As an example of the types of myths surrounding mental health is the assumption that bipolar disorder is just another name for mood swings. Bipolar disorder is a serious illness with severe mood swings that interfere with one’s functioning and can lead to suicide. The gap in understanding is serious and marked throughout public discourse.
This is just one example of the types of misinformation challenged by Prakash Masand. Dr. Masand is a psychiatrist and founder of the Centers of Psychiatric Excellence. Digital Journal spoke with Dr. Masand to get to the root of some of these popular misconceptions related to mental health.
Digital Journal: How can mental illness be defined?
Prakash Masand: Mental illness is a very broad term for health conditions that affect our mood, cognitions and behavior. These can include anxiety disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and more.
DJ: Is there such a thing as ‘normal behavior’?
Masand: We all have those little idiosyncrasies and things that make us different and unique from one another, but yes, in terms of mental illness, there is normal behavior (someone who does not have a mental health condition) and abnormal behavior (someone who does have a mental illness).
If you look at a condition such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, for example, normal behavior would be showing a strong interest in something, having a keen awareness about something or simply having a preference to doing things in an orderly fashion. The abnormal behavior, or the person with true OCD, is exhibiting these behaviors to such an extreme that they interfere with daily functioning. They might become truly obsessed with something to the point that they can’t let go of the thoughts. They must have things in a specific order or they simply cannot attempt or complete the task. The abnormal behavior can be debilitating.
DJ: Does mental illness show variances with social factors?
Masand: Yes, social factors definitely play a role in mental illness. All mental health conditions have a biological and an environmental aspect to them. Although we have made great advances in pharmacology and therapy over the last 20 years and we can better treat mental illness, there is definitely a higher incidence of mental illness because of societal influences.
We live in a very fast-paced, high-stress world where people are dealing with financial stress, health problems, family issues and more. We’re living in a digital age of social media where nothing is private anymore and information spreads within seconds. Depression is on the rise. Suicide rates are up. Cyber bullying is out of control among our children. Mental illness is definitely more prevalent as a result.
DJ: What is the difference between the psychiatric and psychological approaches to mental illness?
Masand: Both psychiatric and psychological approaches take on many of the same mental health conditions but in very different ways. Psychiatric focuses more on pharmacology and treating these conditions with medication. Psychological is focused on different types of therapy. Although some conditions can be treated with therapy alone, many of them benefit from a combination of both medication and therapy.
DJ: Taking one mental health issue – depression, what are the optimal forms of treatment for this?
Masand: Most patients with depression will benefit from a combination of medications and psychotherapy. The most common types of medications used to treat major depression are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs, (selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors). Cognitive behavior therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy are two types of psychotherapy that are used to treat depression. Sometimes, these therapies can be as efficacious as antidepressants in mild to moderate depression.
DJ: Have advances in technology changed the way mental illness is diagnosed?
Masand: Technology really hasn’t played much of an impact in terms of the actual diagnoses of mental illness. The Internet has provided a way for patients to explore their symptoms. In terms of the physician making a diagnosis, a health professional will perform a thorough mental status examination, medical evaluation and ask an individual about their personal and family psychiatric history.
Individuals may also have to complete a depression-screening test as part of the diagnostic process. A physical exam and lab tests may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, and to rule out secondary causes (medical illnesses, medications, drugs, etc.)
DJ: There’s been coverage recently about mental health at work. How big an issue is work-related mental health?
Masand: Work-related mental health is very important because we spend so much time in the workplace. The good news is many employers are now recognizing mental health, and in fact, are making it a priority. This is a positive step forward that will help remove the stigma that many people still hold around mental illness.
Many employees are afraid of bringing their mental health issues into the workplace for fear of being judged and passed up for opportunities. Companies can better support their employees’ mental wellness by promoting access to employee assistance programs, make sure there is sufficient insurance coverage for mental health providers, promoting a true work-life balance culture and creating an environment of inclusion and acceptance for all.
DJ: How can greater awareness about mental health issues be promoted by governments and charities?
Masand: Luckily, we have many non-profit organizations who diligently work to promote awareness around mental illness. We also have a number of annual national recognition days to bring attention to mental illness. More specifically, the government and charitable organizations can help create greater awareness about mental health through increased funding and research, more awareness, educational and public service campaigns, increased screening & treatment programs and provide greater access to these programs. At the end of the day, creating greater awareness about mental illness falls on all of us.