Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Apply a Recovery Approach to Wellness; Engage Clients in "Irresistible" Services That Offer Them a Healthier Life

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Apply a Recovery Approach to Wellness; Engage Clients in "Irresistible" Services That Offer Them a Healthier Life

Article excerpt

Last month we introduced you to Paolodel Vecchio, associate director for consumer affairs at SAMHSA's Center for Mental Health Services. Paolo gave us some very interesting information on the endeavors of the 10 by 10 Campaign, which is focused on increasing the life span of people diagnosed with mental illnesses by 10 years within the next 10 years. If you missed that column, we suggest you read it as background on what we're sharing with you this month (visit

Two astonishing findings that we highlighted in the previous column were that people diagnosed with mental illnesses in the public system have a life span 25 years shorter than the general population's, and the gap actually has been increasing. This increase is due to both the general population living longer and people in the public system diagnosed with mental illness living shorter lives.

This information instilled in us a sense of urgency about including physical health services in behavioral health programs. So we left you last month with a list of ideas that could kick-start program development for the most prevalent causes of premature death.

This month we are giving you more in-depth information that can help you address this urgent issue by developing services that promote physical health. This venture can make a huge improvement in the quality of life of those diagnosed with mental illnesses. To respond to this challenge and reach the best outcomes, and to also avoid some of the mistakes we've made in the past, we need to be prepared to invest a considerable amount of creativity and ingenuity. Why the cautionary note? Why don't we just get busy and make this happen since it's such an urgent situation? Let's take a closer look.

Living a life that reflects a commitment to wellness is a challenge for all of us, whether or not we have a mental illness. Promoting healthy living is not new, and most of us don't have spotless healthy lifestyles. Sorry to bring this up, but we might as well be realistic about what we're up against so we can outwit the inevitable hindrances along the way.

So what are these "hindrances" we're asking you to outwit as you plan and develop recovery wellness programs? Well, think about it! Look at the death rates from preventable diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, obesity, and liver disease. If we all stopped smoking, eating junk foods, overconsuming alcohol, and being couch potatoes, we could prevent most of these diseases. This is a no-brainer, right? Wrong! If it were this easy, we wouldn't have the problem in the first place, and we wouldn't need new programs.

The most formidable "hindrance" we're up against is this: These indulgences are habit forming. And, unlike other preventable diseases, such as polio or small pox, no inoculation can prevent or wipe out these habits. Changing them requires a great deal of individual effort and commitment. Furthermore, individuals have to make these changes themselves. If we had realized the importance of individuals' decision making when behavioral health programs were initially implemented all those years ago, the field could have avoided the mistakes that took us down a road that did not lead to recovery.


Mistakes? Did our field make mistakes? Well-meaning as they were, the two actions that hindered recovery the most were, first, not believing it was possible and, second, thinking people diagnosed with mental illness could not make good decisions and therefore needed to be controlled, managed, and taken care of indefinitely. These mistakes prevented people from being self-determining and from developing the motivation that comes from having hopes and dreams.

So here's the deal: We need to add physical health services built on a foundation of recovery to behavioral health programs. This time we need to take responsibility for creating services that inspire people to participate, instead of trying to force them into it. …

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