Beating the Mental Health Treatment Stigma

Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability for people aged 15 to 44, and many people suffer from more than one disorder at a time, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Now, people no longer have to suffer in silence. They can have a real life, complete with job, family, friends and hobbies. All thanks to the remarkable progress in treatment.

Mental health in the elderly population is a growing concern also. A recent study at Texas A&M Health Science Center that was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that doctors spend little time discussing mental health issues with older patients and rarely refer them to a therapist, even if they show symptoms of severe depression. People over 65 make up 12 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for 16 percent of suicide deaths in 2004.

Medications and treatment advancements have truly changed the face of mental illness. And each new generation of medications offers people more opportunities to live relatively ordinary lives, if they are closely monitored by a psychiatrist and if they take their medications.

Still, mental health is the stepchild of healthcare. This year's "Get Connected" theme for Mental Health month recommends staying connected to family and friends, your community, and your doctor.

I would like to add another category — get connected to the many types of treatment that are available today and can benefit individuals with one or more mental health conditions. It is worth the time and effort to find the right treatment for you.

Dr. Richard DeVaul, Professor of Psychiatry and Family Medicine at Texas A&M University, has many years of clinical and academic practice as a medical psychiatrist. He is the Founder and Creator of the Leadership in Medicine Program at the College of Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center.

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