Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Myths and Realities Regarding Mental Health and Treatment

May is Mental Health Month. Check out the chart below, which busts common misconceptions about mental health and its treatment. For more information or questions, please contact Mental Health America of Texas at (512) 454-3706.

  • Myth: Psychiatric disorders are not medically verifiable because there is no test to determine whether a disorder or chemical imbalance exists in the brain. Psychiatrists 'invented' mental disorders to sell drugs.
  • Reality:Research shows us that mental health conditions result from communication problems between neurons in the brain, a process called “neurotransmission.” Psychotropic medications work by correcting this miscommunication. Like many physical disorders, mental health conditions are primarily diagnosed by signs, symptoms, and functional impairments. However, medical research and brain scans (MRIs, PETs, and other scans) identify specific physical evidence of brain abnormalities and changes in brain structure and/ or brain activity associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia8, bipolar disorder, and severe depression.

  • Myth: “Mental troubles” are the result of problems and upsets experienced in life. Mental health advocates and professionals are being dishonest in suggesting there is such a thing as “brain disease”.
  • Reality: Not all of the exact causes behind mental health conditions are fully understood, but scientists have identified many factors that put an individual at greater risk. Environmental factors such as head injuries, poor nutrition, exposure to toxins, and social factors like the death of a friend or relative, neglect, and severe parental discord are highly associated with the development and severity of a mental health condition. Like other diseases, not all persons are influenced in the same way, but persons with family history and/or genetic markers for mental disease are at higher risk. Additionally, research suggests that genetics play a significant role in determining risk for some mental health conditions.

  • Myth: Psychiatric-based mental health treatment doesn’t work because it can’t cure mental illness or alleviate the underlying cause of mental disorders.
  • Reality: A range of treatments exist for most mental health conditions. Many individuals are able to control their symptoms without medication. However, like some physical conditions, many serious mental health conditions cannot be “cured;” but are treated by primary care doctors, psychiatrists, pharmacists, social workers, friends, and family members through medication, therapy, and social supports. A landmark report from the National Advisory Mental Health Council (a body that advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services, the director of the National Institutes of Health, and the director of the National Institute of Mental Health) found a 60 percent treatment success rate for schizophrenia, 65 percent for major depression, and 80 percent for bipolar disorder. Comparatively, the success rate for treatment of heart disease is 40 to 50 percent.

  • Myth: Psychiatric drugs are “chemical poisons” that harm the brain.
  • Reality: All medications have both positive and negative effects. For example, antibiotic medication is extremely important in the treatment of many diseases, but can also destroy beneficial bacteria in the human body, resulting in nausea and diarrhea. Some psychotropic medications have undesirable side effects, but if used as directed by a health professional, they are safe and generally effective in addressing the symptoms of many mental health conditions.

  • Myth: School-based behavioral health screenings are invasive and often take place without parental knowledge. The ultimate purpose of these screenings is to prescribe drugs.
  • Reality: Although we believe it should be a required activity, there is no national or Texas school-based behavioral health screening program. School based screening is a local school district option. Screenings experienced a significant gain in national exposure because the 2003 President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health argued in favor of screenings with parental and student consent. Additionally, contrary to what some opponents have said, school behavioral health screenings are not used as a tool to prescribe drugs, but rather to connect children and teens with beneficial behavioral health services.

  • Myth: Antidepressant drugs are associated with increased risk of suicide.
  • Reality: Ecological studies have shown an inverse relationship between antidepressant use and suicide rates. The use of antidepressant medication should be determined on an individual basis and, just like any other medication; it should be taken appropriately and with the oversight of a medical professional. The issue was raised in 2004 when the FDA warned about increased suicidal thought or behavior for children and adolescents taking certain antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This warning was based on an FDA review of published and unpublished controlled clinical trials that found about 4 percent of children taking SSRIs reported these thoughts and behaviors. Other reviews carried out between 1988 and 2006 indicate that the benefits of antidepressant medications are greater than their risks to children and adolescents with major depression and anxiety disorders. A recent research study found no link between use of fluoxetine (one of the most commonly prescribed SSRIs) and an increase in suicidal thoughts or behaviors in children. Organizations of mental health professionals allow members to engage in fraud and exploitation without punishment. Members of mental health organizations like the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and the American Mental Health Counselors Association are use a strict set of ethical principles and members are expelled if they violate these principles. The Texas Society of Psychiatric Physicians, Texas Mental Health Counselors Association, and Texas Psychological Association hold members accountable for ethical violations codified in their association bylaws.

  • Myth: There is a link between the use of psychotropic drugs and violence.
  • Reality: There is a very small subset of psychotropic medications with the slight potential to increase aggression as a side effect. A recent FDA investigation of 484 psychotropic medications resulted in 31 drugs being declared to have an association with violence. Psychotropic medication used appropriately and as directed by a health professional is safe and generally effective in treating the symptoms of many potentially debilitating mental health conditions. Untreated mental health conditions have been linked to increased incarceration rates and homelessness. Additionally, it is not commonly known that individuals with mental health conditions are actually victims of violence at a much higher rate than individuals without a condition.

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