The State of Mental Health Care
Updated: Mar 17, 2022
Overwhelmed and underfunded. Mental health practitioners no doubt would agree that the state of mental health care in North America is suffering from an overabundance of patients needing care, and a lack of resources to adequately provide that care.
My work in mental health has revealed a startling statistic: at any given time, about 20 per cent of adults experience significant mental health issues that impact their ability to function, including the ability to hold a job, maintain healthy relationships, and practice self-care. That’s TWO out of every ten adults; no small number.
The real life impact of this challenge for practitioners AND patients is that the easiest approach will likely be the first and only approach–medication. When practitioners are spread thin, both time-wise and financially, it’s not practical to get to know a patient well enough to determine an individualized course of treatment. This is tragic because medication alone does not work for every mental health diagnosis or issue, especially for patients living with PTSD, grief or personality issues.
What is most needed is a multimodal approach to treatment, which you’ve heard me say before, and I’ll say it again. As we learn more about the brain and how it works, we are discovering that changes in the brain can prevent a full recovery. On my first day as a psychiatrist 40 years ago, I made rounds in a clinic, where I saw five patients, all of them depressed and suicidal. The treatments they’d had up to then weren’t working. I was at a loss, and didn’t know how to help them. Back then, the science of the brain wasn’t where it is today, and treatments were very conventional.
Kind Words and Good Intentions
Dr. Google has no shortage of advice and suggestions for mental health treatment. You’ll come across websites that offer “Top Ten Quotes for Mental Health” or “Happy Thoughts.” While these recommendations come with good intentions, they do nothing to provide actual treatment of a severe mental health condition. For some, mindset shifts may be helpful. But for many others, that just isn't enough.
Of the people living with mental health challenges, fewer than 50 per cent are able to completely resolve their condition, if at all, with conventional treatment options. With countless adults living with some degree of mental health challenges that impact their day to day functioning, it’s likely that anyone reading this article knows someone who has tried treatment without success, if not themselves.
Ushering In a New Era
To move beyond empathy and support as a treatment option, we need to embrace brain science. In the past two decades, we have learned a lot about the brain and how it works. We’ve made many advances in science-based therapy, but the way we diagnose and treat mental health conditions has not caught up with what we know about brain science.
A multimodal approach to therapy combines what we know about brain science with the potential of psychedelic treatment. Did seeing the word “psychedelic” give you pause? Many people, when they think of psychedelics, conjure up images of the 60s, and Timothy Leary with his “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” ethos. This is an outmoded perception of psychedelics. Though treatments have varying degrees of effectiveness, there are no treatments that are guaranteed to work for EVERY patient. It is time for innovation, and I believe we are ready to embrace an era where psychedelics can be part of the solution.
For individuals living with mental health challenges, and their loved ones, the search for help and solutions is never-ending. For these millions of people, psychedelics are a promising shot at transformational change. In my forthcoming book, The Promise of Psychedelics: Science-Based Hope for Better Mental Health, I outline the promise that lies ahead and the hope that psychedelics bring to those who could reap the benefits of this revolution in mental health treatment.