Monday, 22 August 2016

3 things everyone needs to know about mental health

Are you or is someone you love suffering from a mental health condition? Some information you need to know.­

Last week I attended a seminar on mental health and mood disorders. As this is an area I focus on in my practice I was very much looking forward to hearing all the latest research and clinical applications. However, walking out the door at the end of the day there was one thing prioritising my thoughts. That one thing is the importance of education. Yes, all aspects of education are important but what I am actually referring to is the education of our community when it comes to mental health.

The three main things I feel need to be emphasised are:

1. How common these conditions are.

2. The huge variety of treatment options available.

3. The detriment of not seeking help when you need it.

Mental health is a huge umbrella under which many disorders are placed. The most common include:

·      Depression
·      Anxiety
·      Substance use disorders

How common are these disorders in Australia?

I myself was astounded to hear that Australia has the second highest rate in the WORLD of antidepressant prescriptions per capita, and this is increasing by about 25% each year.

Between the years 2012-2013 anti-depressant prescriptions increased by 96%.

Nearly half the population (45%) will experience a mental health disorder at some stage in their lives.

Over 25% of Australian adults report high levels of anxiety and/or depression.

35% have a significant level of distress in their lives.

26% have above normal levels of anxiety symptoms.

26% have moderate to extremely severe levels of depression symptoms.

In 2015 the number of Australians living with anxiety was higher than ever before.

Depression is one of the most common conditions in young people and increases during adolescence.

At least one third of young people have had an episode of mental illness by the time they are 25 years old.

Are antidepressants the only treatment option available?

The huge rise in antidepressant prescriptions is most shocking but what is even more concerning is the number of our youth being put on these medications. The medication on its own is only a small part of the concern but my main worry is why so many of our youth need these types of medication. More than that many clinical trials have found these medications to only have moderate superiority to placebo and they do not reduce suicidal tendencies. 

This is why I believe it is essential for people to be aware of the multifaceted approach necessary when it comes to mental health. What I mean by this is that anti-depressant medications are not the only option and that their efficacy can be greatly improved when combined with other treatments. The human body is hugely complex and simply focusing on the brain means we may be missing many other contributing factors when it comes to mental health.

Research has found that several factors can actually change the brain structure making a person more prone to mental illness. Stress is a large contributing factor, which can result in neuronal death and structural changes in the brain.

Some other factors that have been shown to contribute to poor mental health include:
·      Neurotoxic substances
·      Inflammation
·      Poor nutrition
·      Challenging life events
·      Loneliness

This shows how multi factorial mental health treatment should be as it should be addressing all of these factors.

Apart from medication, other essential treatments for boosting mood and enhancing brain function include:

·      Adequate nutrition
·      Physical activity
·      Adequate sleep
·      Meaning and purpose in life
·      Social connections
·      Natural treatments such as herbal medicine, nutritional supplements and flower essences.

Why it is so important you seek help.

If you find yourself struggling with stress or anxiety on a regular basis you should do something about it. What seems like a normal way to be in today’s society may actually be changing your brain structure in a negative way that makes you more pre-dis
posed towards other mental illnesses. This is why it is so important to seek help as soon as possible. The longer you delay it, the more damage that may be occurring within your body, the longer it will take to reverse (to whatever extent is possible), the more reliant you may be on medication and the worse your symptoms will get. Don’t delay seeking help as you think ‘I can cope with this for now’ or ‘ill get help if it gets worse’ as by the time it gets to that stage so much more damage may have occurred. Possibly all you will need are some dietary and lifestyle modifications at the beginning but if you leave it too long, medication or more serious treatments are much more likely to be required. I am particularly passionate about supporting our youth as many of these conditions begin in adolescence. If correct support is given to these teens it reduces the likelihood that they will be reliant on medications and will teach them better coping mechanisms that can be employed for the rest of their lives.

One more thing that I think really needs to be emphasised is that mental illness and especially asking for help is absolutely not a sign of weakness. The more we learn about mental health, the more it is discovered that it is caused by many physiological changes in the body that are often not within the individual’s control. What is a sign of strength is actually having the courage to say to someone I NEED HELP. That is the scary part, that is the part that shows you are bigger than your problems and that it the part that means you are willing to put in the work required to change.