In the popular imagination, mental illness is something unusual. Maybe that’s why people diagnosed with mental health issues so often feel ashamed. But according to a study published in 2017, almost all Americans experience a mental health diagnosis at some point during their lives. Only 17% manage to avoid mental illness their entire lives. It’s time we start conceiving of mental illness as common—not something that happens to other people.
So what’s behind this epidemic? And what can we do about it? Future Now Detox is leading the way, offering comprehensive mental health treatment that can sustain a lifetime of wellness.
Mental Illness: A Common Experience
Media discussions of mental illness often frame it as something that happens to other people. But research consistently makes clear that mental health diagnoses are part of the normal continuum of human experience. Life is difficult, and the challenges of life’s daily struggles can lead to mental health issues.
For some people, the challenges are short-lived. About 42% of people experience a short-term mental health condition that disappears with treatment. For about 41% of the population, however, mental health diagnoses are a chronic, relapsing problem. They may get better, then get worse. This can pose a barrier to effective treatment. Like other relapsing disorders, it’s not uncommon for mental illnesses to temporarily get better on their own, even without treatment. Yet when they come back, they may be more aggressive than before. Likewise, sometimes the first line of treatment doesn’t work. Taken together, these two facts can convince people with mental health issues that treatment doesn’t work. This serves as a treatment deterrent.
So we know that most people experience a mental health diagnosis at least once. What about in a given year? Consider the following:
- Anxiety is the most common mental health affliction, affecting 40 million adults, or 18% of the population, in a given year.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects 2.5% of adults and 9% of adolescents each year.
- Bipolar disorder affects 2.6% of adults and 9.8% of adolescents each year.
- Depression affects 11.4% of adolescents and 6.6% of adults each year.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 1.2% of adults each year.
- Schizophrenia and related disorders affect about 1% of the population in a given year.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder affects more than 7 million people annually.
It’s important to note that mental health conditions are risk factors for both addiction and for other mental health conditions. For instance, a person with depression who experiences a traumatic event is significantly more likely to develop PTSD, to cope with the trauma using drugs or alcohol, or to experience worsening depression. This is why prompt identification of the symptoms of mental health issues, as well as appropriate treatment, are so critical for public health.
Who Develops Mental Health Conditions?
Anyone can develop a mental health condition. These disorders are not limited to a specific “type” of person. Moreover, most people with a mental health diagnosis do not outwardly display symptoms. Many work to actively conceal the pain they experience. This is a significant reason why it’s so easy to think of people with mental illness as “other people” rather than correctly realizing that they are our friends, family, and ourselves.
Some people are at greater risk of mental health issues than others—due to a combination of difficult life circumstances, genetics, and other factors. Researchers do not yet fully understand mental health, so it’s impossible to give an accurate assessment of why one person develops a mental illness when a similar person does not.
Consider the following data from the National Institutes of Mental Health:
- Women are more likely than men to have a mental illness, with 21.7% of women and 14.5% of men developing a mental illness each year. This may be because women more readily seek treatment or share their symptoms. It could also be due to other factors, such as stressful life circumstances, sexism, or hormonal shifts due to pregnancy.
- Young adults ages 18-25 years are more likely than any other group to have a mental illness.
- Biracial people have the highest mental illness rate, at 26.5%. Asians have the lowest rate of mental illness, at 12.1%. American Indians/Alaska Natives have the highest mental illness rate of any single group, at 22.8%. There is no evidence that this is due to innate characteristics. It may be due to a combination of racism, life circumstances, and other as-yet-identified factors. These disparities are different in other cultures. For instance, African-Americans have a relatively high rate of mental illness in the United States, while people in most African nations have some of the lowest mental illness rates worldwide.
- Nationwide mental health statistics are getting worse. Youth depression has skyrocketed over the last decade.
We also know that people with difficult lives are more likely to have a mental illness. That mental illness can then further compound difficult circumstances, making it difficult to escape:
- About half of homeless adults, and 26% living in shelters, have a mental health diagnosis.
- 70% of children incarcerated in juvenile justice facilities have at least one mental health diagnosis.
- About 20% of prisoners have a recent mental health history.
- People living in poverty are more likely to have a mental illness.
