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Why Everyone Should Know Something About Mental Health and Psychopharmacology

Audrey Howitt is a licensed psychotherapist, licensed attorney, opera singer and voice teacher, and an erstwhile poet

by: Ahborson

by: Ahborson

Mental Illness Affects Everyone.

As a society, most people either know someone who is mentally ill or have suffered from a mental condition themselves. As such, it behooves everyone to know about mental health and mental illness. That includes a working understanding of the jargon of mental health, the types of therapies existent, and the types of medications used to treat everything from depression and anxiety to schizophrenia.

This particular article covers an overview of the mental health process from symptomology through diagnosis and finally, moving toward a model of wellness and recovery.

We have come far in our quest to understand the origins, nature, and treatment of mental illness and conditions, but not far enough. The statistics bear out the need for continued understanding, research, treatment, and the removal of the stigma associated with mental illness.

--One in four students in college today have reported symptoms of depression.(Lindsey, Fabiano, & Stark, 2009)

--According the the CDC, More than 1 out of 20 Americans 12 years of age and older reported current depression in 2005–2006. (Pratt LA, Brody DJ. Depression in the United States household population, 2005–2006. NCHS Data Brief. 2008(7):1–8. Cited on Centers for Disease Control, (6/9/13)

--Again according to the the CDC, statistically from 2004-2008, An estimated 10.2% of U.S. adults experienced 14 or more mentally unhealthy days (Frequent Mental Distress or FMD) out of 30. (Moriarty DG, Zack MM, Holt JB, Chapman DP, Safran MA. Geographic patterns of frequent mental distress: U.S. adults, 1993-2001 and 2003-2006. Am J Prev Med 2009:36;497–505.

---Overall, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 22.1 percent of American adults annually or 44.3 million people suffer from some form of mental illness.(NIMH). That is not quite 1 in 4.

These statistics are staggering. Chances are that most everyone will know someone in the above categories. That means that at any given moment, almost 1 in 4 people carry a diagnosable mental health diagnosis.

What Is Mental Illness?

So what exactly is a mental illness? According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI): “ A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.” (NAMI website

Mental illness is a medical condition which disrupts daily living. And it can be serious, very serious if left untreated.

Getting Help: Various Models to Choose From

The Medical Model

The medical model goes hand in hand with the advent of insurance companies and their methodologies of payment for services. The medical model is driven by diagnosis and its hallmark is the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). The model is grounded in pathology, that is, in looking at what is wrong with clients rather than in what is right with them.

Disorders are listed along with qualifying symptoms. The DSM is backed by large numbers of scientific studies and it can help identify what is wrong, but it does nothing to identify what strengths a person may bring to their illness.

The Wellness Model

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The wellness model is the current model being used in the treatment of mental illness by many health care practitioners today. This model provides a much more complete and multilayered view of the client and the client's illness. It looks as much to strengths and it does to a client's symptoms. It takes into account the client's symptoms as well as the client's coping mechanisms and support systems.

This allows a therapist, doctor, or psychiatrist, to help stabilize the client quickly and efficiently. And it allows the client to use and value the support of others in the quest for wellness.

In general, treatment can include a variety of modalities from medication, to talk therapy, to mediation, exercise, and education regarding the illness.

Getting treatment is critical and too often, those suffering from mental illness go untreated. This happens for a variety of reasons: lack of resources to pay for services, lack of services, shame, etc. Depression can deepen, suicidality can increase, anxiety can worsen, and all of the more serious conditions can cause severe disruption of daily living absent supportive therapy and appropriate medication.

If you or someone you know thinks that you may have a mental health condition, seek treatment for a licensed clinician. It may take time to get an accurate picture of the condition at issue as mental disorders look somewhat different from person to person. In other words, not all depressives manifest the same symptoms in the same way. The same holds true for all the other disorders.

Appendix: Groups of Mental Health Disorders

Mood Disorders

Major Depressive Disorder

Bipolar Disorder

Dysthymic Disorder


Thought Disorders


Delusional Disorder

Anxiety Disorders

Panic Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Social Phobia


Specific Phobia

Eating Disorders

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


Personality Disorders

(taken from NAMI,

This list is not exhaustive, and only meant to indicate some of the major categories of mental illness.


