The Gradient of Mental Health and Wellbeing
Mental health and wellbeing are not binary concepts, but rather they exist on a gradient or spectrum. At one end of the spectrum, people may experience optimal mental health. They might feel a defined sense of purpose in life, have positive relationships with others, and feel adept to cope with the everyday stressors of life. On the other end, people may feel hopeless, helpless, socially isolated, or unable to function in daily life.
While there are two ends of a spectrum, it is essential to recognize that mental health and wellbeing are not static. One will fluctuate across this gradient throughout their life due to various factors, such as stressors, life events, and even genetics.1 According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20% of adults in the United States experience a mental illness each year, and nearly 50% of adults will experience a mental illness at some point in their lifetime.
There’s not a set path to optimal mental health. We are all individuals, and we all need something different. Below are some common mental health treatment options:
Also called talk therapy or counseling, therapy is a common treatment option. Meta-analytic studies have shown that therapy is effective in treating a variety of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).2
The most common modalities of psychotherapy are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), psychodynamic therapy, and humanistic therapy:
- CBT focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to mental health problems and has been shown to be effective in treating anxiety and depression.
- Psychodynamic therapy aims to explore unconscious emotions and conflicts that contribute to mental health problems and has been used to treat personality disorders and other long-standing issues.
- Humanistic therapy emphasizes self-awareness and personal growth, and has been used to treat a variety of mental health problems.
While psychotherapy has been shown to be effective for many, it may not be the best treatment option for everyone. There are many reasons for this, including individual preferences, the type of mental health disorder being treated, and the severity of symptoms. Some people may not feel comfortable sharing personal information with a therapist, while others may not find therapy helpful in addressing their specific mental health concerns. Finally, financial concerns and insurance coverage may prove to be an obstacle for many seeking a therapist.
Medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, are a very common treatment option recommended by most doctors. However, medication may not be the best treatment for everyone. Some patients may experience side effects (such as weight gain, emotional numbing, and sexual dysfunction) or may not respond to any traditional medication. There are many biological, genetic, and medical reasons why certain medications may not work in such cases. Additionally, some individuals may prefer alternative treatment options or may not have access to medication due to financial or insurance constraints.
Medications for mental health conditions may prove to be a complicated fit given the above reasons. It is important to note that everyone's mental health journey is unique, and finding the right treatment plan may require some trial and error. It is essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for your individual needs.
Lifestyle changes can also help improve mental health and wellbeing. Exercise, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep can all help alleviate symptoms of mental illness. Research has shown that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, with meta-analyses demonstrating moderate to large effect sizes.3 Additionally, activities such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can help reduce stress and promote relaxation. A meta-analysis of 47 studies found that mindfulness-based interventions were effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.4
This is easier said than done and requires a significant amount of accountability and discipline. Some people may choose to work with a coach or other professional to hold them accountable.
We are social creatures by nature. Research has shown that social support can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve overall mental health and wellbeing.
Having strong social support networks, such as family, friends, and community groups, can help individuals cope with stressors and improve their ability to manage mental health issues.5
Psychedelics, such as psilocybin, MDMA, ketamine, and LSD have shown promise as potential treatments for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Research has suggested that psychedelics can increase neuroplasticity, leading to long-lasting changes in brain function and behavior.
Recent clinical trials have shown positive results in the use of psychedelics for the treatment of depression and anxiety, with some participants experiencing a significant reduction in symptoms.6 However, these treatments are still in the early stages of development and are not yet widely available. Studies have also emphasized the importance of using psychedelics in a controlled and supervised environment, as these substances can have unpredictable effects and are not suitable for everyone.
If you choose to try a psychedelic treatment, it can positively impact your mental health for the better. It could also work quickly and be a great long-lasting option. However, the psychological safety and outcomes of psychedelic work greatly depend on preparation, integration, and the structure around the treatment so it is very important to go into treatment with thoughtfulness. You should work with an experienced guide as well as healthcare professional to promote best outcomes.
Living on the Gradient
Mental health and wellbeing are crucial aspects of our overall health. It is a complex and multi-dimensional concept that encompasses emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It is not static and can change over time, affected by various factors such as genetics, environmental stressors, and life experiences.
It is important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health treatment. The severity of the condition, financial means, and support from family and friends should all be considered when deciding on a treatment option. Some individuals may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy, while others may require medication. Still, others may find that a combination of therapy and medication is the most effective approach. In addition, lifestyle changes such as exercise, healthy eating, and stress-reducing activities can also play a significant role in promoting mental health and wellbeing.
Moreover, it is essential to prioritize mental health and wellbeing at all ages and stages of life. Children and adolescents may require different interventions than adults, and older adults may face unique challenges such as social isolation and physical health problems. Addressing mental health concerns early on can prevent them from becoming more severe and can improve overall quality of life. By promoting mental health and wellbeing, we can create a healthier and happier society for all.
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- Keyes, C. L. M. (2007). Promoting and protecting mental health as flourishing: A complementary strategy for improving national mental health. The American Psychologist. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17324035/
- Cuijpers, P., van Straten, A., Andersson, G., van Oppen, P. (2013). Psychotherapy for depression in adults: A meta-analysis of comparative outcome studies. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19045960/
- Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Rosenbaum, S., Firth, J., Cosco, T., Veronese, N., Salum G.A., Schuch, F.B. (2017). An examination of the anxiolytic effects of exercise for people with anxiety and stress-related disorders: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry research. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28088704/
- Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20350028/
- Lakey, B., & Cohen, S. (2000). Social support theory and measurement. In S. Cohen, L. G. Underwood, & B. H. Gottlieb (Eds.), Social support measurement and intervention: A guide for health and social scientists (pp. 29–52). Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1093/med:psych/9780195126709.003.0002
- Davis, A. K., Barrett, F. S., May, D. G., Cosimano, M. P., Sepeda, N. D., Johnson, M. W., & Griffiths, R. R. (2020). Effects of psilocybin-assisted therapy on major depressive disorder: A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33146667/.
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