This paints a bleak portrait of our nation’s mental health. Some analysts are quick to dismiss these numbers as the product of over diagnosis. Others claim that mental illness is the result of flawed thinking. Compelling scientific data suggests otherwise. Mental illnesses are real health conditions. And just as our contemporary lifestyle of fast food and sugary snacks has led to an epidemic of cardiovascular disease, it’s likely that a host of lifestyle and societal factors play a role in today’s mental illness epidemic. Humans did not evolve to spend their lives in misery. Understanding what’s at the core of mental illness is key to treating it.
What Causes Mental Illness?
Research into the causes of mental illness is still in its infancy. We do know that people are more likely to develop a mental illness when they have certain risk factors. More risk factors generally equate to a higher risk. However, it’s impossible to predict a person’s risk based solely on risk factors. Someone with many risk factors might never develop a mental illness, while someone with no mental illness risk factors might still develop significant mental health issues.
Some risk factors for mental illness include:
- Addiction. Addiction alters the brain, and can increase vulnerability to mental illness. It may also lead to stressful life circumstances that can trigger depression and anxiety. Mental illness is also a significant addiction risk factor, with as many as half of people with an addiction having a co-occurring mental health condition.
- Traumatic life circumstances or histories, particularly in childhood. People who suffered child abuse, rape, trauma, and other life traumas and stressors are more vulnerable to mental illness. These traumas can change the brain, priming for mental illness.
- Genetic vulnerability. Certain genes are correlated with a significant increase in the risk of mental illness. Researchers have not discovered all genes associated with mental illness, however, and even people with genes correlated with mental illness may not develop mental health issues.
- Family history. A family history of mental illness may indicate a person has a genetic vulnerability to mental illness. Growing up with mentally ill people can also change the way the brain responds to stress, and model coping tools that eventually make mental illness more likely.
- Having an ongoing chronic illness. Chronic illnesses can change the brain. They are also stressful, and may lead to depression, PTSD, and similar diagnoses.
- Being a member of certain minority groups. Women and many racial minorities are more vulnerable to mental illness. This may be due to the stressful effects of discrimination. Research has not found a biological explanation for the prevalence of mental illness among minorities. Instead, studies suggest that this disparity is likely due to racism, sexism, and life stress.
Another important risk factor for mental illness is delaying treatment. When mental illness goes untreated, it tends to get worse. It can also cause painful life circumstances—divorce, addiction, job loss—that make it more difficult to cope, and that are themselves linked with a heightened risk of mental illness.
There’s also some evidence that societal factors may play a role. People lead increasingly stressful and disconnected lives. They may not have supportive communities or families, and personal reputation is increasingly important. This means that people with mental health woes may not have the support they need, and may fear the consequences of seeking help. This may be why mental illness rates are higher than the United States than in most nations, and why worldwide mental illness rates continue to increase.
Though researchers don’t fully understand the causes of mental illness, they know one thing for sure: mental illness is not a character flaw. It’s not something a person causes, or that they can pray away or otherwise cause to disappear by thinking their way out of it. Mental illness is like many other illnesses, such as diabetes or arthritis: the causes are complex and varied, but the fundamental disease is a real disease, and is not the ill person’s fault. Mental illness, like other illnesses, requires treatment.
Mental Health Stigma: A Treatment Deterrent
Despite overwhelming evidence that mental illness is a real illness, that it is not a character failing, and that it is highly treatable, many people with mental illness grapple with stigma. Stigma can come in the form of:
- Judgment or discrimination. For example, a person might be denied a job because of a mental illness.
- People who do not believe that mental illness is real.
- Shaming people with mental illness.
- Treating mental illness as a personal or even a religious failing.
- Insurance refusing to cover mental illness treatment.
Mental health stigma ruins lives. It makes people think their mental health woes are their own fault. And it makes mental illness worse by causing people to delay treatment. If someone you love has a mental illness, you can avoid stigmatizing them by:
- Treating them as a competent, intelligent person capable of making their own decisions.
- Not telling them that mental illness is not real, or that they don’t need medication.
- Not shaming them for their mental illness.
- Treating mental illness as no different from other illnesses.
When people feel understood and respected, they are more likely to seek treatment, and more likely to get better quickly. Stigma hurts. Fighting stigma heals.
The Mental Illness-Addiction Link
About half of people who have a mental illness also have an addiction. This is called a co-occurring disorder, or a dual diagnosis.
Dual diagnoses makes treatment more difficult. It’s not enough to treat only the addiction or only the mental illness. Instead, treatment must focus on treating both issues, and addressing the way they interact. For instance, a person with depression may get significantly more depressed when they go through withdrawal. Without tackling the underlying depression, forcing them to quit drugs or alcohol can actually do more harm than good.
