Mental illness affects millions of people in the United States. According to recent statistics, almost 45 million people, one in five American adults experience mental illness each year. Children are affected as well, with about 13 percent of those between ages 8 to 15 experiencing a severe mental disorder at some point during their lives.
Despite these sobering statistics, mental health disorders often go unmet. In 2016, only 43 percent of adults with any type of mental illness received treatment, and fewer than 11 percent of adults with substance abuse disorders received treatment.
Other than financial considerations, such as inadequate health insurance, stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. People battling mental health disorders often face rejection, bullying and discrimination. Part of that has to do with the long-standing notion that there is no parity between the importance of receiving medical care and mental health treatment. But as the public becomes more informed about the importance of getting mental health treatment, the stigma is slowly beginning to change for the better.
What are the Major Causes of Mental Health Disorders?
The mainstream medical community recognizes more than 200 classified types of mental illness but the five major categories are:
There is a whole host of reasons why individuals experience mental health disorders. Genes and family history may play as much of leading cause as stress or a history of abuse, especially when it occurs during in childhood.
Mental health issues can be caused by chemical imbalances or traumatic injuries to the brain. Sometimes, substances introduced during pregnancy can be toxic and devastating. Fetal alcohol syndrome is one such example that can result in brain damage and growth problems.
Outside of genetic, accidental or self-induced causes of mental illness, life in general is getting more stressful as recent statistics are clearly bringing to light the extent of stress and anxiety issues in the U.S. adult population.
Anxiety disorders alone affect approximately 40 million Americans ages 18 years and older each year ― 18.1 percent of the population every year.
Trying to recognize the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy. There’s no easy test that can let someone know if there is mental illness, or if actions and thoughts might be typical behaviors of a person or the result of a physical illness. Each illness has its own symptoms, but common warning signs of mental illness in both adults and children can include:
- Excessive worrying or fear
- Feeling excessively sad or low
- Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
- Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
- Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
- Avoiding friends and social activities
- Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
- Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
- Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
- Changes in sex drive
- Difficulty perceiving reality ― delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist in objective reality
- Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality
- Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
- Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes, such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”
- Suicidal thoughts
- Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
- An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness
How the Stigma Toward Getting Help for Mental Illness Is Changing
The COVID-19 pandemic does have a silver lining when it comes to mental health treatment. Millions are self-isolated at home, trying to work while managing a household, and dealing with uncertainty and grief. To some degree, everyone is experiencing what life with anxiety is like. This includes those in management, who are dealing not only with their employees’ stress but also their own. Though depression is already the number one cause of disability worldwide, COVID-19 is prompting more open discussion about mental health in the workplace.
Social media influencers are also opening up in public about their experiences with COVID-19 and how they are being personally affected by a new world order of mask wearing, social distancing and the grief of losing friends and family to a largely unpredictable disease.
The coronavirus crisis is making it clear that mental health is just as important as physical health for overall well-being. First responders, and citizens alike, are dealing with a host of problems contributing to stress, grief and depression due to lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), caring for patients who are dying of COVID-19, and the depression of social isolation or unemployment.
Mental health treatment is gradually becoming less stigmatized as the sheer numbers of people now dealing with previously undiagnosed anxiety and depression comes to light. There is more empathy to see the 1 in 5 Americans living with mental health disorders as people with their own stories to tell, rather than just another person with a disorder.
Part of this acceptance starts with education and knowing the facts about mental illness ― that it’s not about personal weakness or lack of character but factors that are many times out of the control of the individual.
Just like any other health issues, mental health needs to be taken care of. However, until recently there were impediments keeping people from getting treatment that went beyond stigma. The enormous power wielded by the health insurance lobby was one such impediment in their refusal to provide coverage for mental health disorders.
Things are starting to change for the better. One indication that the problem is starting to become less stigmatized and taken seriously is the protections provided by the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Coverage Parity laws. As of 2014, most individual and small group health insurance plans, including plans sold individually on the marketplace are required to cover mental health and substance use disorder services.
As attitudes toward treating mental illness evolve, standard treatments still need some catching up to do. Prescribed medications are still the go-to solution for treating many mental health disorders. For example, anti-anxiety medications include benzodiazepines, such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam (Ativan) ― drugs all carrying the risk of addiction. In addition, other side effects, such as drowsiness, poor concentration, and irritability are known to be common.
