Rethinking Mental Health
Depression is a complex and multifaceted illness that affects millions of people worldwide. For a long time, the prevailing explanation for depression has been that a chemical imbalance in the brain causes it, and I, like many other clinicians, accepted this definition. However, looking back at my early years in clinical practice and comparing it to what I have witnessed and studied, the past diagnosis didn't fully appreciate the uniqueness of each person's story and past experiences.
Based on the prevailing definition of depression, medications were the mainstays of treatment. Medications such as antidepressants for many clinicians are still considered an effective way to treat it. However, recent research has challenged this view, suggesting that depression is not simply a matter of imbalanced neurotransmitters but rather a more complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. While medication can help manage symptoms, it is essential for patients to also engage in therapy and other forms of self-care to address the root causes of their depression.
Mental health is an increasingly pressing issue in our society that we can no longer afford to ignore. Yet, part of the problem lies in how we talk about it. For so long, the narrative around mental illness has centered on chemical imbalances and the need for medication to "fix" these imbalances. While medication can help treat mental health challenges, it is not the whole story. Mental health encompasses so much more than just chemicals in the brain. Our experiences, our environment, our relationships, and a myriad of other factors shape it. By broadening our understanding of mental health, we can better support those struggling and work towards building a healthier and more compassionate society.
Mental health challenges affect millions of individuals every year. I do not consider those with mental health challenges as broken individuals. Instead, they have experienced life events that have caused deep emotional pain. These experiences include anything from childhood trauma, dealing with stress and anxiety at work, and struggling with complex relationships. The cumulative effect of these experiences can make it difficult for individuals to cope with everyday life, leading to symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Learning to understand and empathize with these individuals can be vital in helping them overcome their challenges and live happy, fulfilling lives. By acknowledging the impact of life experiences on mental health, we can break down misconceptions and work towards creating a more compassionate and supportive society.
Treating mental health concerns requires a series of ongoing conversations. Exploring the challenges a person might be feeling--whether it is loss, guilt, regret, fear, or one of the many possible emotions. Understanding mental health requires understanding the various stages of a person's life and the impact of transitions on their mental wellness. Common transitions can be puberty, adolescence, adulthood, the growing responsibilities of this stage, working and career, and transitions into menopause or andropause.
Understanding mental health requires a 360-degree approach to their history, and if possible, and with patient consent, have their partners or caregivers involved in the conversation. I have found this approach to be transformative, and it helps me get a clearer picture of someone's experiences. If we have a patient whose illness makes them lack self-awareness, asking them to accurately gauge their response to treatment and their interactions with others might not be very accurate.
We have to go behind the scales and standard questionnaires and connect with our patients, finding their goals and aspirations and where the disconnect is. By having conversations, we can get an accurate gauge of our patient's struggles and how to best support them. We must remember that they are not just "another case" but living, breathing people with needs and wants.
By taking the time to listen and understand what drives their behavior, including understanding past traumas, we can do better for our patients and our communities as a whole. I encourage us all to rethink mental health because when we do, our world will be a better place.