The Importance of Early Treatment of Mental Illnesses

The general population has adopted a mostly accepting stance on mental illness within the past few decades; the acceptance and representation of mental illness in the media has had positive results.

In recent years, awareness of mental illness has increased by a large margin: nearly 90 percent of Americans value mental health and physical health equally, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

With these lofty figures, there comes hope that less people feel ashamed of their mental state and those in need of help are more likely to receive treatment. This is good news, especially considering that 20 percent of teenagers aged 13 to 18 that have some form of mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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Despite newfound acceptance, misconceptions and stigma-based beliefs are still widespread and discrimination against the mentally ill can negatively affect “a person’s ability to gain access to appropriate care, recover from his or her illness and integrate into society," according to the World Health Organization.

According to counselor Sydney Stringer, one of the most common misconceptions related to stigma is “that [people] can control mental illness by thinking it away, and that it is a choice.” This is not the reality for people with mental illness. Numerous factors contribute to mental illness including situation, chemical imbalance, trauma, or loss. Oftentimes, people do not have control over these factors.

Stringer also mentioned self-diagnosing as a common mistake among many. This is supported by Psychology Today, which claims “[self diagnosis] can be very dangerous. You may miss a medical disease that masquerades as a psychiatric syndrome.” Because of this, it is crucial that only licensed medical professionals diagnose people.

“The worst misconception when it comes to mental illnesses is that a lot of people think we do it for attention, which isn’t the case at all,” said junior Benjamin Schnack. He advises people who may be struggling “to talk to someone who both knows what they’re talking about and genuinely cares about you.”

The belief that an injury has to be seen to be valid is not uncommon today. “I always had relatives laughing at mental illness, never understanding that it’s a real thing and that it interferes with daily life,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “It made me feel small and ashamed.”

The student’s perspective highlights the problem: one of the main reasons people do not seek help for their issues is the shame associated with mental illness, invalidation of the problem, and harmful misconceptions. Oftentimes, these factors prevent people with mental illnesses from receiving treatment early in their illness.

Stringer stresses the importance of early intervention by saying, “Early intervention is important with all mental illnesses since cognitions are involved,” Stringer.  “The longer a person has these negative thoughts, the stronger they become over time.”

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The difference between getting help as soon as possible compared to months or years down the line is monumental. Catching the negative responses and rehabilitating and retraining your brain is crucial in the process of development.

“My mental health struggle started around fifth grade,“ said Schnack. “My parents quickly noticed the change in behavior and got me to a therapist relatively quickly. The early treatment allowed me to recover before I did something harmful.”

Schnack shows how crucial it is to receive treatment and early intervention at the earliest convenience. Schnack’s story of early diagnosis and help is often not the reality. According to National Public Radio, 80 percent of high school students do not seek or receive help for diagnosable mental health conditions.

“I’d been experiencing mental health issues since second grade, but I only got help during the summer of seventh grade,” said another student opting for anonymity.”It was so bad that I couldn’t live in denial anymore and could barely function. Long-term damage had already been done, but I’m recovering.”

Though both Schnack and this student eventually received help, the divergence of their stories reinforces a clear message: Early intervention is the optimal solution whenever possible.

Although awareness and treatment of mental illness have been constantly improving, there are still multitudes of problem faced by victims of mental illness. A lot of the problems stem from the present stigma. There is much work to be done, but a little understanding goes a long way.

The path to recovery is possible for anyone. Early intervention, access to quality resources, and a strong support network are all factors that make the recovery process easier. Counselors Stringer and Meagan Haas can provide you with necessary resources to start your journey to recovery. There is no shame in suffering from mental health concerns; reaching out for help as soon as possible is the first step towards feeling better.

Emily Pedrazzi