Mental Health Treatment

Mental Health Treatment

Current research suggests that mental illness comes about through a combination of genetics and environment. Some mental illnesses seem to run in families, with many people falling prey to the disease generation after generation, but some people seem to avoid the illnesses. It could be that they weren’t exposed to just the right trigger to bring the disease about, or it could be that they received one mutant gene from one parent, and that mutation had a protective effect. More research on this is ongoing.

According to an article published in the online journal World of Psychology, these are the most common mental health disorders affecting Americans today:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse disorders
  • Impulse control disorders
  • Mood disorders

In some cases, these disorders appear during adolescence, and their symptoms are dramatic and hard to ignore. In other cases, these disorders appear late in life and are ignored or passed off as a “normal” consequence of aging.

Risks of Avoiding Treatment

Left untreated, mental health disorders can have a huge impact. People who have untreated mental illnesses may lose their jobs, become homeless, see their doctors for unrelated problems or enter the criminal justice system. According to NAMI, the cost of untreated mental illness in the United States is more than 100 billion dollars each year.

Suicide is also a serious risk for people who have mental illness. When people do not receive the help they need, they may begin to feel hopeless and helpless, and suicide seems like a realistic method to use to make the pain stop. According to an article published by the University of Washington School of Social Work:


  • Two to 15 percent of people with depression die of suicide.
  • Three to 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder die of suicide.
  • Six to 15 percent of people with schizophrenia die of suicide.
  • People with personality disorders are three times more likely to die of suicide than people who do not have the disorders.

Sadly, many people who contemplate suicide see their doctors for help before they commit the act, and in those visits, they don’t get the help they need. According to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, 51 percent of the people who had committed suicide had seen their doctors within the previous month. It’s clear that people knew something was wrong, but perhaps they didn’t have the vocabulary to express their mental state clearly and directly.

mental health treatmentDoes Treatment Work?

Many people continue to believe that people with mental illnesses are doomed to live a life of gloom and despair. The fact is that therapy is often quite effective in helping people recover. NAMI reports that 70 to 90 percent of people who seek help for their mental illnesses have a significant reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life when they’re able to access the proper type of therapy.

It’s important to point out that mental illnesses cannot be truly “cured.” Mental illnesses are considered chronic conditions that must be managed throughout the person’s life. There’s no real way for doctors, therapists or pharmacists to stop a mental illness from returning. But, therapies can help the person keep symptoms under control. Through therapy, people with mental illnesses can return to work, have meaningful relationships, raise children and live fulfilling lives. Some people may have to take medications and participate in therapies for the rest of their lives in order to achieve this success, however. The proper treatment often involves three steps: learning, empowerment and acting.

People who have mental illnesses need to learn more about their conditions. Often, this is considered the primary role of the patient/doctor relationship. In therapy sessions, doctors talk at length with the person and uncover thought patterns that might be contributing to disease. The therapist also explains why certain thoughts or patterns of behavior are simply part of the disease process. People who are diagnosed with diabetes often go through the same process with their doctors. Since they’re expected to manage the disease, they need to know how the disease works, and develop strategies to help them control the disease on their own. People with mental illnesses also need this sort of training.Medications may also play a role during this learning process. The person might be asked to take medications to ease symptoms, and then as the medications begin to take hold, the person might be asked to rate how well those medications are working. Medications for mental illness can be given in a wide range of dosages, and the patient and the doctor must work closely together to find the right level. The patient must also learn why these medications are so important, and why they must adhere to the therapy. This is an important lesson, particularly for people who will need to remain on medications for the rest of their lives in order to keep their diseases under control.

Sometimes, patients choose to stop treatment when they have learned the fundamentals and have begun taking medications. According to a study published in the journal Medical Care, 22 percent of people leave their treatment programs prematurely. It could be that these people feel better and simply don’t feel as though they need any more help. It could also be that people stop participating in treatment due to other issues.

A study in the Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that facilities are shortening inpatient stays for mental illness. Between 1990 and 2000, the median length of stay declined by 63 percent. For many people, a visit to an inpatient program begins their mental health treatment. When that program ends, they may mistakenly believe that they are healed. If that treatment program is quite short, the patients may not have developed the skills they need to help them complete subsequent recovery steps. In fact, they may not believe they need any more treatment whatsoever. These people are at risk for a relapse or an augmentation of their mental illness.

Final Thoughts

Treating mental illness in this stepped-up approach may be time consuming, but it’s certainly worthwhile. People who have these devastating diseases need help in order to improve, and programs that allow them to understand the disease, take charge of it and then help others may be just the right sort of help they need. Unfortunately, not all programs offer this sort of help. In fact, according to another study published in the journal Medical Care, only 35 percent of people studied received both counseling and medications. It’s unclear how many of these people were even offered support groups. Since care discrepancies are this wide, families need to examine each option carefully before they choose a mental health provider. There’s a lot on the line here, and families need to make sure they receive the right sort of help at the right time.

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