The Importance of Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Better physical health

Physical health and mental health are tightly connected. Many mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, can worsen your blood pressure and put a strain on your heart. People with these illnesses are more likely to die from heart-related illnesses. According to the WHO, poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions, including chronic pain and chronic fatigue.

And this connection goes both ways. So, if you develop a chronic physical condition as a result of your chronic mental health issues, the stress of the physical conditions can cause your mental health to worsen. On the other hand, working to improve your physical health, for example through careful eating and exercise, can have a positive impact on your mental health by reducing your stress levels, improving your memory, releasing mood-boosting endorphins, and improving your sleep.

More productive

People experiencing mental health conditions struggle to be productive. Mental illnesses can make it harder for you to motivate yourself to work, and harder to focus on the work once you’re doing it. And over time, mental illnesses can severely decrease your sense of self-worth, leaving you feeling like you wouldn’t be able to produce anything worthwhile even if you could put the time in.

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, you’ve probably noticed this phenomenon in your own life. Everyone has good days and bad days, and you’ve probably realized that you work better on your good days. And inversely, you’ve probably realized that when you are most productive, you feel better.

Better relationships

Bad mental health can cause your relationships to suffer. Mental illness can cause you to miss engagements, lash out at loved ones, or isolate yourself for long stretches of time. The overall stress of dealing with a mental illness, like any chronic illness, can also saturate your personal life. On the farthest end of the spectrum, people with severe mental illnesses can wind up completely isolated or stuck in an abusive relationship.

Again, even if you don’t have a mental illness, you will find yourself struggling socially when you’re tired, crabby, or stressed. Improving your mental health improves your relationship with your friends, your families, and your romantic partner. And having that support network there to help you is essential in maintaining your mental health.

How Effective is Medication in the Treatment of Addiction

Treatment for addiction with medicine-based therapy does not amount to pushing the envelope in the process of curing any addiction but it can make people productive again and lead normal lives as opposed to craving and seeking an illegal substance.

Misinformation or a lack of knowledge on Medication-Assisted Treatment/Therapy (MAT) may drive you to search for other methods of recovery from addiction.  This is why it is necessary to get well-versed with MAT.

Medication-Assisted Treatment/Therapy works by using opiates that are released in the neurological system. They cross the barrier of blood-brain and attach to receptors that are present on the brain cells. This process triggers an outpour of neurotransmitters and generates a high that is felt by the receiver.

This medicine-based treatment technique generally works in one of the two ways:

  1. Doctors may prescribe patients opioids that will trigger the same receptors that but are      absorbed in the blood over a longer period of time, rebutting the withdrawal symptoms and breaking a psychological link between consuming a drug and instantly feeling high.  Methadone is an example of such a medication, and is officially referred to as a full mu-opioid receptor agonist.  Another example isbuprenorphine which is a partial mu-opioid agonist.
  2. Doctors may prescribe antagonist opioids such as naltrexone or naloxone. They are drugs that cover the same receptors and creates barriers against them. And if the condition of any patient deteriorates or relapses, they should not feel euphoria if an illegal opioid is used, unless that dose is large enough to displace the blocking drug.  Opioid cravings are reduced as well and there is no abuse potential with naltrexone, or naloxone.

Is MAT genuinely the way to go to cure any addiction?

So far, the data and the statistics that show the success rate of MAT is significantly high enough to outweigh any drawbacks. Better outcomes are seen with this form of therapy than those without medication assistance. It reduces the danger of relapses, has the potential to prevent grave diseases like HIV, and has been known to be effective in preventing overdoses.

In spite of all the positive outcomes, experts believe there are quite a few gaps in this technique. One of the gaps is determining the suitability of each drug for an individual. It is of utmost importance to choose the right drug for the right patient. Each drug has different risks and benefits for different psychological states. For instance, the patient can overdose and die on methadone whereas they cannot have any such ill effects from naltrexone and with buprenorphine it becomes less likely.

Ultimately, the decision is made through discussions between the patient and the medical professional who decides the best course of treatment. Working together is the best course to determining what the right treatment for each patient will be.

A Look into Mind-Body Medicine

In most Western medical practices, mental health and physical health are viewed as two separate entities; physical health is handled by a primary care physician and mental health is covered by a psychologist or psychiatrist as needed. However, newer practices are pulling from centuries-old beliefs that the health of the mind and the health of the body are more interconnected than we’ve been practicing.

Mens sana in corpore sano.

In ancient Greek times, there was a firm and widely held belief that the mind and body are connected and influence the health of one another. A well-known Latin phrase was developed from this belief: “mens sana in corpore sano” translates to mean “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” In essence, total, holistic wellness is wellness in both your mental and physical health. This duality between mind and body remained the common belief and practice until the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods when they were separated into two different entities. In the 17th century, Rene Descarte described humans as being comprised of two contrasting substances which could not unify with one another; the mind being sentient and able to reason but without substance, and the body with substance but constricted to the physics of earth whereas the mind is not.

Reconnecting the mind and body.

As medical knowledge progressed and our understanding of health deepened, the importance and influence of the mind began to creep its way back into discussions of physical health in the 20th century. They began to study the power that the mind has over the body in the wake of studies on how placebos can affect the body’s ability to control pain.

Mind-body health today.

Today, an entire sector of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is devoted to researching the connection between mind and body health. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) studies the impact that mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect a person’s health.

