Due to the nature of mental health, those with a mental illness or illnesses in general often live with their symptoms for long periods before seeking treatment if they ever do so at all. Without professional help, mental conditions will only get worse, so the sooner that patients are diagnosed and begin treatment, the better. Persistent symptoms often drive people to self-medicate, which is the act of abusing drugs or alcohol to get temporary relief from their symptoms. 

This behavior is typically observed in those with a chronic condition, particularly mental disorders, and can be more accessible than professional treatment depending on the individual case. However, self-medication is only initially effective.

 After it becomes the standard solution for symptoms, it shortly becomes the same for any ills whatsoever. This progression soon gives way to substance abuse and addiction followed by patients turning one mental condition into two, each enabling the other to spiral out of control.

The State of Mental Health

Why Mental Illness Often Goes UndiagnosedMore frequent than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, mental illnesses affect over 450 million people worldwide and can be life-threatening, if only indirectly. By 2020, mental health disorders are projected to overtake all physical diseases as a more recurrent cause of disability. [1]

Manifesting themselves with the following symptoms, some of the more common mental disorders are:[2]

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Restlessness, low energy, poor concentration, irritability, muscle tension, trouble sleeping, etc.
  • Intermittent Explosive Disorder: Better known as anger issues, this condition is marked by a failure to resist aggressive impulses and the instance of aggressive expression being grossly out of proportion to the event that triggered it.
  • Clinical Depression: Persistent, crushing sadness accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, a lack of energy, and little to no pleasure derived from formerly enjoyed activities.
  • Bipolar Disorder: Severe mood swings characterized by alternating episodes of mania and depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A form of severe anxiety consisting of recurring, disturbing thoughts (obsessions) and/or ritualized behaviors that the patient feels compelled to perform (compulsions). Typically associated with a strong aversion of contamination from dirt, germs, illnesses, etc., and the need for exactness and symmetry.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Caused by the experience of a tragic or terrifying event such as a car accident, sexual assault, or war, victims of PTSD relive the trauma in the form of nightmares and disturbing daytime recollections.
  • Schizophrenia: Manifesting itself with auditory, visual, olfactory, and/or tactile hallucinations and delusions, schizophrenia has several different forms and is a severe disorder marked by paranoia and dissociation from reality.

Mental illnesses begin manifesting themselves in 50 percent of patients by the age of 14 and 75 percent of patients by the age of 25. Despite the early onset, between 76 and 85 percent of serious cases do not receive treatment in low and middle-income nations. That range drops to between 35 and 50 percent in high incomes countries, yet it still represents a huge margin. 

Additionally, many symptoms of less severe mental disorders are written off as growing pains or “just a phase” for years. This crippling delay between the initial appearance of symptoms and the beginning of treatment allows for the condition to become more severe, the potential co-occurrence of other mental illnesses and a lower treatment success rate as people age and their disorders become ingrained in their identities.[1]

Some factors that lead to patients balking at getting help are:

  • The nature of mental illness often entails self-objectivity being in short supply, resulting in many patients not being aware that they need treatment or denying that fact altogether
  • As much of mental health treatment lies adjacent to the realm of conventional medicine, some patients doubt that its effectiveness entirely
  • Many low-income patients cannot afford professional help or simply do not have access to it
  • The archaic stigma of mental illness is alive and well despite the majority of us knowing better by now
  • Barring the above, others are restricted by work, school, or childcare responsibilities from pursuing proper treatment

The perception of mental illnesses is a significant contributing factor to why it doesn’t receive the attention that it needs at the macro level. This negative association results in alienation and discrimination of those afflicted by mental health disorders, leading to social isolation and inadequate treatment if there ever is any treatment at all. Mental illnesses account for over 20 percent of global healthcare costs yet many countries devote less than 3 percent of their healthcare budget to it.[1]

The Dangers of Self-Medication

Self-medication as a treatment for mental illnesses is a house of cards. By seeking relief from your symptoms through the abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, you incur several risks capable of significantly harming your overall mental health, including: [3]

Why Mental Illness Often Goes Undiagnosed

 Becoming addicted to your substance of choice

As with the use of any addictive substance, there is an inherent threat of becoming dependent on it. As patients continually self-medicate, each dose will have less and less of an effect, requiring patients to gradually consume more and more each usage. 

Depending on how much a patient self-medicates, there is an increasingly bigger risk of this, creating an additional mental illness in the form of a substance use disorder. The most commonly abused substances used for self-medication are alcohol, prescription pills, marijuana, and heroin.

Exacerbating your primary mental illness

Substance abuse leads to addiction which is a mental illness. The nature of mental disorders entails that each one feeds off of any other, trading short-term, artificial relief for further deteriorating mental health over the long-term.

Closing the door on getting professional treatment forever

The more that patients self-medicate as their sole method of treatment, the less likely they are to ever pursue professional help – the only healthy and effective way to treat mental conditions for good.

Taking on all of these risks for temporary, partial relief with a significantly diminishing return just doesn’t add up. An estimated 50 percent of individuals with severe mental illnesses are abusing a substance and among patients properly diagnosed with a mental disorder, 29 percent of the abuse either drugs or alcohol. 

All told, 53 percent of drug abusers and 37 percent of alcohol abusers have at least one serious mental condition.[4] How widespread this self-medication is among mental health patients indicates a systemic problem in the way that the United States, as well as many other countries, regard and address their mentally ill population.

Different Mental Illnesses

When it comes to treating mental health, there are a plethora of illnesses that could affect any one individual. Some of the most common mental illnesses include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • PTSD
  • OCD
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Personality Disorders
  • Schizophrenia

There is no mental illness that is the same as another. This is because every individual is unique, as are their circumstances. Different people require different treatments so that the care that they receive is unique to them; this is the same way with mental illnesses. It’s best to understand the illness to know how to treat it successfully.

Anxiety

Worry is a completely natural part of life; it’s usually an indicator that we care for something or someone. However, the issue comes when anxiety becomes chronic. Chronic anxiety is not a pleasant thing to go through and many people suffer as a result. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 3.1 percent of individuals in the United States suffer from anxiety. Those who suffer from anxiety are likely to use alcohol or drugs to cope. This is dangerous because it could mean being dually diagnosed.

Depression 

When someone is depressed, it’s more than just sadness. Depression manifests itself with poor moods, anxiety, and a lack of motivation. Those who struggle with depression suffer from a severe lack of interest, sometimes making it impossible for them to do anything. In addition to this, there’s also drowsiness that occurs. Depressed individuals usually have a hard time finding the energy or staying awake. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is when someone is unable to manage or control recurring thoughts and compulsions. This disorder makes it difficult for an individual to function at an average level because they are compelled to do these things repeatedly. Usually, this disorder manifests itself in extreme germophobia and organizing or counting objects.

The subconscious goal is to obtain some sort of relief to the mind, but the relief only manifests itself for a brief moment; after that, the anxiety comes in and causes the individual to feel motivated to repeat their behavior. Sometimes, too dum down their minds, individuals who suffer from OCD will drink or do drugs so that they can shut their minds off. If this disorder is left untreated, there is a potential risk for substance use disorder in addition to OCD.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Symptoms of PTSD include the following:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) happens when someone experiences some sort of stress because of a traumatic event. When it comes to the traumatic event itself, it could have been experienced or they could have witnessed it. 

Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder

Many people throughout the United States suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is an attention disorder and manifests itself with behaviors like hyperactivity, impulsiveness, forgetfulness, and lack of concentration. This mental health disorder starts in childhood and progresses into adulthood. 

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder manifests itself in severe mood swings, moving between highs and lows. Naturally, the lows are referred to as depression while the highs are referred to as mania, which is interesting being that another term for bipolar disorder is Manic Depression. Those who suffer from bipolar disorder often display either extreme moodiness or extreme happiness.

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are mental illnesses that affect an individual by influencing unhealthy thought patterns, poor behavior, and poor functioning. This has the potential to lead someone to a place of either impairment or distress, emotionally or physically (as a result of their actions).

Those who suffer from a personality disorder may revert to substance use disorder to cope with their mental illness. When individuals who suffer from a mental illness cope in ways that develop more mental illnesses, which would mean someone would end up with a dual diagnosis. 

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia, in short, is when people perceive reality in an extremely abnormal manner. This mental illness impacts the way individuals feel, act, and think, making it an illness worthy of the fear it instills. 

Why Mental Health is Important

Treating mental illness is imperative, especially as new revelations regarding this epidemic are coming to the surface. It is extremely dangerous to leave a mental illness untreated or unattended. If someone with a severe mental illness is not treated with the utmost professional care, it could spell danger for both themselves and their loved ones. 

Because mental illness is a disease that impacts the way that people feel, thinks, and acts towards others, treatment must be prioritized. Paying attention to mental health is imperative in every stage of life. Whether the fruits of one’s health can be seen or not, people can’t afford to only take care of themselves when the illness becomes visible. 

Unity Behavioral Health is Here to Help

Mental illness is something that affects many individuals worldwide, yet not many of them will ever seek out treatment. Many stigmas are surrounding the practice of good mental health, and many of these people don’t seek help because of the culture that views it toxically. It’s imperative to the health of those suffering and their loved ones that help is sought out. This could mean all the difference in the lives of millions. Every action reacts; everything people choose to do impacts the surrounding environment in a certain way. 

If you or someone you know is abusing drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate a mental disorder, Unity Behavioral Health can help. We are a comprehensive recovery center located in scenic North Palm Beach, FL, specializing in the treatment of drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness, and dual diagnosis. Contact us here to learn more.

www.iccd.org/keyfacts.html
psychcentral.com/disorders/
www.drugrehab.us/news/what-are-the-most-abused-substances-to-self-medicate-anxiety
www.helpguide.org/articles/addiction/substance-abuse-and-mental-health.htm

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