What Every Doctor Needs to Know About Mental Health
Mental health issues are complex and deeply ingrained in our culture, so much so that they often go undetected by the doctor’s clinic, and when they do, are not always correctly treated.
A large number of people are affected by mental health issues each year, but too many doctors don’t take their symptoms seriously enough, or don’t know how to properly treat them with medication and therapy.
Learn more about mental health treatment and what you can do to help your patients with this blog on what every doctor needs to know about mental health.
Mental health issues can make you sick
Not just depressed or anxious, but physically sick. According to statistics from WHO, nearly 450 million people suffer from mental health issues each year.
That is more than 8% of the world’s population.
And in addition to making us miserable, they can also make us sick by increasing our risk for heart disease and diabetes.
There are common causes behind both physical and mental illness like diet and stress levels that we can address with positive lifestyle changes, which is good news because it means these conditions are reversible. Let’s take a look at some of them below..
But let’s go back to why doctors need to know about mental health because it helps. If a patient comes into your clinic complaining of fatigue, muscle pain and a mood disorder, you might order blood work and prescribe medication for anemia or depression.
But what if you could treat both your patients anemia and their mood disorder with lifestyle changes? That would be more efficient (and more profitable).
But how do you approach a topic that makes many people uncomfortable? As always, keep reading.
How do doctors recognize symptoms?
Doctors look for key behavioral symptoms, such as sleeping patterns and appetite changes, and emotional symptoms, such as thoughts of suicide or paranoia.
Keep in mind that most people with mental health conditions are not violent or aggressive, they are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
Additionally, researchers know that certain types of psychosocial factors increase risk for violence.
These include living in a community where there is a high degree of neighborhood disorder or stress and having limited access to social support networks through family, friends, or community organizations.
Educating yourself about your risk factors will help you prevent future problems with substance abuse or other forms of self-harm by giving you insight into what could happen if you don’t seek help.
More than half of people who need help don’t get it
In any given year, nearly half of all Americans ages 18 and older experience a mental illness.
And at least one in five people will develop a serious mental illness at some point in their lives.
Yet studies suggest that only about 56 percent of those affected receive treatment or counseling.
This is partially due to misconceptions surrounding mental health it’s not all in your head, it is a diagnosable brain disease and partly because some people believe that seeking professional help means they are weak or there’s something wrong with them.
But just as heart disease doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, race or socioeconomic status, neither does mental illness.
It can affect anyone at any time for a variety of reasons. That said, certain groups are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder than others.
Women have higher rates than men, blacks have higher rates than whites, low-income individuals tend to have higher rates than high-income individuals.
Likewise young adults between 18 and 25 years old are twice as likely as seniors over 65 years old to report having experienced an episode of major depression within the past year.
The good news is that when you know what signs to look for and where you can get help you can take steps now so you don’t become part of these statistics yourself.
Doctors are afraid to raise the issue
According to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, doctors’ reluctance to broach mental health concerns with their patients is a major contributor to misdiagnosis.
The number one barrier? Doctors are afraid that discussing such issues will negatively impact their patient’s relationship with them.
It makes sense, then, that many people who need help don’t get it because they either are not aware of mental health resources or don’t feel comfortable speaking up about it.
Therefore, doctors should be educated about these barriers and offer patients a list of reputable organizations where they can turn for help.
This way, if you are feeling depressed or anxious, you would not have to go through it alone.
Instead, you can speak to your doctor about how best to proceed and he or she can even refer you directly to a professional if necessary.
The prescription pad is not enough
The high rates of mental illness in America come as no surprise the World Health Organization (WHO) says that 10% of worldwide disability is due to mental health problems.
And yet, many people with serious mental illnesses don’t get treatment because insurance companies often make it difficult for them.
These individuals are often turned away from a medical doctor’s office and not given access to a psychiatrist, who could help ease their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
One out of every five adults has experienced some form of depression during their lifetime, but few seek professional help, those who do only receive half an hour per visit.
As such, physicians need to be trained in how best to handle those suffering from different forms of mental illness and be open about working with patients’ therapists or psychiatrists.
How can patients help?
If you think you may have a mental health issue, it can be a great idea to talk about your worries with friends and family.
It is better for them to hear about your concerns from you than for them to find out that something is wrong like when you self-harm or become suicidal and they are left worrying why they didn’t do more.
If nothing else, having someone there who knows what is going on will give you some relief and support in case anything goes wrong.
The same goes for loved ones of people who are struggling. Don’t ignore signs that something is not right.
If you suspect someone close to you has a mental illness, say something. You might save their life and remember: if you need help yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for it. You’re not alone and things can get better.
GPs have a vital part to play in tackling this crisis
A recent survey by Mind revealed that more than half of people (56%) who visited their GP (General Practitioner) with a mental health problem had been advised to take a prescription drug.
This figure rises to two-thirds for people who are feeling suicidal. Yet, antidepressant drugs don’t work like ‘magic pills’. They have significant side effects and can take up to six weeks before they start working, if they do at all. Most important thing is that doctors should know about prescribing antidepressants and other medications for mental health problems.
It will take more than prescriptions
The role of a doctor is to prescribe medication and therapy to improve a patient’s quality of life.
However, when it comes to mental health, there is often more that can be done by your healthcare professional.
In fact, some doctors are taking a step back from their prescription pads and discussing mental illness with their patients in order to get them on track for healthy recovery.
This means giving patients tips for managing stress in their day-to-day lives and encouraging them not only about what they should do but also how they can set boundaries that will help prevent future episodes from occurring again.
Doctors have an opportunity to play a key role in helping their patients lead healthier lives and ultimately, recover faster.
But it takes more than just handing out prescriptions, doctors need to look at all aspects of mental health and make sure they are getting everything right.
If you suspect you or someone you know may have depression or another type of mood disorder, make sure you ask your doctor if he or she has experience treating these conditions so that you can receive top-notch care.
In order for a doctor to better help patients with mental health conditions, he or she needs training that is updated and focused on current best practices.
Many doctors are already on board with this kind of education, studies show that about half of all medical schools in recent years have included an optional course on behavioral medicine, which often has a heavy focus on issues like stress management and addiction treatment.
And according to Dr. Richard Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, most doctors learn more about mental health during their residencies which typically last three or four years than they did during med school.
The takeaway? Your doctor probably knows more than you think about treating your mental health symptoms and coming up with appropriate solutions.