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Most Common Ways People Treat Mental Health

Posted on August 10, 2018 by michael

Mental health is a serious concern. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2008 just over half of U.S. adults (58.7%) with what is considered a “serious mental illness,” or SMI, received treatment for a mental health-related problem. While treatment rates for these SMIs varied across different age groups, the most common forms of treatment across the board were outpatient services such as counselling and psychotherapy and prescription medication.

Medication is the Most Popular Treatment Option in the U.S.

The survey also shows that of the U.S. adults who suffer from major depressive disorder, 71% were using mental health services and treatment to assist them. However, what the NSDUH (conducted by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA) also found was that of the different types of treatment available to those struggling with mental health-related issues (inpatient, outpatient, and prescription), the most popular treatment option for the majority of U.S. adults was prescription treatment. In fact, according to the survey, 52.6% of U.S. adults used prescription treatment to combat their mental illness. Comparatively speaking, 40.5% sought treatment through outpatient programs such as therapy and 7.5% sought help from more intensive inpatient programs to address their needs.

Prescription medications come with a number of benefits for those struggling with mental illness, but with these also come a number of potential side effects. That being said, for some, the benefits can far outweigh the risks. This is why many therapists may recommend using certain medications in conjunction with psychotherapy to help treat their patient’s mental health and distress. This can be a pretty powerful combination, but only when used together. It is important to remember that medication cannot replace good therapy. While it may help manage the symptoms of mental illness, it cannot address these thoughts and feelings at their source. Doing this can help initiate a process of true psychological healing.

Why Medication Alone Isn’t the Answer

However, some individuals are seeking help solely from substances to treat their conditions, which, in most cases, means that while they are treating the effects of their distress they aren’t addressing the source. Describing the impact of medication versus psychotherapy, Dr. Ryan Howes, Clinical Professor at Fuller University and American Board of Professional Psychology certified therapist since 1997, explains that “Medications alone are limited because they change how you perceive the world, but they don’t really help you change your world.” This is because, he states, “beyond your symptoms lie deeper issues that aren’t touched by meds.”

But what exactly are the issues that psychotherapy can address that medication can’t? In Dr. Howe’s experience this can usually be broken down into four major questions:


A deceptively simple question on the surface. Psychotherapy asks patients “who are you?” This includes what we are passionate about, what our limitations are, and what we are able to achieve through our own potential. Therapy also recognizes that our mental health can be impacted by those who surround us each day. To this extent, it asks us to explore who might be limiting us and who might be encouraging us to grow and develop. In doing this, we learn to select our company based on who will be the most beneficial to us versus the most detrimental. Medication alone cannot teach us more about who we are and who we should depend on to help us become better versions of ourselves.


 Another important question to answer is “what?” More specifically, beyond our daily pill (or pills) what are we doing to combat our issues that we are struggling with? Are we making necessary changes to our diet and exercise regimen, attitudes, perspective, thoughts, communication methods, sleep schedules, relationships, and emotional expression that can help us reduce our symptoms of anxiety and depression outside of medical assistance? Medication might assist us in some ways but it cannot make these changes for us that will ultimately reduce our mental distress.


 This is arguably one of the most important questions to ask as it allows us to get to the root of our problems. Why are we feeling depressed or anxious in the first place? Oftentimes these symptoms are actually the result of past experiences, unhealthy relationships, current stressors, beliefs about our purpose in life, ill-fitting careers, and unhealthy habits that have been formed either separately or as a result of any of these influencing factors. When we learn why we are feeling the way that we do, we can ultimately better understand how to make better decisions that will drastically improve our mental health. While medication may reduce the symptoms we are experiencing, it won’t correct these originating issues in the long term. Only therapy can do that.


 If we find that our symptoms subside, how can we prevent them from becoming a recurring problem? To address this, we must look at how we can structure our lives and our own minds to prevent the frequent return of these negative thoughts and feelings. This restructuring can include any of the aforementioned changes in our habits, diet, exercise, sleep, jobs, expectations, resources, relationships, and for some, even spirituality. Making necessary adjustments can help steer us from walking down that same dark path that has tormented us previously. Medication alone cannot guarantee this but in conjunction with psychotherapy it can help reduce background noise so that we can better focus on our healing process and road to recovery.

Mental healing is more than just balancing chemicals. True healing requires growth and learning throughout one’s life. In essence, a pill alone cannot bring about insight and personal development, that’s the therapist’s job.

Categories: Recovery, Wellness
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