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 10, 2019:

Interesting article. Thanks.

Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 29, 2019:

I disagree James. Sometimes, a person's level of dysfunction is so great that medications are needed. But you are entitled to your opinion and so is Peter Breggin

James A Watkins from Chicago on April 28, 2019:

Psychiatrist Peter Breggin: “At the root of psychopharmacology lies a dangerous assumption that it is safe and effective to tamper with the most complex organ in the universe! Curiously, in light of so much psychiatric concern about the dangers of biochemical imbalance, all known psychiatric drugs produce widespread chemical imbalances in the brain, usually involving multiple systems of nerves. Prozac is no exception.”

All psychiatric drugs cause brain dysfunction. That is how they work. To quote Dr. Breggin once more: “If depression has a biological or genetic basis, it has not been demonstrated scientifically. Biopsychiatric theory remains pure speculation and runs counter to a great deal of research and clinical experience, as well as common sense."

Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 26, 2019:

Thank you for taking the time to read--hope you are well

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 26, 2019:

Audrey, I agree we should pay attention to the presence of mental disorders. I am sensitive to the fact that many cases are overlooked. Thanks for awakening our focus.

Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 25, 2019:

Flourish. My heart goes out to you and your aunt. I hope she finds her way

Lori Colbo from United States on April 25, 2019:

Flourish, I am so sorry about your Aunt. I will be praying for her.

Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 25, 2019:

Thank you for reading Ann--and you are right I think--the body and mind affect each other

Ann Carr from SW England on April 25, 2019:

Interesting and informative article. It's useful to have all this in one article as it gives us an overview which has just enough detail without being overwhelming.

It seems that mental disorder often comes with a diagnosis of a physical one as, understandably, someone does not know how to deal with a disease or is frightened by it and doesn't know where to turn. I know someone with Crohn's; the stress makes it worse which in turn increases the stress.. and so it goes on.

Thanks for the education.


FlourishAnyway from USA on April 24, 2019:

My aunt is severely mentally ill and in the psychiatric hospital right now. She doesn’t bathe or groom for weeks on end, eats very little, quit taking all medication, lays in bed mute facing the wall, and it’s been like this off and on for several years. There is absolutely nothing the family can do legally. She hasn’t left her home since October. She will stay in the hospital until the “free” period is up (she is poor), then they will prematurely declare her ready to go home, and the cycle starts anew.

Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 24, 2019:

Yup it can be--

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on April 24, 2019:

That makes sense. I know about those broken records and how difficult it is to move on.

Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 24, 2019:

Hi Bill--I guess I like to think of the responses as having been helpful at one time, but then outliving their usefulness--a PTSD response is a normal fight or flight response, but it gets stuck, like a broken record--and when the response becomes intrusive, it is time to do something about it

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on April 24, 2019:

Thank you for a very well written and informative article, Audrey!

Could mental illness be described as the difference between normal and abnormal responses to stress, grief, anxiety, fear, or just ordinary life?

I think we all have our little quirks. I tend to be a little OCD about some things. The only people who worry me are the ones who have no visible foibles at all. :)

Well done!


Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 24, 2019:

Hi Lori! I am a licensed psychotherapist--and have worked with a number of therapeutic models, and I love the wellness model--Glad to see you are doing well! I think we are all on that continuum to some extent or another, so it seems to me, we should be talking about it more--

Lori Colbo from United States on April 24, 2019:

Are you by chance involved in the mental health field? There was a time when I could have been the poster child for mental illness. When I finally got involved in the wellness model things began to change. Today I am a thousand times better than I was ten years ago. Wellness model is a positive course. It requires the patient to participate in their recovery, applying tools given in therapy and support group and other therapy services. It means applying what you learn. The wellness model gets the person away from the idea that they will just manage and never improve, a dependent kind of attitude. I am glad the wellness model is here. It sure helped me. Thanks for writing this and keep up the advocacy.

Audrey Howitt (author) from California on April 24, 2019:

I agree about PTSD Jay! There are some wonderful new treatments for it these days--I am sorry that both your father and brother suffered--

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on April 24, 2019:

Very good article and close to me. My father and brother were paranoid schizophrenic and my step father suffered from PTSD. In my opinion, PTSD is a form of mental illness and affects many people.

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