Why talk to a therapist? I can handle my own problems.
The simple answer is that everyone needs help at one time or another. Many times we can handle our problems. But life can be difficult, particularly at major transitions like divorce, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one. When those situations arise, it takes courage and insight to ask for help. Many people find that psychotherapy, like physical therapy, provides necessary support, skill-development, and encouragement after a medical or emotional trauma. Others are looking for help with their relationships, with parenting, or with managing depression, anxiety, addictions, or low self-image.
Therapy is not a temporary fix. By giving people new relationship tools, by teaching them to redirect harmful thoughts or behaviors, it empowers them to face future challenges and avoid lapses or triggers.
What does it mean to have a mental illness?
Mental illnesses are health conditions that disrupt a person’s thoughts, emotions, relationships, and daily functioning. They are associated with distress and diminished capacity to engage in the ordinary activities of daily life. Mental illnesses fall along a continuum of severity: some are fairly mild and only interfere with some aspects of life, such as certain phobias. On the other end of the spectrum lie serious mental illnesses, which result in major functional impairment and interference with daily life. These include such disorders as major depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, and may require that the person receives care in a hospital. It is important to know that mental illnesses are medical conditions that have nothing to do with a person’s character, intelligence, or willpower. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illness is a medical condition due to the brain’s biology.
Similarly to how one would treat diabetes with medication and insulin, mental illness is treatable with a combination of medication and social support. These treatments are highly effective, with 70-90 percent of individuals receiving treatment experiencing a reduction in symptoms and an improved quality of life. With the proper treatment, it is very possible for a person with mental illness to be independent and successful.
Who does mental illness affect?
It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 adults in America, and that 1 in 24 adults have a serious mental illness. Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, income, social status, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or background. Although mental illness can affect anyone, certain conditions may be more common in different populations. For instance, eating disorders tend to occur more often in females, while disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is more prevalent in children.
Additionally, all ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable. Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, with 75 percent of mental health conditions developing by the age of 24. This makes identification and treatment of mental disorders particularly difficult, because the normal personality and behavioral changes of adolescence may mask symptoms of a mental health condition. Parents and caretakers should be aware of this fact, and take notice of changes in their child’s mood, personality, personal habits, and social withdrawal. When these occur in children under 18, they are referred to as serious emotional disturbances (SEDs).
What causes mental illness?
Although the exact source of mental illness is not known, research points to a mix of genetic, biological, psychosocial, and environmental factors as being the root of most conditions.
Since this combination of causes is complex, there is no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, you can reduce your risk by practicing self-care, seeking help when you need it, and paying attention to early warning signs.
What are some of the warning signs of mental illness?
Symptoms of mental health disorders vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. The following is a list of general symptoms that may suggest a mental health disorder, particularly when multiple symptoms are expressed at once. In adults:
Long-lasting sadness or irritability
Extreme highs and lows in mood
Excessive fear, worrying, or anxiety
Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
Strong feelings of anger
Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there)
Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Thoughts of suicide
Denial of obvious problems
Many unexplained physical problems
Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
In older children and pre-teens:
Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
Excessive complaints of physical problems
Defying authority, skipping school, stealing, or damaging property
Intense fear of gaining weight
Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death
When healing from mental illness, early identification and treatment are of vital importance. Based on the nature of the illness, there are a range of effective treatments available. For any type of treatment, it is essential that the person affected is proactive and fully engaged in their own recovery process.
Many people with mental illnesses who are diagnosed and treated respond well, although some might experience a return of symptoms. Even in such cases, with careful monitoring and management of the disorder, it is still quite possible to live a fulfilled and productive life.
What should I know before starting a new medication with my Doctor?
The best source of information regarding medications is the physician prescribing them. He or she should be able to answer questions such as:
What is the medication supposed to do?
When should it begin to take effect, and how will I know when it is effective?
How is the medication taken and for how long?
What food, drinks, other medicines, and activities should be avoided while taking this medication?
What are the side effects and what should be done if they occur?
What do I do if a dose is missed?
Is there any written information available about this medication?
Are there other medications that might be appropriate? If so, why do you prefer the one you have chosen?
How do you monitor medications and what symptoms indicate that they should be raised, lowered, or changed?
All medications should be taken as directed. Most medications for mental illnesses do not work when taken irregularly, and extra doses can cause severe, sometimes dangerous side effects. Many psychiatric medications begin to have a beneficial effect only after they have been taken for several weeks.
What’s the difference between a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a psychotherapist, and a social worker? Each of these professionals can provide mental health services, but there are important differences in what they provide. Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD) who have received extra training in psychiatry. Psychiatrists can diagnose mental health issues, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and prescribe any necessary medication. Although a psychiatrist can provide therapy, typically they focus on diagnosis and medication. Psychiatrists will often refer their patients to counselors for therapy. Psychologists usually hold a PhD in psychology (but at minimum a Master’s degree is required). They can also diagnose mental health issues, but they cannot prescribe medication. Some will do counseling. Many are involved in research and may specialize in one or more specific areas, such as trauma or development. Social workers come in two varieties: clinical and community. Community social workers are what most people think of when they hear the term. They may work with local family and children’s services institutions providing case support, delivering assessments, developing policy, etc.
Clinical social workers are counselors. They provide therapy to individuals, couples, and families. A practicing clinical social worker will have a Master’s degree (MSW). They must be licensed to practice and cannot prescribe medication. Psychotherapists are also counselors. They must hold a Master’s degree in psychotherapy and be licensed to practice. Like psychologists and social workers, they must be licensed and cannot prescribe medication.
Information provided by: The Kim Foundation: "Raising awareness through education, outreach and advocacy"
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