body responds to a lion chasing it resembles its response to speaking in public, an uncomfortable dinner party or watching the evening news.

Unfortunately, today’s healthcare system has failed to equip Americans with the adaptive knowledge and skills to meet today’s challenges. Instead, we are left with caveman-like instincts that have led to record highs of clinically diagnosed anxiety and depression, and more worrisome, the mainstream belief that debilitating stress is a normal part of life, when in fact, it’s not.

Some populations are more susceptible to these failures in healthcare than others. It’s believed that 14 to 20 percent of U.S. adults older than 65 have one or more mental health conditions. This amounts to roughly 8 million people, yet less than half receive treatment. Also alarming is the number of studies indicating an underdiagnosis in older adults, likely because primary care doctors screen them less frequently than their younger counterparts.

That’s why every new patient appointment at Calyx Health, a doctor’s office exclusively for Medicare seniors, includes a depression and anxiety screening right alongside vital signs. The clinical team then incorporates this infomation into a health-care plan, acknowledging that mental health is a crucial component of aging with grace and resilience, for everyone. 

Along with crafting the appropriate pharmaceutical approach for each patient, the team does its best to connect patients with quality therapy services. But availability in the East Bay resembles availability across the country — sparse and shrinking. Psychiatry is an aging field with diminishing numbers. More than half of practicing psychiatrists are planning to retire in the near future.

To address the lack of accessibility to mental-health care, Calyx Health partnered with geriatric psychologists and psychiatrists to develop Calyx Cares, an 8-week program based in cognitive behavioral therapy. Calyx designed this program to pinpoint the realities, myths and joys of aging, tailored to each individual patient and delivered in the primary care setting by a trained Calyx staff member.

A patient in the Calyx Cares pilot program said, “I learned to appreciate my surroundings more fully, clarify values I had forgotten and reframe my current struggles as opportunities — all at my doctor’s office! An absolute treat.”

Calyx Health wants to create a scalable program that can be used by clinics across the country. This service is the first of its kind nationally and has the potential to make a meaningful difference in millions of seniors’ lives, beginning right here in Alameda.