In our world today, mental health services and resources seem to be designed to only kick-in if there is a mental health crisis; mental illness is treated as a “fail first” illness. However, waiting until a mental health crisis makes treatment much more expensive and difficult, versus having effective support services earlier and throughout life – preventatively. Crises can actually be prevented and blocked, if proper support systems are put in place early on. This article will outline reasons for implementing a preventative mindset when it comes to facing mental health challenges and conditions.
Taking preventative measures means fighting the stigma.
As of now, stigma is a serious barrier to seeking help. There is a level of shame and accusation associated with mental illness. This has been embedded into our society throughout the history of mental health and reinforced through media representations of mental health. Having a health care system that is set up to treat mental illness as a “fail first” illness only contributes more to the detrimental impact of the stigma.
If we instead have a system that promotes mental health care preventatively – for example, starting early on with self-care lessons in elementary school – not only will we be better equipped to handle stressors that come our way later on, but there will also be less stigma associated with mental health. Talking about mental health – and addressing its many facets – would be normalized and expected.
Early treatment helps people get back on track right away.
When symptoms go ignored for a long period of time, significant valuable time is lost that could have been used to intervene to change that person’s life for the better. Early intervention actually shortens the duration of treatment. People are then able to do better and get well faster.
Two major issues with the system of care today is long waitlists and expensive services which serve as barriers to getting early treatment. If we are able to tackle these issues and allow for accessible and affordable care for everyone, we are one step closer to a better model of care that focuses on early intervention and treatment.
We need to change the way we think about mental health.
Shifting from a “fail first” method to a preventative method of care for mental health will require a change in mindset for everyone involved. We need to realize and be informed on the significant benefits of acting preventatively. We need to spread this knowledge to others and have people with lived experience advocate for better systems of care. This necessary shift will require many people from various different roles within the system – physicians, policymakers, consumers, family, educators, community leaders, and more – to come together and demand a better system.
The current state of the mental health system is not effective for giving everyone access to early and effective treatment; significant barriers exist everywhere. However, there are endless benefits to changing the system to be a preventative, proactive system, including that this would be more cost-effective, better for the patients’ outcomes, and more powerful in fighting the stigma and re-shaping how we think about mental health.