While it’s not breaking news that mood disorders like depression are not treated as they should be, but new evidence shows that numbers may be even more alarming than anticipated.
Not only do we see Americans not seeking treatment once they receive a diagnosis, but those who do seek treatment may not even find the right treatment they need. Beyond the general stigma surrounding mental illness, there is also a disconnect in how to treat it.
The problem stems from receiving a diagnosis, but not actually taking action. You would think that once you can put a name to your feelings, you would want to help alleviate them. But it’s not that easy. Maybe it’s a disbelief that they have a problem. Or lack of awareness of what treatments are available. We can’t draw a specific conclusion on what the factors that create this disconnect, but we can at least recognize it and do our best to provide the tools and education for everybody that encourages them to take charge of their health and well-being.
Depression certainly isn’t a rare occurrence, but is the most widespread of all mood disorders. With this in mind, you might think with such a common disease, medical professionals would learn how pinpoint more effective treatments, or at least start somewhere and go from there. I completely understand that certain treatments don’t work for everybody. It usually takes a combination of therapy and medication to help out, but there is no one magic treatment to lean back on.
The medications themselves are vast. I hear people talk of horror stories as they first experiment with different prescriptions to find the best one for them, usually involving a wide array of side effects. I’m lucky that the only real change I had to make was the size of my dosage, but I still had several days of light-headedness and migraines. Not to mention digestion issues, which I was not expecting.
Knowing about side effects was what originally drew me away from that method of treatment, as it does for many people. Or people stop treatment due to unpleasant symptoms before anything is in full effect. It takes almost a month for most antidepressants and medications to start working to their fullest capacities. Again, it seems to always come back to the idea that if the disorder is mental, we can just handle it naturally and call it good. But for many people, it’s just not enough. Especially if the depression is genetic and chronic, coming from certain chemical imbalances, therapy can only go so far until your own biology takes over.
According to the CNN article, certain groups are more likely to avoid any treatment, including ethnic minorities and men. Again, probably stemming from an avoidance of feeling weak and helpless. But accepting and using treatment is one of the greatest signs of strength. It means you know your limitations and are brave enough to face them head on rather than letting them wreak their havoc. The steps are so simple, yet they make such a lasting impact on everyday life. Even on my bad days, I can at least recognize when I’m feeling especially low and can better appreciate my higher days. Before, I was in a constant fog, not really knowing how I felt. Just numb.
Another factor into this equation is the healthcare system. People who cannot afford therapy and medication, even if they want it, have no access to it. They don’t even have a true chance to help themselves. And then we blame these people with mental illness for societal problems without addressing the main underlying problem: not helping them. I’d rather not get too political, but we can’t expect everyone to magically feel better if they truly need expensive counseling and medications to feel sane. Their economic status probably causes them even more stress, worsening any symptoms they have. And chances are that these people don’t have access to the education and information they need to know in order to understand their conditions. Depression and mental illness can and does affect anybody. Only when we have the correct tools to fight it can we make a difference.
So how do we go about solving this problem? We need greater access to mental health services, including more of them in insurance plans rather than out-of-pocket costs. This means prescriptions, counselors, psychiatrists, the works. Healthcare providers should also allow patients to take brief mental health screenings to better understand their symptoms and diagnose any conditions. We ultimately can’t treat anything if we don’t actually know what it is we’re treating. And treatment for diagnosed disorders needs to be consistent and long-term, as they are never just a quick fix. Communication with health professionals is key.
We have certainly improved and expanded our mental health methods, but we have a long way to go. Anybody who starts therapies for mental illness usually wish they had started them earlier when they make such a huge difference. I know I feel that way. But now all I can do is stress to others just as impactful simple steps can be and hope healthcare catches up. Depression isn’t leaving us any time soon, and especially in our stressful society, it will probably only get worse from here. So let’s start making some progress toward a brighter future.
Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie