In 2021, We Need Preventative Mental Health
Updated: Jan 27
During these past few months, it has been difficult to find a clear path through each day. We find ourselves spinning in circles, starting projects that we quickly abandon, completing work that is placed in front of us, but unable to find the motivation for proactive tasks. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, over the years I have helped hundreds of people through some of the most difficult times in their lives. But this is different. We are all facing stress, adjustment and loss on a scale that is difficult to contemplate. In therapy sessions, I am hearing themes from patients that are strikingly similar. I can’t help thinking that if I could find a way to reach a larger community, some techniques to help us all navigate this time would be welcomed and valued.
This thought process has coalesced into an overarching theme of Preventative Mental Health. We hear about preventative health often, such as getting your flu shot (certainly this takes on a new dimension during Covid), as well as taking a daily vitamin, eating a nutritious diet of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and willingly entering our primary care provider’s office yearly for physical exams, blood work and preventative testing such as colonoscopies (everyone’s favorite).
We hear far less about preventative mental health. And what exactly does this entail? How do we find ways to prevent episodes of depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and complicated grief? Are there simple ways to buffer ourselves and our loved ones from these painful experiences? Can we intervene before things get to a point of crisis? We know letting an infection go on without treatment can be dangerous, but the same is true (though less often described) in mental health. Anxiety that begins as an occasional, disturbing event, can grow into a daily struggle to complete tasks in the face of painful physical and psychological symptoms.
I realize it isn’t possible to prevent all episodes of mental illness, and I am trained and ready to treat those who need help when symptoms become too difficult or painful to manage. However, I also want to share information and tools that help everyone better navigate their stressful and dynamic lives, and grow into the people they want to be. Over the coming months, preventative mental health should be a priority, focused on guiding individuals through the storm, and helping them to see their future on the other side.