Mental Health Matters: Integrating mental and physical health care

February 21, 2020

Mental Health Matters: Integrating mental and physical health care

By Alan Neushwander, West Michigan CMH

For decades, health care was looked at as treating a person from the neck down. West Michigan Community Mental Health (WMCMH) realizes the importance of a whole-person approach to health care, treating patients from their head to their toes.

When WMCMH received federal designation as a Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic at the end of 2018, integrating physical and mental health services became an essential part of providing positive health outcomes for our patients. We started offering physical health screenings and assessments to provide patients with an understanding of their overall health and to create a plan for them to achieve optimal health. We took our efforts one step further this year when we signed an agreement with Northwest Michigan Health Services, Inc. on February 3 to open a primary care clinic at the West Michigan CMH office in Ludington. The clinic is open to anyone who needs a primary care provider, but also provides fully integrated behavioral and physical health care to CMH patients.

Research has shown that adults with serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders have a higher rate of chronic physical illnesses and have a shorter life expectancy than the general population, living on average 13 to 30 years less than those without a behavioral health condition. The vast majority of these deaths are due to untreated and preventable chronic physical medical conditions such as cardiovascular, respiratory and infectious disease, diabetes and hypertension, which come from poor health habits such as physical inactivity, poor nutrition and smoking. In addition, many psychiatric medications have side effects that can lead to weight gain and lethargy. 

Another factor that leads to physical health challenges for those with mental health concerns and substance use disorders are the barriers they face to primary care. People with behavioral health issues do not receive the same quality of physical health care as the general population nor do they have the same level of access to care. 

Not only is it possible for mental health issues to lead to physical health problems, those who neglect their physical health can increase their risk of developing mental health problems. 

The answer to the problem is creating an integrated care model that coordinates physical and behavioral health care to meet a patient’s needs in a single setting. Gone are the days when mental and physical health were thought of as separate. At West Michigan CMH, we are leading the effort to create a person-centered approach to integrated health care that focuses on mental and physical health through our partnership with Northwest Michigan Health Services, Inc., physical health screenings and assessments, increased access to psychiatric services, tobacco cessation classes, and weight loss/physical activity classes. 

West Michigan Community Mental Health is the public behavioral health care provider in Mason, Lake and Oceana counties. We provide services to any resident who seeks care. To learn more about our services, call 1-800-992-2061 or visit

Alan Neushwander is the Communications and Public Relations Manager at West Michigan Community Mental Health. He can be reached at (231) 843-5440 or email

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