Mental Health Across a Lifespan

By: Dr. Jose E. Igoa, Medical Director at DHR Health Behavioral Hospital

The relevance of mental health is often reminded to us when we are facing challenging times, when we cannot cope with senseless acts or when the world around us, as we know it, changes in unprecedented ways.

The truth is that too often mental health and wellness in general is overlooked even amongst health care providers. Often society as a whole fails to intervene in a timely manner.

In reality, there cannot be overall health without awareness, identification, and active intervention of mental health conditions, which are crucial throughout a lifespan.

Childhood

From childhood, early identification and treatment of conditions such as ADHD, Autism, and Developmental delays determines the prognosis and the future of our children. If we can break the poor academic performance cycle that starts in childhood and that often leads to behavioral problems, low-self-esteem, early drop-out rates from school, relationships and work related difficulties, substance use, etc.; we have the opportunity of altering the course and changing an individual’s life.

Adolescence

In adolescence, teens are facing significant pressures of a complex environment. The struggle to establish an identity becomes a huge task as they are more likely to be influenced by peers. Depression is often first manifested at this stage. Depression, impulsivity and substance use are a dangerous combination and sadly suicide rates are on the rise in this age group.

Transitioning from Adolescence to Adulthood

In the late teens, early twenties schizophrenia manifests and disorders that are inherited will appear, but early intervention again defines the course and prognosis of the illness. Every psychotic episode tends to affect the potential of that individual. In the past, available treatments were not ideal due to unwanted side effects, but that has now changed and treatment options are now available with fewer side effects.

Adulthood

In Adulthood, Unipolar and Bipolar Depression requires prompt intervention. When we facilitate treatment, we change a person’s outlook and quality of life for that individual and their entire family. We know that children of depressed parents are much more vulnerable and we can help stop that cycle.  Anxiety disorders are also common and sometimes paralyzing.  When clinically significant, anxiety can affect every area of functioning. Patient’s anxiety disorders affect their ability to form relationships and maintain employment, resulting in education and work related potential often being compromised.

Addictions are much more prevalent. The area of addictions is often neglected due to lack of resources or the fact that providers do not feel comfortable addressing or treating these conditions. Addictions destroy families, productive potential and are often involved in preventable fatalities and suicide. Addiction is an illness and if we cannot identify it as such, we are missing a window of opportunity.

Elderly

Finally we have our elderly patients that are more prone to the 3 D’s: Depression, Delirium and Dementia. Aging well represents a huge challenge with all its implications.

Elderly patients are more vulnerable, often having several medical conditions, dealing with uncertain financial resources and many have faced or are facing significant losses. Intervention for this population is essential. Treating dementia can delay progression of the illness, but can also help in addressing associated symptoms that make it possible for caretakers to keep their loved ones at home.

Mental health affects all stages of our lives. We need to take a more proactive approach on prioritizing mental health, not only to treat symptoms, but to improve the quality of life of patients. Patients, in turn, will be able to more adequately take care of themselves.