According to the World Health Organization, 25% of American adults suffer from some form of mental illness and half of the population will eventually develop the abnormal alterations in thinking, mood or behavior associated with such conditions. With cuts in federal funding and, limited resources available from insurance companies and a lack of treatment options, patients and their families are often left to their own devices to find the help they need. To the uninitiated, this can be a daunting proposition as they attempt to sift their way through the various treatments that may take the form of therapy, diagnosis from a family physician who might prescribe medication, psychiatric intervention and, in the most serious cases, costly hospitalization.
Perhaps the most significant roadblock to the advancement of mental health treatment in the U.S. was President Reagan’s repeal of Jimmy Carter’s Mental Health Systems Act in 1981, which pulled the plug on much of the funding that helped those suffering from psychiatric illness. Instead of receiving the treatment they needed, many patients were mainstreamed into general society with hopes that they could integrate – one of the reasons we have witnessed a significant increase in homelessness and illicit drug use in our country since that time. Now, the options for care often are mostly limited to hospitalization (very costly) or being prescribed heavy medications and some psychiatric therapy.
Another disturbing post-1981 trend is that many primary care physicians are treating those with mental illness (mostly depression and anxiety), although this is not consistent with practice standards. And perhaps most disconcerting is the growing power of the pharmaceutical companies that often fund the very clinical studies that test the efficacy of their own drugs. These pharmaceutical companies also have undue influence on diagnostic measures, such as the recently released Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
But there is hope in the form of holistic psychological treatment. Patients suffering from a range of conditions from depression, OCD and anxiety disorders to bipolar disorder, schizoid personality and schizophrenia are experiencing dramatic improvement. Medications are dispensed when deemed necessary and often not as the primary line of treatment. Instead, the emphasis is on individual, group and sometimes family therapy; physical fitness and yoga; biofeedback; and arts & music therapy. Depending on the patient’s needs, treatment can be delivered in an inpatient or outpatient basis.
The majority of people are not aware that such programs exist – programs that offer containment and psychological treatment without the stigma or risks of a psychiatric hospitalization. It is important that the mental health community work together to develop holistic psychological based treatment programs for their patients as the results are so promising.
Jeff Ball, PhD, is Executive Director of PCH Treatment Center (www.PCHTreatment.com) in West Los Angeles, which specializes in intensive and holistic psychological treatment. He is also an Assistant Clinical Professor in the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.