Understanding Your Choices… is the key to finding solutions
Despite the fact that there are numerous mental health professionals today, these people are still failing to get the care that they need. This situation is largely a result of failing to properly educate the public.”
So many of us are walking around with mental-emotional problems today and we are not receiving the care we need and deserve. In some cases, it is a matter of being unaware that there is a problem. These individuals may have been depressed or anxious for so long that they have come to believe that their feelings of sadness or fear are natural. They may actually believe that happiness and feelings of comfortable safeness are fantasy states that exist only in books of fiction. Unaware of how their depression or anxiety can negatively impact potential relationships with others, they may view their feelings of loneliness as normal.
In most cases, however, people are aware that they have mental-emotional concerns. Yet, despite the fact that there are numerous mental health professionals today, these people are still failing to get the care that they need. This situation is largely a result of failing to properly educate the public.
Early in the 20th century, governments found they could influence health behaviour with public service announcements (PSA). Over the ensuing decades, citizens have learned that good physical health lays in getting vaccinations, mammograms and brushing teeth regularly. The focus of these announcements has, however, traditionally been upon physical ailments and physical treatments. Even when addressing problems that are psychological in origin, such as alcohol or tobacco dependence, PSAs focused on the social or physical health consequences and solutions. It is only in the last decade or so that psychological issues are being presented to and discussed with the public as psychological issues.
Unfortunately, the entrance of the pharmaceutical industry into the “information” industry provides the public with a very one-sided approach to health care. Given that their business is selling drugs, it is understandable that they are creating commercials telling the public that some new drug will solve all of their problems. “Are you depressed? Well, do we have a great new drug for you!” “Want to quit smoking? Ask your physician about our drug.” This last makes tremendous sense… substituting one drug dependency for another. Not!
Failure to educate the public isn’t restricted to the government or pharmaceutical industry. The media tends to use the terms “psychologist” and “psychiatrist” interchangeably. If you were to ask the average person, they’d tell you that they are the same. Most people are unaware that a psychotherapist is someone who has undergone extensive education in dealing with mental-emotional problems. A psychotherapist’s approach is talk therapy and, if medication is called for, it usually plays a supplementary role to psychotherapy. A psychiatrist, on the other hand, is someone who spends an extensive period of time becoming a physician. A psychiatrist’s approach is to administer drugs. Talk therapy, if used, mostly focuses on insuring compliance with the drug treatment.
If the mis-education of the public wasn’t sufficiently problematic, healthcare insurance companies have been doing their best to make their contribution. Health insurance has typically failed to cover mental health. Although there are signs that this might be changing, it is still far easier to get drugs to treat the symptoms of your depression than it is to see someone who can actually help resolve the underlying problem rather than the symptoms. The message sent is that there is no cure. The only viable option is a lifetime of drug treatment.
If society wants to seriously address the increasing amount of mental-emotional health problems, the public will need to be properly educated and access to effective mental healthcare will need to be improved.
Victor Camille Lebouthillier is President of Health Factors where he leads a team of clinical researchers whose focus is keeping abreast of the latest findings in the field of advanced behavioral science, to increase treatment effectiveness. Vic is also Clinical Director at the Alive Wellness Centre, an in-patient program for people seeking mental health well-being