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Mental Health Awareness

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Mental illness can be treated or even cured

One of the biggest myths surrounding mental health is that once someone develops a mental illness, they will never recover. In fact, studies show those with mental health problems can get better—many recover completely.

There are many forms of mental illness and as with other diseases, there are multiple causes. For example, depression and schizophrenia each have more than 30 subtypes, each with different causes.

“A person’s environment, life experiences and relationships can impact how their brain functions and how they think and behave as much as genetic factors,” says Steven L. Dubovsky, MD, Professor and Chair of the University at Buffalo’s Department of Psychiatry. “Anything that affects your mind also affects the organ of the mind, which is the brain.”

Dr. Dubovsky says the vast majority of mental illnesses, even the most serious, can be greatly improved or cured with the right treatment. “What’s needed first is an accurate diagnosis, followed by the proper treatment plan, which can include medication, therapy or both,” he says. “With those two factors in place, the chances for a complete recovery or cure increase greatly. Some patients recover and do not need more treatment, while others need ongoing maintenance treatment, similar to someone with epilepsy requiring anticonvulsant medication to be free of seizures.”

“Mental illness has been stigmatized and subjected to myths for so long,” says Judy Tejada, LMHC, Vice President of Clinical Services for Horizon Health Services. “The good news is we have learned so much about how the brain works in relation to trauma, depression, etc., and that knowledge allows us to broaden the scope of effective therapies.”

“Talk therapy and cognitive behavior therapy are still the gold standard,” says Tejada. “But other evidence-based therapies, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Electroconvulsive Therapy have greatly improved outcomes for such illnesses as trauma and depression. The drug esketamine was recently approved by the Food & Drug Administration as a nasal spray for treating severe, treatment-resistant depression.”

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) is still one of the most effective and best tolerated treatment for certain mood disorders, such as depression and bi-polar disorder. “Research shows shock treatment does not hurt the brain, as is widely believed. It actually ‘turns on’ genes that protect the brain from further injury, and it has few side effects,” says Dr. Dubovsky. “Psychological therapies, such as family focused therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapies are also very effective for mood disorders. There are some very promising new medications available now, as well.”

Alternative therapies such as yoga, meditation and acupuncture can be helpful in treating certain conditions, but there is not enough conclusive research indicating that most homeopathic and herbal therapies are effective, and some can negatively interact with medications or possibly worsen a condition.

“The truth is that the likelihood of a cure is higher for a mental illness than for many physical illnesses,” says Dr. Dubovsky. “If you think you have a mental health problem, start with your primary care doctor, who can direct you to the proper specialty care. If you don’t see improvement, get additional advice or a second opinion, as it might simply be the need to adjust treatment. Most people with mental illness can live normal, productive lives. So you should never give up hope.”

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