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LETTERS: Behavioral health screens should become routine

Monday, February 26, 2018

In times of crisis a host of "could've"; and "should've"; opinions abound. Once again, we experienced another cultural catastrophe with a school shooting on Valentine’s Day. As a long-time physician, I have treated many patients who have experienced personal calamities through illnesses and social instabilities. Many of these ailments could have been avoided through preventive measures.

As healers, should we not only be helping them with their medical problems but also ask our patients if they are all right emotionally?

First, a personal story to illustrate how preventive measures can avoid a disastrous outcome. My dad took his own life in 1984. Doctors treated his diabetes for 20 years, but they were not able to prevent his suicide. They could have, but no one ever asked him how he was doing emotionally. He looked and acted depressed; his spirit certainly broken, yet no doctors, nurses, or front desk receptionist ever asked if he was OK. The truth is they didn't want to know — it is unpleasant to deal with someone who is depressed so we tend to avoid that conversation. Although, I was already a doctor, I didn’t want to know either.

I knew a lot about how the body works and how to fix a sick one but knew very little about the mind and how to mend broken emotions and spirits. A few days before dad committed this atrocious act, he told me that if he had any guts, he’d kill himself. Without reply, I disgustedly walked away and thought what a weak man he is.

A few years ago, I conducted a clinical research study at my ONE Health Ohio facility and discovered that two-thirds of all scheduled patients for medical visits also had some type of behavioral health issues they were dealing with.

We only discovered this through routine screening of medical patients for behavioral health problems such as depression, anxiety and addiction. The problems uncovered by asking simple questions related to behavior was so vast that we immediately implemented a behavioral health counseling program.

I believe the medical community is obligated to be gatekeepers to identify all patients who may be at risk for mental and behavioral health as a routine part of any medical visit. Simply put, if we know, then we can help. This would save and improve lives.

Certainly, we can and should do this as part of the solution to help stop these horrific cultural catastrophes. Everyone knew this young man in Florida had mental issues, yet, reportedly no one helped him.

I am sure he had some type of physical ailment in the past few years requiring medical visits. Didn’t any medical professional recognize there was something wrong with him? Did anyone ask, “Are you OK?”

Ronald Dwinnells, Youngstown

Dr. Ronald Dwinnells is CEO of One Health Ohio.