Why it’s important to integrate mental health into primary care

Explore the value of collaborative care through the offering of mental health services in primary care settings

In the United States, it’s estimated that one in five adults lives with a mental illness. Despite this prevalence, nearly 55% of those adults do not receive treatment and 42% reported they do not receive treatment because they are unable to afford it. [1,2] 

One of the leading solutions to solving the lack of access to mental health services in America is integrating mental health into primary care settings. Join us to learn more about mental health in primary care and how it can provide such immense value to patients in need.   

What is primary care mental health integration?

Primary care encompasses a variety of health services that cater to the prevention, wellness, and treatment of personal health care needs by a doctor or nurse practitioner whom you’ve established a trusted, long-term relationship with. Primary care physicians also often take responsibility for coordinating additional care for you with specialists. 

Although primary care tends to a wide variety of care needs, it does not commonly include mental health care, but there is much evidence that it should. Many leading providers and health care innovators are advocating for behavioral health services to be offered in primary care settings, which includes services such as mental healthcare, psychiatric care, marriage and family counseling, and substance abuse treatment. [3]

What are the benefits of integrating mental health into primary care?

There is a strong, direct link between the prevalence of mental and physical illnesses. Oftentimes, people with chronic physical pain or diseases like diabetes and cancer develop mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. The same is true for the opposite. People with anxiety and depression often develop physical ailments such as chronic pain, inflammation, and weight loss or gain. 

With the well-documented link between the mind and body, it’s become clear that whole-person behavioral health care is extremely beneficial to patients. When your physical, mental, and emotional needs are all cared for in one place, you’re more likely to improve your health in all areas of your life. 

Overall, integrating mental health into primary care settings improves the affordability, accessibility, and acceptance of mental health care: 

  • Accessibility: Many patients may solely and most easily access health care through their primary care provider, especially in low-income and rural areas. In that case, it’s essential for patients to be met with mental health care at the office of their primary care physician.
  • Affordability: With 42% of adults with any mental illness not accessing treatment because it’s too expensive, improving the affordability of mental health care is vital. [2] By integrating mental health care into primary care, patients would only be met with a copay for one primary care visit instead of multiple visits to a number of different doctors through referrals to psychologists and psychiatrists.
  • Acceptance: Acceptance of mental health care is another huge reason to integrate it into primary care. In fact, a systematic review on the impact of stigma on the likelihood of people to seek mental health treatment found that stigma was among the top five reasons that the over 90,000 participants in the studies from around the world avoided getting treatment. [4] Most people believe in and heed the advice of their primary care provider because it’s someone they know and trust from their community. With this in mind, providing mental health services in primary care settings means patients in need will be more willing to discuss their mental health issues and accept treatment, effectively reducing stigma. 

What are the roadblocks to being able to integrate mental health care into primary care? 

With such immense and clear benefits, it can be difficult to understand why mental health care isn’t commonly integrated into primary care, but there are certain roadblocks to the integration being implemented in a widespread and safe manner.

First and foremost, mental health care requires detailed training and ongoing education for those who provide it to their patients. Although treating mental health issues is within the competency of primary care nurse practitioners per their National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) training, it’s important that primary care physicians and nurse practitioners are supplied with more in-depth training and education to ensure they provide their patients with the best mental health care possible. [5]

Additionally, the healthcare system as a whole, and primary care physicians more specifically, have been incredibly strained since the COVID-19 pandemic with many already burnt out primary care physicians entering into early retirement. Recent reports expect the U.S. healthcare system to be faced with a shortage of 21,000 to 55,000 primary care physicians by 2033. [6] With less and less primary care physicians available in an already strained system, it can be challenging to ask overburdened doctors to take on even more by providing mental health care to their patients. 

How can mental health care be integrated into primary care? 

Despite the limitations and challenges posed by required training and physician shortages, integrating mental health care into primary care is a real possibility that is already being put into place by forward-thinking companies and clinicians. 

With the right funding and training, primary care practices and clinics can set up systems that allow their providers to treat patients for mental health issues alongside physical health problems. By providing this type of integrated behavioral health care, patients will be happier and healthier, strengthening both their individual health and the health of their communities. 

How is WeCare tlc integrating mental health care into primary care?

Through our partnership with Agno Health and other custom mental health care offerings, our team at WeCare tlc is committed to providing integrated mental and behavioral health services to our patients and their families at our primary care clinics across the country. 

“At WeCare tlc, we are committed to providing whole-person care to our patients,” shares Raegan Le Douaron, President & CEO. “Through the partnership with Agno Health, we’re able to expand our team-based care model by having mental health professionals work side-by-side with our doctors and nurses to diagnose, treat, and counsel our patients.” 

As part of our commitment to cater to the unique needs of each of our clients, we can provide other custom mental health solutions in our health centers based on need and desire. For example, we hired a psychiatric nurse practitioner to offer management and therapy services for one of our clinics and utilize a direct partnership with a community therapist for another clinic.

If you’re an existing WeCare tlc health center patient, reach out to your clinical team directly to learn more about the mental and behavioral health care services available to you. 

Ready to create a healthier workforce for your company? Get in touch with us today to learn how. 


1: National Institute of Mental Health | Mental Illness 

2: Mental Health America | The State Of Mental Health In America

3: InSync Healthcare Solutions | Behavioral Health vs. Mental Health | What’s the Difference

4: Cambridge University Press | What is the impact of mental health-related stigma on help-seeking? A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies

5: The Journal for Nurse Practitioners | Primary Care and Mental Health: Overview of Integrated Care Models

6: Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) | The Complexities of Physician Supply and Demand: Projections From 2018 to 2033