Any car owner can tell you that many, many components make up the vehicles we rely on every day to ferry us between work and home or between errands. And accordingly, mechanics have become increasingly specialized – especially now that cars are getting more complicated every year. You have a transmission guy, a tire guy, and a separate place for brakes and oil changes. Luckily, each of the “systems” in a car function pretty independently from each other. They are all connected, each must work properly to ensure the car runs correctly, and they are all overseen by the onboard computer.

However, if the computer isn’t functioning properly, the car won’t either. Consider the tire pressure indicator light, if there is a malfunction in the computer’s interpretation of the tire pressure, no matter how much you fill up the tire to the correct level, the computer still says there is a problem. You have to fix the computer to fix the car.

Much like the computer in the car, the brain directly impacts the health of the body. Someone with a mental illness might not be capable of caring properly for their chronic physical conditions. You have to heal the mind to heal the body.

Many years ago, the way we thought about health care fractured. Specialists began to crop up and soon, the human body was separated into parts treated by different doctors that rarely, if at all, communicated with each other. While this fracture allowed providers to dive deep into specific organs, systems, and disease states, it also stopped them from treating the person as a whole and divided the mind from the body.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that 68% of adults with mental illness also have one or more physical chronic conditions and those with mental illness die earlier. In order to improve outcomes for these patients, and us all, providers across the country are working to heal the fracture between how we feel and what we think.

Given this crucial connection, why does the health care system separate its tangible processes (regulating vital functions, allowing us to walk and talk) from its less definable, and more squishy, operations like managing mood and emotions, activating instinctual responses, and giving us each a sense of humor?

Over the last few years, providers have been asking the same question. SAMHSA defines integrated care as “the systematic coordination of general and behavioral healthcare.” Or, simply put, treating the mind and body at the same time.

Integrated care involves bringing behavioral/mental health care into the treatment plans of physical health care – and vice versa. Providers work together to treat patients, sharing information and devising plans while taking the entire patient in to consideration. This type of care can take the shape of different types of practices including:

Across the country, practices are shifting toward integrated care models and patients are beginning to reap the benefits. Here in Colorado, the State Innovation Model (SIM), the Transforming Clinic Practices Initiative (TCPi), and others are working to ensure that residents statewide are getting the mental and physical care they need. Finally, integrated care is helping these patients live longer, happier lives.