“Mental illness is a global problem that affects all of us: we have an invisible elephant walking up and down the halls of schools, colleges, and workplaces.” —K.K. Sinha

One in five U.S. adults will suffer from mental illness in their lifetime—and many will not receive the care they need to lead fulfilling, productive lives. According to Professor K.K. Sinha, the answer to this epidemic may lie in a simple business principle: establishing a balance between supply and demand.

“As a researcher, I try to understand healthcare as a product, and I try to understand what drives it,” he says.

With millions of individuals suffering in silence, researchers have yet to predict the appropriate scale and distribution of mental healthcare resources required to treat this population.

“It’s difficult to forecast demand for mental health conditions, because mental health is invisible. Only when something goes tragically wrong does the patient get attention,” says Sinha.

And for the portion of sufferers who do seek help, high-quality mental health care remains largely out of reach. In some parts of the country where psychiatrists and mental health specialists are hundreds of miles away, patients consult their primary care doctors—who are admittedly ill-prepared to treat mental health disorders. “

“While on one hand primary care clinics are a great avenue for providing access to mental health care, one needs to recognize that physical and mental health care delivery are sort of oil and water—they don’t mix,” he says. Consequently, alternative health care delivery models are under development to increase access to more cost-effective care spanning physical and mental health.

In a recent study, Sinha and David Zepeda, a Carlson School Ph.D. alum and assistant professor at Northeastern University, tracked anonymous patients receiving care for depression at primary care clinics across Minnesota over a two-year period. Based on treatment the patients received, the researchers were able to track their progress.

Sinha hopes future research can examine patients’ outcomes in the longer-term, trends in alternate geographic regions, and nuances among other mental health disorders.

“We must create this awareness that it’s all right to have a mental health condition and to come forward and seek care—it helps us make a true demand forecast,” says Sinha. “We must provide an ecosystem of care that allows people to reach out for help.”

Watch Sinha further describe his findings:

 
“Towards an Effective Design of Behavioral Health Care Delivery: An Empirical Analysis of Care for Depression”
Zepeda, E. David; Sinha, Kingshuk K. Production and Operations Management (forthcoming)