In some cases, mental illness medications are themselves addictive. For example, ADHD is often treated with stimulant drugs that can become heavily addictive. The depression that often accompanies chronic pain may only relent with opioid pain relievers. Only by treating mental illness and addiction as an interconnected whole can addicts truly get the help they need. So what does that process look like?
- Identifying any and all mental health conditions. Some mental illnesses are misdiagnosed, so it’s important to get a comprehensive assessment.
- Helping a person in recovery understand their triggers for use. Addressing those triggers with medical support and lifestyle change can reduce their power.
- Balancing the need for treatment against the realities of addiction. Some mental illness medications may be inadvisable for people with addictions. A skilled medical team can help with choosing the right treatment.
- Providing comprehensive therapy that helps addicts address all facets of addiction and mental illness: trauma, stress, lifestyle issues, family concerns, and making substantive lifestyle changes that make it easier to remain sober.
- Group support from other people who have been there—and ideally from other people with a dual diagnosis, who can offer hope, words of wisdom, and the profound reassurance that one is not alone.
Many People Don’t Get Appropriate Treatment
The great tragedy of both mental illness and addiction is that most people with these devastating conditions do not get appropriate treatment. Consider the following data:
- Many people with PTSD receive incorrect treatment. Prolonged exposure therapy, which can help many people with PTSD, can actually make things worse for veterans with the condition. Yet many facilities that specialize in treating veterans’ PTSD continue to use it.
- Just 1 in 10 people with anxiety receives proper treatment for the condition, and only about 1 in 4 receive any treatment at all.
- Just 11% of people addicted to drugs or alcohol receive any treatment at all. An even smaller fraction receives comprehensive, evidence-based treatment.
- Nearly 15% of adults with a mental health condition are uninsured. Inability to pay for treatment is the leading reason why people do not seek treatment for mental health issues. In some states, as many as 1 in 4 adults with a mental health issue are uninsured.
Left untreated, mental illness ruins lives and destroys families. It also exacts a significant society-wide toll. Mental health care costs about 60 billion dollars annually in the United States alone. Untreated mental illness reduces productivity and drains other resources, including law enforcement resources. Lost productivity alone drains $100 billion from U.S. resources. Other factors likely cost billions more.
What Does Effective Mental Health Treatment Look Like?
Future Now Detox is proud to offer comprehensive, holistic addiction treatment that can simultaneously address co-occurring mental health conditions. All too often, addiction treatment facilities treat mental health as a secondary issue. Some are not equipped to treat it at all. Others take a modest, non-aggressive approach. We think that’s the wrong way.
Addiction and mental illness are aggressive, chronic diseases. They are also treatable. Even people who suffer immensely can recover and lead wonderfully meaningful and satisfying lives. That’s our goal. We build our treatment program around treatment protocols that research shows work. Here are some of the most effective strategies for treating mental illness and addiction:
- Therapy: Therapy helps people understand their thoughts and feelings, empowering them to change their behavior, reshape their relationships, and resolve a lifetime of trauma. We offer a range of treatment options, including family and individual therapy. We find that psychodrama can be particularly effective because it allows patients to resolve painful emotions in a safe and supportive setting.
- Medical treatment: Doctors must work with patients to identify any and all underlying medical conditions, and define healthy treatments. For instance, a person with chronic pain should generally avoid opioids, since these drugs are addictive. Many other treatments can be vastly more effective.
- Group support: There’s power in knowing you’re not alone. Support groups allow addicts to benefit from the hard-won wisdom and life experience of others.
- Family involvement: Families committed to a loved one’s recovery can create a supportive, nurturing environment that inspires, rather than undermines, recovery. Family therapy is an invaluable tool on the journey to wholeness.
- Lifestyle changes: Exercise, better eating, and changing your habits can all help. Therapy supports people in recovery to make positive lifestyle changes.
- Nutritional support: Gut health is extremely important to people in recovery. A balanced diet can mean the difference between an easy recovery and one that feels impossible.
- Complementary therapies: Therapies that restore the body to optimal health can address many of the underlying causes of addiction, including stress and chronic pain. Future Now Detox offers a range of holistic modalities, including auricular therapy, vibroacoustic therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic care, and more.
Our society is facing a mental illness epidemic. Future Now Detox is on a mission to end this plague once and for all. We believe we can bring forth a day where no one struggles alone with addiction or mental health.