I believe that mental health care is one of the most underrated areas in health care. Mental illness is an epidemic plaguing virtually every corner of the world. While great strides have been made in identifying and treating mental disorders, particularly in wealthier countries, many people remain without adequate care for their conditions. The numbers are staggering. According to the World Health Organization 2020 report, almost 1 billion people worldwide live with mental disorders, but 75 percent or more of them do not receive treatment in low-income countries. This widespread issue is compounded by a lack of access to resources, stigmas attached to a mental health diagnosis, and poor education on available treatments. It’s time to spread awareness of this growing crisis and take action toward providing more meaningful solutions that can improve lives everywhere.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Everyone’s life touches someone with a mental health condition. Good mental health translates to good physical health, and this new report makes a compelling case for change. The inextricable links between mental health and public health, human rights, and socioeconomic development mean that transforming policy and practice in mental health can deliver real, substantive benefits for individuals, communities, and countries everywhere. Investment into mental health is investing in a better life and future for all.” So, what will we do for those involved in direct clinical care?
Mental health is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. Still, too often, we as clinicians get lost in focusing on the symptoms of an illness instead of looking at how those symptoms impact our patient’s functioning and relationships. Doing this might lead to a partial picture that fails to capture the patient’s struggles at home or how their mental distress might influence their interactions with others. We must remember that each needs to be viewed holistically and have its unique context understood to truly impact their lives.
As a clinician, it can be challenging to sort out the facts from fiction when working with patients with maladaptive behaviors who are unwilling to take accountability. It is often too easy to believe what we are told without further investigation, but this approach can leave us missing essential information. After all, no one can accurately recall their entire medical history or their family’s history with 100 percent accuracy. By paying attention to the details and not relying solely on what someone may say, we can make informed decisions and effectively support those living with chronic illnesses and their families.
As a family physician, I have had the unique privilege of providing care for an entire family and gaining an in-depth understanding of the mental health picture. That being said, it is essential to uphold the patient’s privacy and respect the boundaries they set. If my patients allow, I often suggest to patients that their partner be present in the exam room; such conversations prove invaluable. Through my clinician experience and collaboration with a patient’s spouse or significant other, I can strengthen my professional knowledge and create more meaningful treatment plans. Moreover, it allows me to understand a person more holistically.
Proper mental health is necessary for healthy family dynamics, but unfortunately, only some people recognize it. The consequences of an individual or a few members dismissing or minimizing the importance of maintaining good mental well-being can be catastrophic. If left unaddressed, this can spiral out of control, resulting in irreversible damage to relationships and causing families to become fragmented. Taking responsibility for one’s mental health plays a big part in preserving familial harmony and creating an environment where all parties can strive for understanding and compassion. Families should work hard to acknowledge each other’s feelings, build engaging activities that promote emotional fitness and instill positive values that support healthy decision-making.
Mental health is undoubtedly the foundation of a healthy society, and it is bold to make such a claim. Well-balanced individuals are likelier to foster strong families filled with honesty, openness, and respect. Furthermore, individuals who prioritize their mental well-being are much better equipped to take on life’s challenges in a responsible and accountable fashion. Only when people learn how to manage their inner struggles can they create fruitful relationships with others and nurture a thriving community.
Working with patients’ family members can have immense benefits, from heightening the quality of care to building up the individual’s support system. By taking the initiative and connecting with family members, clinicians can make a difference in their client’s lifetime journey. Combining with a family member of a client often increases understanding and emphasizes that those receiving care are not alone. Whether through a phone call, email, or other forms of communication, clinicians should try to participate in this powerful act whenever possible. I recognize there are often time restraints in medicine, but investing in a patient’s well-being is worth making.
Tomi Mitchell is a family physician and founder, Dr. Tomi Mitchell Holistic Wellness Strategies. She can be reached on Twitter @DrTomiMitchell, Facebook, Pinterest, and Clubhouse.