The Changing Shape of Mental Health Treatment

Not long ago, mental health treatment was confined to a limited number of talk-focused therapies that did not fully address the wealth of mental health conditions people experience in their daily lives. But in recent years, we have witnessed a shift in how we approach treatment and rapid expansions in the range of treatments offered. So what does the future of mental health care look like?

The History of Mental Health Care

Mental health care has existed in some form for hundreds of years. Paracelsus, a physician who lived in the 15th century, believed that the emotional disconnect between a person and the world was the cause of poor mental health.

What we know as modern psychotherapy would only be developed in the 18th and 19th centuries, with Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer credited with formally founding the discipline of psychoanalysis. In the 1960s, Aaron T. Beck expanded on psychotherapeutic practices and developed cognitive therapy, which transformed into what we know today as cognitive-behavioral therapy.

The Changing Landscape of Mental Health Treatment

Mental health treatments are still developing and changing, with innovative processes being created and refined to target conditions including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Nutritional Psychology

Our diet affects our mental health as well as our physical health. The gut and digestive systems are often known as the second brain, using the same cells and chemicals as the brain to help digest food and alert us when something is wrong. There is a connection in action when we feel nauseous and get nervous or butterflies in our stomach when excited.

The relationship between the gut and brain is bidirectional – one can influence the other. While you might feel sick when anxious, research has found that those with a diet higher in fruits and vegetables report that they are more optimistic.[1] Conversely, processed foods high in sugar and fats can negatively affect mood, disrupting the gut microbiome and contributing to inflammation.

Nutritional psychology can provide a new dimension to mental health treatment when used with other therapeutic approaches. By addressing nutritional deficiencies, promoting gut health, supporting a balanced diet, and enhancing the effectiveness of different therapies, nutritional psychology can help improve mental health outcomes.

Psychedelic Therapy

Psychedelics were initially used for mental health treatments in the 1940s until the US banned them under the Controlled Substances Act. However, new research is currently being undertaken into their effectiveness in treating PTSD and depression.

Ketamine was the first psychedelic substance to be approved for medical use in 2019, used to target treatment-resistance depression. It binds to brain receptors that produce glutamate, which plays a vital role in mood regulation and helps to stimulate neuroplasticity to help people change their thought patterns for the better.

Other psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin and MDMA, are also being studied in relation to mental health treatment. As they have similar properties to ketamine, they may be utilized in the future as alternative or complementary therapies for multiple conditions.

Virtual Reality Therapy

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, almost all therapy was conducted in person. Now, more and more people are opting for remote treatment, increasing access to services for those who may have struggled in the past.

However, remote therapy is not restricted to traditional talk therapies. Virtual reality (VR) therapy has also made the move online, helping people to face their phobias and anxiety-provoking scenarios in a safe, controlled environment with the help of their therapist. For example, they can practice breathing techniques in an anxiety-inducing VR scenario, getting used to their body’s reaction and utilizing neuroplasticity to reprogram the brain and reduce anxiety around the situation.

Although VR therapy is not new, it is a revolution in remote treatment, taking telehealth to the next level and allowing people to take their treatment at their own pace. With the growing use of digital technology being used in mental health care, remote and VR therapy is poised to become more personal and effective than ever. 

A Greater Focus on Mental Health

Mental health, while still struggling against stigma, is being taken more seriously by countries across the world. There has been a collective shift towards prioritizing healing and mental health, both at an individual level and from entire countries.

For example, in July 2022, the Federal Communications Commission partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to launch a new suicide prevention hotline, 988. It provides an easier-to-memorize number for those experiencing mental health crises, helping to widen access to emergency mental health care and substance abuse prevention. Washington has also added a specific service for American Indian and Alaska Native people, which can be reached by pressing 4 after dialing 988. This service provides tailored support to Native people, who report experiencing psychological distress 2.5 times more than the general population and are significantly more likely to struggle with substance abuse.[2]

The future of mental health treatment is bright, with innovations and treatments being developed every year. As we focus on our mental health and widen access to essential treatments, we can work towards a future where nobody has to struggle with a treatable condition. 


Sources:

[1] Głąbska D, Guzek D, Groele B, Gutkowska K. Fruit and vegetable intake and mental health in adults: a systematic review. Nutrients. 2020;12(1).

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus17.pdf

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