How we think, feel, and behave affects how we move in the world and manage our lives. Much attention is paid to our physical well-being, but our emotional and mental states are equally important. Whenever life’s challenges significantly affect or alter how we deal with our daily lives, it is worth taking a closer look.
Sometimes struggles with thinking, feeling, and behaving might be signs of slowing down or changing how we deal with something. Other times, chronic challenges that make it difficult to function and relate to others daily might be a sign of a mental health disorder.
Mental health disorders, also known as mental illness, affect one in five people in the U.S. each year, and one in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness yearly, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Mental illnesses include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Substance use disorders (SUDs)
Of these, anxiety, depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder are prevalent among the U.S. population, NAMI reports.
Signs of Mental Health Disorders
Physical pains, such as headaches, stomachaches, and back pain, can be signs of a mental health disorder. But other signs affect one’s mental state. According to the Mayo Clinic, among these are:
- Cloudy thinking or struggles to concentrate
- Feeling “down in the dumps,” or sad
- Feeling fear, worry, or guilt
- Low energy, extreme tiredness
- Problems sleeping (going to sleep or staying asleep)
- Increased isolation from loved ones
- Mood swings
- Challenges handling daily stress, challenges
- Detachment from reality (delusions)
- Paranoia, hallucinations
- Changes in sex drive
- Changes in eating habits
- Abusing addictive substances (drugs, alcohol)
- Explosive anger, history, violence
- Suicidal thoughts, suicidal ideation
This list is not exhaustive, but it gives an idea of the signs one can encounter while dealing with a mental health disorder. The kind of disorder and the circumstances under which they occur can determine the signs and symptoms a person can experience.
Treating Mental Health Disorders
Mental health treatment is available, and ideally, everyone who needs it should be able to receive it. However, as the data shows, this is not the case.
According to data that NAMI cites on its website, one study found that the average delay between the start of a mental health disorder and a person receiving treatment for it is 11 years. In 2018, less than half of adults in the U.S. received treatment for mental illness in 2018, and just 64.1 percent of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment that same year.
Mental illnesses can range from mild to severe, but they are treatable with various therapies in different settings. Therapists, counselors, psychologists, mental health aides, nurses, and peer-support professionals are all qualified to help people address mental health disorders and provide proper guidance for a person based on the individual’s specific needs.
Mental health treatment is effective when it is tailored to the person who is receiving it. It is best to treat a mental health issue as soon as possible. Leaving it untreated runs the risk of the person not being able to function healthily or, in some cases, not all.
As one Sun-Sentinel news article shows, mental illness can have severe effects on the person experiencing the mental disorder and the people around them. In some cases, the issue can be deadly.
As mentioned earlier, there are different types of settings for mental health treatment.
Inpatient Mental Health Treatment
Intensive, 24-hour mental health treatment occurs in a residential facility for people who have severe mental illnesses. This setting is also ideal for patients who need around-the-clock supervision because they require medical care or other needs.
On-site mental health treatment, also known as inpatient treatment, involves monitoring and care from professionals who can administer medicines and ensure residents eat properly, get the proper hours of rest, and attend their therapies. People in residential treatment for mental illness can also receive:
- Individual therapy
- Group Therapy
- Recreational therapies
Outpatient Mental Health Treatment
People who receive outpatient mental health treatment services do not require an on-site extended stay at a residential facility because they can manage their disorder independently while living at home or another residence. Instead, they visit a facility for a specific number of hours during the week. This kind of treatment setting is ideal for people who have a mild-to-moderate disorder who have a strong support system as they receive treatment.
Outpatient mental health treatment provides:
- Partial hospitalization
- Intensive outpatient care
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy
- Family therapy
- Intensive outpatient care (requires more hours than standard outpatient care)
- Support groups
- Partial hospitalization
- Medicine management
Dual Diagnosis Treatment
Many people who have a mental disorder also have a substance use disorder. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that 9.2 million adults in the U.S. had a mental illness and a substance use disorder in 2018.
Having both is known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis, and effective treatment for a dually diagnosed person must address both disorders at the same time. If not, the individual is at risk of overdosing on addictive substances, such as drugs and alcohol, and they also could aggravate their mental health condition. Treating both conditions helps the client maintain sobriety and help improve their ability to manage daily life.
Psychotherapy For Mental Health Disorders
Psychotherapy is used to treat many mental conditions and is offered in residential and outpatient treatment programs. A mental health professional can best determine which ones would be beneficial to a person based on several factors that are unique to their medical and mental health history and other specifics of their situation. Psychotherapies widely used in treatment programs for mental health disorders include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely used therapy that helps treat various disorders, including those involving substance misuse. The psychotherapeutic approach teaches people how thought and behavior are connected and that becoming aware of counterproductive, negative, or erroneous thinking can help people change their responses and behaviors to address the challenges that they face in a healthy manner. CBT is also versatile as it can be used in various settings, whether the sessions are with an individual, groups, or families.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This therapy is used to treat borderline personality disorder and other mental health disorders. It aims to help people accept their unhealthy thoughts, behaviors, and emotions and work to find a balance between self-acceptance and change.
Interpersonal therapy encourages patients to work on challenges in their relationships. It also teaches interpersonal and communication skills that allow them to improve their connections to others. This approach can benefit people who are in couples counseling or those with depression who need to build their empathy skills as they relate to others.
Medications Used in Mental Health Programs
Not everyone who is receiving treatment for mental illness will require medication. However, some people will be prescribed medicines along with psychotherapies and other supports they receive as part of their program. Many medications can be used for this purpose, but the ones widely used in these programs include:
Antidepressants treat symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions. There are at least seven kinds of antidepressants, according to Drugs.com, but the most common ones include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). SSRI antidepressants increase levels of serotonin within the brain, while SNRIs boost serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain by blocking or delaying the reuptake process that affects the nerves, writes Drugs.com.
People who have anxiety disorders might be prescribed medications to help them manage their stress, panic attacks, insomnia, and other distress. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for these conditions, but they are designed for short-term use, usually no more than two weeks. People who are considering benzodiazepines to treat mental illness are advised that these medications are habit-forming and addictive. Consult with your doctor about the risks and concerns you may have. Non-habit-forming anti-anxiety medications can also be used to help people with anxiety disorders.
These prescription medicines are used to treat symptoms of psychosis, which include confused thoughts, delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. People who have schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders are prescribed these medications. People with bipolar disorder may also benefit from them as they can help regulate manic episodes.
People with bipolar disorders and related mood disorders might be given mood stabilizers to help regulate their moods, which can shift between highs (mania) and lows (depression).
If you or a loved one has a mental illness, know that you are not alone and that enrolling in a mental health treatment program could be just the answer you need to change your life. Treating mental illness requires time and patience, as most conditions are complex and may require multiple treatments and approaches to address effectively. You might have to try different options for medications and therapies before finding the one(s) that work best for you.
You are encouraged to seek treatment for a mental disorder as soon as you can, even if it appears mild or minor. You don’t have to wait for feelings of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic disorder, and other disorders to worsen before you seek help.
You can also meet regularly with a mental health professional, such as a therapist, psychologist, or counselor, who can help you manage your thoughts and behaviors and recognize any changes that you notice. You can also ask a professional for resources you need if you are concerned. You do not have to face your challenges alone. If you need help, seek it today.