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7 Ways We Can Address Our Mental Unwellness This Year

January 02, 2019
Hopefully, you found some “happiness, health, and heart” over the holiday season, as our Ron Manderscheid, PhD, recommended in his holiday blog. Even so, we still have a lot to work on in 2019. Just look at the math as gleaned from a variety of studies covering mental unwellness. Our public prevalence of mental illness, which includes substance use disorders, is slowly increasing, apparently to over 20% of our population, with special concern for the opioid epidemic. Our mental health professional caregivers seem to have an even higher prevalence of clinical depression and related disorders than the public. Significant life trauma is already present in 60% of adolescents, and about 8% of those seem to have full-blown Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Our mental health professional caregivers’ rate of burning out seems higher than the public, with that of psychiatrists around 50%, depending on how it is measured. Physicians, including psychiatrists, have higher rates of suicide than the public. Especially in recent years, increased xenophobia and related prejudices are adding to the psychological distress of various populations. Most of the public and mental health caregivers are not asking for, nor receiving, potentially helpful treatment. Putting all this together, we have rising rates of psychological distress in the public, topped by even higher rates in professional clinicians. Adding estimates together of full-blown psychiatric disorders, burnout and xenophobia gets us in the range of 30-50% of the public, while it gets to about 50-70% of professionals, including administrators. We know that quality of care suffers when we caregivers are burning out or suffering other mental distress. Therefore, we have a setup for a worrisome feedback loop: increasing patient distress calls for more mental healthcare, but distressed caregivers can’t provide as they are potentially able to, resulting in more unrecovered patients needing more mentally healthy caregivers. We could be called a mentally unwell society, could we not? What, then, can we do to make these numbers start going down? Much of the opportunity is actually outside of our primary purpose in society, which is the treatment of our patients. First, let’s continue to take as good care of our patients as possible. Continue to educate the public about the advantages and opportunities to come for treatment, which will in turn help to reduce stigma. Pay increased attention to the mental well-being of all staff. Consider using scales of measuring racism, burnout, resilience and depression on an ongoing basis to measure wellness in staff, but without negative consequences for self-disclosure. Engage and empower staff, which is the biggest antidote to burnout. Advocate politically for more mental healthcare resources. Make a New Year’s resolution to work together on these challenges. Let’s check back at the end of 2019 to see how we’ve done.
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