Mental health month highlights the need for treatment
President Trump has declared May 2017 National Mental Health Awareness Month, noting his commitment to work with the Department of Health and Human Services to improve mental health services for Americans in need of mental health treatment. In the United States, approximately 1 in 5 adults is diagnosed with a mental health disorder each year. Commonly discussed mental health disorders include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, autism spectrum disorders, eating disorders and substance use disorders. Other less talked about mental health disorders include neurocognitive disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders and sexual disorders. For many mental health disorders, symptoms most often present by late adolescence or early adulthood and persist over time.
Mental health disorders are quite common and, when left untreated, can have a deleterious effect on different areas of functioning. Symptoms often disrupt a person’s mood, which, in turn, affects how one thinks about and perceive what is happening in the world around him/her. In addition, a person’s mood influences how he/she feels and interacts with others, which then affects interpersonal relationships and impacts social support. Symptoms of these disorders can also affect occupational functioning and impede a person’s ability to fulfill duties and roles both at work and at home.
Fortunately, many of these symptoms can be treated effectively. Studies have consistently replicated that psychotherapy has successfully treated mental health disorders and aided in improving the quality of life for those who have sought treatment. Different types of therapy are effective for targeting specific symptoms of disorders. For example, Cognitive Behavior Therapy is helpful for treating the cognitive distortions associated with depression. Dialectical Behavior Therapy teaches skills such as mindfulness and distress tolerance aimed at regulating emotions for those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Exposure therapy has led to clinically significant improvements in those with anxiety and trauma-related disorders. In conjunction with psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, i.e., prescription medication, can be highly effective in treating symptoms of mental health disorders.
Unfortunately, mental health disorders often go untreated because of the stigma associated with diagnosis and treatment. Even with the media attention and campaigns intended to help stop the stigma related to having a “mental illness,” many people are still reluctant to seek treatment for such disorders. Unlike with medical disorders, some people suffering from mental health disorders feel an overwhelming responsibility to get better on their own and may erroneously view the need for therapy as a sign of weakness or failure. For some who choose to seek treatment, insufficient insurance reimbursement and the high cost of psychotherapy has led them to seek psychotropic medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication through primary care physicians, as opposed to seeing a psychologist, psychiatrist, and/or mental health counselor who specializes in mental health disorders.
Because most people are either directly affected by a mental health disorder or know someone who has been significantly impacted, it is imperative that national mental health awareness be improved and openly discussed. Asking questions, listening, and providing resources are helpful ways of contributing to the increased awareness of such disorders. If a mental health disorder is suspected, the first response needs to be to seek an evaluation by a professional who specializes in identifying and treating these disorders. For more information about resources, visit the website of the United States Department of Health and Human Services at mentalhealth.gov or the American Psychological Association at apa.org.