By David Joel Miller.
Is it possible to prevent mental illness?
There was a time when we, we as in society, thought there were two types of people, the normal ones and then those others, the mentally ill. Today we know it is a lot more complicated than that. There are things that can be done by professionals and by consumers that can make the impact of mental illness less difficult.
This tells us there are things that can be done early on before someone becomes sick, that can prevent the development of a mental illness or lessen the severity. People with a healthy physical lifestyle get physically ill less often. People who use certain wellness tools are less likely to be debilitated by a mental illness.
Prevention services can reduce the risk of developing an illness in both the physical and the mental health areas. It is easy to see the need for treating an illness once it develops but harder to get systems to offer treatment to prevent an illness. Some physical health systems offer preventative treatment. Unfortunately, the mental health systems are far behind the physical health systems in this area. If you want help for an emotional problem before it becomes a mental illness you probably need to seek help on your own.
Most of the things we now call a mental illness are the result of stress and trauma, injuries you accumulate in the process of living. Bad things happen to you. Maybe a lot of them and over time those events wear you down. At first you become sad or discouraged, eventually, this sadness could deepen and reach the point of being an episode of Major Depressive Disorder.
People are exposed to trauma and stress, sometimes this develops into Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for other people this reaction to the stress of life lingers on as excess anxiety or persistent sadness. Those conditions may be severe enough to get diagnosed and treated by a professional. Lots of people spend major chunks of their life struggling with things the professionals and the insurance companies call “subclinical” cases of emotional issues.
What about people born with a problem, say Schizophrenia, you are asking. Aren’t mental illnesses hereditary things? This continues to be a problematic issue in the mental health field. Two siblings, identical twins, have a family history of schizophrenia, say mom has the disorder. They should both get it to right? Not always. Sometimes one will develop the disease and the other will have much milder symptoms of emotional issues. Why does this happen?
There is a lot of ongoing research in this field. Someday we may have the final answer to this question. Boy if you were a drug company and could develop a med that would keep people from “catching” schizophrenia you could make a lot of money. But for now what we think it is involved is that there are risk factors and protective factors.
If you were one of those twins you would likely be looking to add some of those protective factors to your life.
If you were doing a stressful job, you might go looking for ways to reduce the stress before it became overwhelming and developed a mental or emotional disorder. People who have a life that is less than they would like, they also might be looking for ways to make that life more fulfilling.
Not everyone who has a lot of stress or sadness in their life goes on to develop a severe mental illness. You may be one of those people who can just take a lot of stress and disappointment. Still, the statistics tell us that about half of the U. S. population at some point in their life will develop symptoms that should be treated. Wouldn’t it make sense to take a few doses of a preventative?
Anger management is another area where prevention is better than treatment. You can get help for your anger issues now or wait for the court-ordered 52-week program.
If you are under stress, have disappointments or just find that you are irritable and angry a lot, maybe you are using alcohol or drugs to cope, what might you do to keep this from escalating? Do you need to run to see a counselor? That might help, getting a professional opinion can get you started on the right track. But here is a list of possibilities.
Learn self-help skills and stress reduction skills
Develop a personal wellness plan.
WRAP, wellness and recovery action planning is a good one. There are free materials out there and the books are relatively inexpensive. You do not need to wait to develop a mental illness to create a wellness plan.
Read self-help books.
I especially recommend books based on Cognitive Behavioral therapy. They can create the optimum benefit and in less time than many other therapies. David Burns book Feeling Good jumps to mind. There is also a list of recommended books over on the website for my private practice counselorfresno.com
Try some non-medical counseling or life coaching
Many employee assistance plans offer a limited number of sessions, (three, six, maybe twelve sessions), with a counselor or therapist to work on general life issues. This is commonly called non-medical counseling. Stay tuned for a longer post on this topic.
If you child won’t mind, you have excess anger, you are stressed at work or just not sure about what you want to do with your life, these non-medical counseling sessions can be helpful in clarifying where you are at and what you want to do.
Life coaching is a new and evolving field. There are some warnings about this one. Clients tell me that they want coaching not therapy because they are not “crazy” I tell them I agree they are not “crazy” by which I mean they do not have a diagnosable mental illness. Still, they could use some counseling. For them, it is easier to think of this as coaching.
Most professional counselors and some therapists do this sort of work. Helping you plan the life you want. Seeing them for preventive counseling or coaching is a good idea. A number of people recently are advertising as “life coaches.” There are no set standards or licenses for coaches in most places. Some are well-trained with degrees in coaching psychology others just took their GED and rented an office expecting to make a lot of money coaching people. If your life coach does not also have a mental health license you need to be extra careful. More on the whole life coaching thing in an upcoming post.
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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