NatCon17: Surgeon general advocates prevention efforts
Medication-assisted treatment and recovery services work, but in order for the U.S. population to reach its full health potential, behavioral health and addiction treatment providers need to go on the offensive, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, told attendees at the National Council for Behavioral Health Conference on Tuesday in Seattle.
“If we solely look at problems through lens of treatment, we won’t get where we need to go,” Murthy said.
Early in his term as surgeon general, Murthy engaged in a listening tour in communities across the country, and he said the stories he heard gave him a better understanding of the toll mental illness and addiction have taken on families. During a Q & A session at NatCon, Murthy advocated prevention programs, saying they are both cost-effective and under-utilized currently. One example he cited was the Good Behavior Game, a classroom behavior management program designed to prevent substance use disorder in a high-risk group by rewarding children for staying on task during instructional times. Murthy said there is a $64 return on every dollar invested in the program.
Murthy also spoke at length on the role communities can play in supporting emotional health in individuals. Murthy noted that in the 1980s, 20% of U.S. adults reported feeling lonely, a statistic that has soared to 40% today. Chronic stress and isolation put individuals at a higher risk for premature mortality, as well as heart disease and dementia. Digging deeper into substance use disorder, Murthy cited chronic stress as an emotional factor that can heighten risk.
To that end, Murthy strongly encouraged NatCon attendees to pursue initiatives that strengthen communities and drive conversations about mental health and substance use disorders, using science and research to educate the general public and change outdated narratives in the public discourse.
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International research has shown the Good Behavior Game to be an efficient method for reducing off-task behaviors in the classroom, as well as increasing prosocial skills, while long-term follow-ups have indicated positive effects on a wide range of health issues.
As Yamhill-Carlton Elementary School third graders worked on math problem, teacher Kourtney Fjelland watched not only how well they were handling fractions, but also how well they were behaving. Most were concentrating, cooperating, focusing on their work and staying in their seats. In other words, they were exhibiting the good behaviors students themselves suggested and agreed upon earlier in the year, also as part of the PAX Good Behavior Game.
“We are asking students to change a belief system without changing the situation around them.”
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