By Catherine Wachira, PMHNP
Mental health impacts our ability to function at work, personal and social life, as well as how we cope with life changes. Studies have shown that when medication and therapy are combined to treat mental health disorders, the best outcomes are achieved. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for patients to choose medication only and be hesitant to start therapy. Others may choose only therapy and take years to take medication despite being recommended by their therapist. In order to circumvent the adverse consequences of delaying mental health treatment and reach your full potential, mental health must be prioritized. Early detection and intervention minimizes the impact of a potentially serious mental health disorder (Colizzi et al., 2020).
Often times, we do not think about mental illness occurring in children even though more than half of all mental health disorders arise before 18 years of age. Early childhood years have a great impact on academic, social, emotional, and behavioral achievements in childhood (Colizzi et al., 2020). Studies have shown that when mental health problems in early childhood and adolescence are treated, academic performance is more likely to have a better outcome (Agnafors et al., 2021). Furthermore, by screening and treating children and adolescents for mental health disorders, we can significantly reduce poor mental health that is associated with substance use, motor vehicle crashes, and crime, to name a few. This would in turn reduce disease burden and expenses associated with severe mental health illness (Das, et al, 2016).
Many behavioral issues and conditions may arise during childhood and transition into adulthood. When mental health is identified and treated early, there is a higher likelihood of stability in adulthood due to more awareness and better symptom management.
Research has also shown that untreated mental illness damages the brain. The hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible memory and emotion, physically shrinks with depression. Prolonged depression leads to severe shrinkage (Saplosky, 2001). Anxiety, stress, and lack of sleep are also damaging to the brain. Behavioral modifications, therapy, as well as medication can help combat these harmful effects. As the central operating unit of our body, our brain should be cared for, and we should do everything we can to protect it to optimize its performance.
In summary, seeking early mental health treatment allows you to enjoy the benefits that include less intense treatment, better relationships, fewer and less severe symptoms, increased productivity, and improved emotional wellbeing.
Agnafors, S., Barmark, M. & Sydsjö, G. Mental health and academic performance: a study on selection and causation effects from childhood to early adulthood. Soc Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 56, 857–866 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-020-01934-5
Colizzi, M., Lasalvia, A., & Ruggeri, M. (2020). Prevention and early intervention in youth mental health: is it time for a multidisciplinary and trans-diagnostic model for care? International journal of mental health systems, 14, 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-020-00356-9
Das, J. K., Salam, R. A., Lassi, Z. S., Khan, M. N., Mahmood, W., Patel, V., & Bhutta, Z. A. (2016). Interventions for Adolescent Mental Health: An Overview of Systematic Reviews. The Journal of adolescent health: official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 59(4S), S49–S60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.06.020
Sapolsky RM. Depression, antidepressants, and the shrinking hippocampus. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Oct 23;98(22):12320-2. doi: 10.1073/pnas.231475998. PMID: 11675480; PMCID: PMC60045.