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Mental health, cancer among top concerns found in Long Island health survey

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Mental health, cancer among top concerns found in Long Island health survey


Worries about mental health and cancer are among the top concerns on the minds of Long Island residents, according to preliminary results from an ongoing survey.

While mental health, depression, and suicide were listed as the top issues among Suffolk County respondents in their neighborhoods, cancer topped the list in Nassau. Residents in both counties were also anxious about heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and substance abuse.

These were some of the early results from the Community Health Assessment Survey, which asks about residents’ health concerns and those of their community. The Long Island Health Collaborative — a partnership that includes several area hospitals, health departments, and providers — compiled the findings based on roughly 400 survey responses.�

Experts say the results point to the rise of mental health issues and the lack of available providers, and also reflect the realities of Long Island’s higher cancer rate compared with the rest of the state.

     WHAT TO KNOW

  • A recent survey showed the top health concerns on Long Island include mental health and cancer.
  • The survey showed that residents are interested in more education and screenings on those topics.
  • Physicians say prevention in the form of screenings and a healthy lifestyle is the best advicethey can give residents worried about cancer.

Still, physicians hoped to take those unsettling thoughts and turn them into action, from providing better cancer screening education to helping residents live a healthier lifestyle.

Dr. Richard Barakat, physician in chief and executive director at the Northwell Cancer Institute, said the analysis shows that cancer is a real concern.

“To me, what this does is it says, ‘OK, we hear you. This is what you need to do; you need to modify your risk factors for cancer,” he said.

While the collaborative is still collecting results, already, the preliminary findings are illuminating.

When respondents were asked what health issues required more screenings or education in their community, the top response was mental health screenings at roughly 32% in Suffolk.

Cancer, with about 24% of the picks, was the second-highest response, according to the survey, which allowed respondents to have multiple responses to the question.

Barakat said better treatments for certain cancers don’t necessarily quell people’s concerns. And, in some cases, he said, the concerns are warranted, particularly as the Long Island population ages.

Breast cancer, for example, is more common on Long Island than in the rest of the country, he said. The incidence rate of breast cancer among females from 2018 and 2020 was about 170 per 100,000, according to the state. On Long Island, the rate was roughly 190.

And in New York, the all cancer incident rate per 100,000 was roughly 585 between 2018 and 2020, state data showed. Long Island’s rate in that same time period was nearly 664.�

Barakat said there is action that residents can take. Nearly 50% of cancers, he said, are preventable through lifestyle changes such as better eating, exercising and smoking cessation. He also noted the importance of getting screened for cancer to detect it earlier.

“But at the end of the day,” he said, “prevention is the best.”

When Dr. Manish Sapra learned that mental health was featured prominently in the preliminary findings, he was not surprised.�

“We are seeing in our communities a growing need for mental health services,” said Sapra, executive director of behavioral health services with Northwell Health. “We have seen increased visits to our emergency departments [and] increased calls to our outpatient departments.”�

Reasons for the recent rise in mental health concerns include social isolation from the coronavirus pandemic as well as social media. But there is a positive side: the reduction of stigma.�

“It used to be a more of a private affair … because of the stigma associated with mental health,” Sapra said.�

But even with the increase of people willing to talk about their mental health struggles, there is also a lack of providers to offer them care, physicians say.

“The supply and demand is … very skewed at this moment,” said Dr. Nikhil Palekar, vice-chair for ambulatory clinical affairs at Stony Brook Medicine. “So there’s a huge demand, but there’s just not enough boots on the ground,”

Palekar said, in particular, there is a lack of specialized mental health clinicians on eastern Long Island, sometimes leaving patients an hour to drive to appointments. Some providers, he said, won’t accept certain types of health insurance — creating another barrier to care.

Northwell has programs that include bringing mental health care providers into other specialties and to several schools on Long Island. At Stony Brook Medicine, many primary care physicians are screening all patients for suicidal ideation and anxiety.�

Yet there remain “real-life barriers to receiving care,” Palekar said.�



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