Wait and see makes mental illness worse.


By David Joel Miller.

Have you been putting off getting help for an emotional problem?

Mentally Ill Child

Mentally Ill Child

Some problems go away on their own if you just let them be others do not. Mental illness or emotional issues are not problems that benefit from delaying treatment. The majority of mental illnesses begin much earlier than we thought. Half of all those who get diagnosed with a mental illness have those symptoms by age fourteen.

Three out of four people who will develop a mental or emotional illness will have symptoms by age 24.

As early as the end of the third grade, eight years of age, we can already identify students who are at high risk for mental illnesses, emotional problems and a future of substance abuse, dropping out of school and ending up in jails and prisons.

The conventional wisdom has been that you should not give in to an emotional problem.  The truth is that walking around on a broken leg makes the damage worse. The earlier that cancer is detected and treated the better the prognosis.

Early detection and treatment of mental, emotional and behavior problems results in a reduction in illness severity and saves lives and futures.

A whole lot of mental and emotional disorders turn up in a severe enough condition to get diagnosed way earlier than we used to think. The myth of childhood being all happy times has not proved to be true for a lot of children.

That does not mean that parents caused all these early onset mental or emotional problems. We are still a long way away from knowing precisely why one person gets an illness and another does not. Current theories tell us that most of this are the result of the interaction of risk factors and environmental factors. Every time a cell divides there is a risk of mutation. Genetics play a role. So too does early experiences and learning. Trauma can rewire the brain.

Whatever the cause, early identification and treatment is superior to the wait and see attitude.

So what disorders are most likely to show up and at what ages?

These are lifespan issues. Preschool children get seen by medical doctors, primarily for developmental issues. Failure to eat or eliminate as others or walking and talking issues get recognized early on.

By age 6 anxiety symptoms are noticeable. Some children outgrow the shyness; some get more withdrawn as they age. Hoping they will grow out of anxiety is a risky approach.

At age 11, Behavior disorders, acting out, disruptive behavior and ADHD start getting diagnosed.

Beginning in the teen years, about age 13, mood disorders become more recognizable. Some of the children who were being given behavioral diagnosis get their code change to a mood issue as the symptoms of depression or Bipolar disorder become clearer.

Some small number of children will get their diagnosis changed from Depression to Bipolar once they have the first manic or hypomanic episode. No mania or near mania and they should not be getting labeled bipolar no matter how moody they are. Reduced need for sleep and pressured driven behaviors also point in the direction of bipolar disorders.

The number of people diagnosed with a mood disorders increases as people gets older. The number of Anxiety disorders stays relatively constant regardless of the age of the person.  Exceptions to this are the increase in stress-related diagnoses as a group ages.

The younger someone is when they first develop a mental illness the more severe it is likely to be, especially if their problem goes untreated.

The same mechanism applies to learning disabilities. If they can’t read at grade level in third grade the child will continue to fall farther and farther behind until one day they give up and discontinue their education.

Anxious children give up trying new things and retreat into more and more isolation. People with depression are likely to stop trying.

Having an early onset of an emotional problem also sets up a high risk for trying drugs and alcohol as ways to cope. The earlier someone starts abusing substances the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder.

Identification and treatment of mental health problems in young people have been woefully inadequate. The average person with a serious mental illness has the illness ten years from the onset until they arrive at treatment. Many do not get treatment until they end up in jails, prisons or other institutions.

The cost of undiagnosed and untreated mental and emotional disorders does not solely fall on the person with the mental illness.

The mentally ill have higher rates of unemployment and underemployment.

They are more likely to be arrested. They have unstable housing and frequent changes of address. Having a mental health diagnosis is associated with poorer physical health and a shortened lifespan. This trend becomes worse the longer the delay between the onset of the disorder and the treatment.

The mentally ill also have more emergency room visits.

All these costs impact the person with the mental illness, their friends, family and society in general.

Whether we like it or not the cost of every person with an untreated mental illness is paid for by the portion of society who is not having and illness in that particular year.

Early identification and treatment of mental and emotional disorders result in a reduced amount of suffering and countless benefits to the mentally ill, their families and society.

If you or someone you know seems to be having emotional or mental problems seek out help as soon as possible.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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