Dr John Santopietro Explains the Importance of Early Intervention in Mental Health

The earlier you intervene with patients with mental health issues, the better the outcome for both the individual and the health system. Early intervention prevents pain and suffering and actually saves costs in the long run, said John Santopietro, MD, chief clinical officer of behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare System.

The earlier you intervene with patients with mental health issues, the better the outcome for both the individual and the health system. Early intervention prevents pain and suffering and actually saves costs in the long run, said John Santopietro, MD, chief clinical officer of behavioral health at Carolinas HealthCare System.

Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

How can the healthcare industry do a better job of intervening earlier with patients with mental health issues to ensure they are getting the best care?

You can't intervene early enough. The earlier you intervene: first of all, you save pain and suffering; second of all, you save costs, because people will end up in the emergency room looking for care—and that's what ends up happening a good deal in this country. So you can never intervene early enough.

What we do [at Carolinas HealthCare System], the 2 primary places we are going in our plan to do that, first is primary care. That's actually pretty upstream, so if you can screen people in primary care for depression instead of waiting until they end up in the emergency room because they haven't gotten care, that's huge. Actually, it saves money. There's good data that suggest the return on investment is about $6.50 for every dollar you spend integrating into primary care.

But you can even go further upstream than that. We're doing a lot of work in the community, promoting something called Mental Health First Aid. It's a really tremendous program that has been around in the country for 10 or 12 years but is only now taking off in the country after the very unfortunate events such as Sandy Hook. The government, the White House has heard of it. The program is like CPR, except it's for mental health. So just like CPR is all about early intervention—your friends, your family, someone that's with you on a bus now knows what to do because they have been trained in CPR. So it is the same with Mental Health First Aid that people when they're trained they know how to react and help somebody in crisis and help them get treatment. And it also reduces stigma. And when you reduce stigma, people have better access to care.