Mental Health and the generation gap.
For generations parents have been raising their children to ‘show a bit of backbone’, keep a ‘stiff upper lip’, and, more than anything else, to keep quiet about anything that might suggest mental health problems. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks and a whole host of other issues were kept under wraps, and the idea that a family member would seek help from a therapist was inconceivable. The universal belief that therapists were strictly for ‘nutters’ led to mental health problems becoming a stigma more solid than any ‘bit of backbone’.
A quarter of the population will experience mental health problems
According to recent research, a quarter of the population in the developed world faces mental health problems at some time in their life. This is almost certainly underestimated, as many people still do not admit they have a mental health problem, and do not seek help due to the stigma attached to the problems. Led by charities, support groups, and people in the public eye who have opened up and revealed their own mental health problems, society is being dragged, kicking and screaming to face up to the issue.
Three generations are suffering
Mental health problems are increasing across all three generations. Many of the parents that advocated the ‘stiff upper lip’ are now facing depression and anxiety themselves, in their old age. Their own children are middle aged, and they are faced with mental health problems due to stress, work pressures, and the worry of their own children being at risk of mental health problems. Children as young as six years old are being diagnosed with depression and NICE recently updated their guidelines to include the drug fluoxetine as a line of treatment for children as young as 8 years of age.
Conventional Treatment – Drugs and CBT
Conventional treatments are largely drug based with some counselling as a treatment or supportive therapy. However in the UK the waiting list for therapies is long, and getting longer. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) sets the guidelines for management of mental health issues and so far has not included any other treatments, despite growing evidence that many creative therapies, mindfulness, relaxation and other treatments have shown patient benefit.
Non-psychotic mental health problems.
Giving a label to any mental health problem is not simple as there are many grey areas and patients may be suffering from combinations of different disorders. Generally non-psychotic mental health problems are not as extreme as psychotic disorders. Non psychotic disorders include depression and depression-like disorders, anxiety, phobias, panic attacks and obsessive compulsive behaviour.
Review of Art Therapy
There is already a strong foundation of evidence for creative therapies being of benefit to patients with mental health problems. A new paper published in Health Technology Assessment has reviewed the current clinical trials on the benefits of art therapy. Although the paper reports that the studies are generally of low scientific quality there is indication that art therapy is a cost effective treatment for mental health problems and shows patient benefit. The document does, however, point out that art therapy can open the door to other issues surfacing that the therapist may not be qualified to deal with. It is therefore important to use a highly qualified art therapist that is registered with the relevant counselling/psychotherapy authorities.
If your child could get better by painting pictures or by taking medication, which would you choose?
Seeing a generation of children suffering from mental health problems is soul destroying. NICE should be working much harder to integrate new therapies and treatments into their guidelines, rather than resting their laurels on drugs.
Uttley et al. Systematic review and economic modelling of the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of art therapy among people with non-psychotic mental health disorders. Health Technol Assess Mar 2015