CBD as a Treatment Option
Natural remedies for the treatment of anxiety have been around for a long time, mostly in the form of a combination of diet, exercise and herbal supplements containing chamomile, kava kava, lavender and the like.
The natural approach toward treating some mental health disorders has its proponents and detractors but the fact is they still don’t have the research dollars that Big Pharma provides for the study of prescribed medications.
Hemp-derived CBD oil, however, is different in that research is starting to demonstrate its efficacy for a range of physical and mental health disorders. In one study, CBD was shown to be helpful for decreasing anxiety at doses between 300 mg and 600 mg. CBD has also demonstrated promising results in treating chronic pain and inflammation, both common sources of anxiety and depression.
One of the main benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) as a treatment option is safety. Other than drowsiness, there have been no reports of overdose with cannabinoids or the addictive dangers of prescribed medications.
New Trends in Mental Health Treatment
As the stigma of mental health illness lessens, new trends adopting technological tools and holistic mental health treatments, such as diet and exercise approaches are emerging.
Millions of Americans surf the internet to shop, read news or to connect with family and friends on social media. But the same technology is offering a practical way to provide people living with mental illness with helpful resources.
The internet makes it easy to connect with health care professionals accessible from the home or office. Web-based interventions can be accessed through chatrooms, email, and video office visits via webcam. Open forums also allow people who share common experiences with mental illness to connect online, confirming what research is suggesting about the positive impact of social connection on psychological wellbeing.
Smart phones offer users access to hundreds of virtual treatment resources via apps utilizing methods adapted from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a highly effective treatment for a variety of mental illnesses including depression and anxiety disorders.
Instead of carrying around a notepad, the app allows users to log their thoughts as they occur in order to monitor flawed thinking. Once thoughts are logged, users can evaluate what is untrue, unrealistic or unfair about each thought process.
Science confirms the correlation between physical and mental health. Although maintaining a healthy physical lifestyle alone may not provide sufficient treatment for mental disorders, there are habits one can easily implement into daily schedules that provide benefits for mental health maintenance.
A recent study reports that regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial in preventing a range of mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in salmon and tuna, may help reduce levels of protein beta-amyloid, involved in forming plaques in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
If the numbers are any indication, meditation is hugely popular. About 18 million people in the U.S. and between 200 million and 500 million people worldwide meditate regularly.
A comprehensive study in 2012 reviewed over 250 other studies on meditation, investigating 45 years of research on a diverse range of meditation techniques and how they influenced both mental and physical health. Results point to meditation as an effective practice for cultivating positive psychological health.
Another recent study of college students showed a significant reduction in anxiety levels and an increase in concentrated attention, as compared to the students who did not meditate.
Some scholars believe yoga has been practiced for at least 5,000 years. While the timeline may be debatable, today’s devotees are discovering the many wellness benefits yoga provides.
Researchers found that of the 1,045 yoga practitioners surveyed between the ages of 19 and 87, the majority reported improvements as a direct result of yoga:
- Energy- 84.5 percent
- Happiness- 86.5 percent
- Social relationships- 67 percent
- Sleep- 68.5 percent
The more participants practice yoga, the higher their odds of reporting that yoga improved their mental and physical health.
Support groups have been shown to have a therapeutic effect, as they foster connections between people who can relate to one another through their shared experiences with mental illness. Often, the experience of feeling understood and accepted by peers helps people to feel less isolated.
The ability to communicate openly, and with fear of judgement, about frustrations and challenges associated with mental illness is emotionally beneficial. Support groups also give members the opportunity share effective techniques for managing symptoms and communicating what therapies work and those that are less effective.
Those suffering from mental illness are still being stigmatized by people who view them not as individuals with an illness but rather as a problem that society has to “deal” with, further supporting the stigma that many face in getting treatment.
Today, many are turning to newer, holistic treatment techniques and finding support in technological advancements that promote positive social connections. People battling mental health disorders are also looking for natural remedies and the benefits provided by CBD as a safer alternative to prescribed medications.
As more people share their stories about the toll mental illness is taking on their lives, it is hopeful that their combined voices will help destigmatize getting treatment for many of these debilitating disorders.