Some mind-body medicine practices from the NCCIH include mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, yoga, deep breathing, massage, and homeopathy. Mind-body practices also promote the use of natural products like herbs, minerals, probiotics, and vitamins.

The designation that mind-body health practices are “alternative medicine” presents a misinforming picture of the power that incorporating these holistic practices in life can have. “Alternative” gives the impression that all typical Western health practices are abandoned when in reality it just expands the scope through with which we view these practices and understand their impact.

How Common are Mental Health Problems?

Mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; every year over 42 million people in the U.S. suffer from some kind of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia. Other types of mental illness are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders and personality disorders.

Additional mental health problems include stress response syndromes. Stress response syndromes happen when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms when faced with a stressful event or situation. Stress events that cause stress responses are a major illness, a natural disaster like a tornado, death of a loved one, divorce or marriage, or a major move overseas. Those who suffer from these dissociative disorders suffer with severe disturbances or changes in memory or identity.

Keep in mind; there are many things which can cause mental illness such as inherited traits. It probably is no surprise that mental illness is more common in those who have blood relatives who have a mental illness, and genes linking certain conditions are being described frequently. Another factor is exposure to environmental stressors before birth such as alcohol or drugs.  In utero exposure or circumstances can bring about epigenetic changes which will shape one’s life for better or for worse.  Imbalances in neurochemistry or brain chemistry are often biochemical reason or a cause of mental illness.

It’s no surprise, I’m sure especially to the younger generation which carries much school debt that stressful life situations include financial problems and can be an additive factor to one suffering from mental illness.  A childhood with abuse or neglect, and a limited social network can set the stage for mental illness.

There are several effective strategies that can be taken that reduce and in some cases reverse mental illness.  One of these pillars is psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy is when mental illness is treated by a trained mental health professional through counseling discussions. Psychotherapy delves into a person’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors to begin heal or improve a person’s well-being. Medication is also prescribed for some mental illness conditions. Case management is another way to treat mental illness and coordinates services for a person with the help of a case manager which can be likened to a “project manager”.  Hospitalization may be necessary for certain patients given circumstances.  Group therapy through support groups, or peer support also may be beneficial in numerous cases.

Other treatments that you can do for yourself, include treating yourself with respect and kindness, not being overly critical of yourself, making time for hobbies or other relaxation strategies.  Even small things like finding time to read a book or do a crossword puzzle. It can not be emphasized enough how important it is to eat nutritious food, exercise, get enough sleep, and to be surrounded by positive or nurturing people; those who are family-oriented and those who support you with your way of life.  Giving back by volunteering to help others, being mindful and learning how to deal with stress through journal writing or simply looking for the humor in life. Taking a moment to be grateful or just going outside for awhile and appreciating what you see; all are activities that can help treat and prevent certain mental health problems.

To conclude, mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; however, there are many effective treatment strategies which can mitigate mental illness or ideally prevent.

Opioid Use in the United States

The use of opioids is widespread and common in many first-world countries and is only globally second to cancer medicines in the rate of usage. Hundreds of millions of pain prescriptions are written each year, for various reasons, and the market for opioids is around $24 billion, an astronomical amount. While you would think that this number would be distributed throughout the world, it’s unfortunately mostly concentrated in the United States. This number works out to around 80 percent of opioids being used in the United States.

Lack of limitations

One of the reasons that the United States leads with the amount of opioids prescribed and used is likely the past lack of limitations on the drug. Previously, people who used opioids for pain relief were easily able to get multiple prescriptions from different doctors or have prescriptions renewed before they should be in an effort to take more medications. Another difference between the United States and other countries in opioid prescription is medical culture.  American doctors were much more willing to prescribe the pills for people suffering from acute and chronic pain. In other countries, opioids are only prescribed in extreme trauma cases, like childbirth, severe burns, and end-of-life care. Studying in Europe it was rather rare to see patients ask or receive the various potent opioids inappropriately.  Conversely, when I started my training nearly ten years ago the culture was to liberally give out opioids at the slightest whimper.  Since U.S. doctors were more willing to prescribe opioids, less serious medical conditions were and sometimes are treated with opioids.  Only now is the pendulum swinging the other way and there have been new regulations limiting opioid prescribing.  

Amount of prescriptions

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), a number of opioids prescribed has quadrupled, with close to 300 million prescriptions written in 2012, “which is enough to provide every American adult with a bottle of opioid pills”. Not every American adult has a bottle of opioids, which is even more concerning because it means that others have lots of different opioids they’re constantly taking. While it may be still fairly easy to acquire a prescription from a doctor, many people also receive their opioids from family members or friends who have their own prescription.

High risk of addiction

Opioids whether legal or illegal can be extremely addicting, which is why it’s so concerning at the rate they’re being used in the United States.  In this document, ASAM breaks down a lot of the numbers associated with opioid use and addiction. People are willing to share pain medication, especially when they receive it for less serious medical conditions and then end up having pills or prescriptions left over that they can give to loved ones suffering from chronic pain, or to sell. Unfortunately, opioids are also a gateway to heroin usage. Many people initially start taking opioids and then work their way up to heroin, because they’ve become addicted to their prescription pills and need to get that high. It’s important to limit, or at least carefully monitor, the amount of opioids being consumed in the United States.