Mental Health Month was first marked 70 years ago by Mental Health America. This year’s theme, #4Mind4Body, aims to help people understand how their lifestyle affects their health. The organization suggests “finding the right balance – between work and play, the ups and downs of life, physical health and mental health – to benefit both the mind and body, for everyone.”
This year’s observance arrives at a critical time as the country faces a year-round mental health crisis.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 16.1 million adults in the United States experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. Additionally, many experts agree there are not enough practicing mental health professionals to care for everyone who needs help.
Mental health advocate Michael B. Friedman in a September MedPage Today article, outlined the elements of what he calls a “mental health apocalypse”:
- 60% of people with diagnosable mental disorders do not get treatment.
- In most parts of the U.S., the capacity to treat people with mental illness is simply inadequate.
- Access to available care is often limited by cost, distance, office hours, stigma, etc.
- Suicide is on the rise – up 20% since the turn of the century while homicide has declined by more than 10%. Yet, reasons to be hopeful outweigh even the significant challenges.
Yet, reasons to be hopeful outweigh even the significant challenges.
A Breakthrough Year in Mental Health Advances
2018 saw an incredible number of advances in mental health research and treatment that should bring optimism.
- Written exposure therapy (WET), a treatment during which patients write about their specific traumatic event over five sessions, was found to be as successful in treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) patients as cognitive processing therapy (CPT), a widely accepted treatment that takes 12 weekly therapy sessions.
- New research found that both poor sleep quality and depressive symptoms were associated with increased functional connectivity involving multiple regions in the brain. Identifying these underlying associations has implications for the treatment of depression and poor sleep quality.
- Researchers have found that by leveraging existing electronic health record data and advancements in statistical modeling, it is possible to significantly improve the prediction of death by suicide and suicide attempts over conventional self-report methods alone.
- A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that reducing time spent on social media to 30 minutes a day reduces the risk of depression and loneliness.
- A rapid form of brain stimulation was found to be successful in treating Treatment-Resistant Depression.
- Previously under-researched drugs such as ketamine, marijuana, and ecstasy were reviewed as potential treatments for anxiety and depression, among other mental health concerns, and found to be promising. In fact, the FDA recently approved esketamine for treatment-resistant depression and brexanolone for postpartum depression.
Improving Depression Remission Rates through Pharmacogenomics
The GeneSight® test has contributed to advances in treatment for depression. In fact, earlier this year, the results of the largest mental health pharmacogenomic clinical study were published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research.
The study found that patients whose clinicians used the GeneSight Psychotropic test to guide their treatment experienced a 50% improvement in remission rates and a 30% increase in response rates at week 8 compared to treatment as usual. Additionally, symptom improvement in the GeneSight test-guided group trended toward significance at week 8 compared to treatment as usual. In fact, when patients who were on a genetically sub-optimal medication were moved to a genetically optimal medication (as identified by the GeneSight test), there was a 153% improvement in remission rates compared to patients who remained on genetically sub-optimal medications.
Mental Health Month Is Time to Celebrate Treatment Advances
These advances are cause for celebration. Sharing information about new treatments and research raises awareness that there is new hope for patients to experience remission from their mental conditions.
Accordingly, we recommend getting involved in helping raise awareness and reducing stigma associated with these illnesses.
First, you can download the official 2019 Mental Health Month Toolkit, which includes social media posts, outreach ideas, and additional resources to share.
There are also many mental health nonprofits and other organizations that offer Mental Health Month activities, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
And, you can make a difference on your own. You can be a good ally, advocate for care, and take a stand against stigma. You can share available resources to someone you think may be struggling, like online depression screening.
As Mental Health America is advocating, you can find your balance, and be “fit for your own future.”