Modern growth and a changing employment landscape can have a psychological affect that contributes to depression and anxiety.
Psychologist Bill Thornton of Answers For Youth Families says many forms of depression and anxiety are common and treatable. And the stigma attached is waning through public awareness.
“We know enough about treating those things that we can actually get people back on course very quickly and there is in many ways very few cases where people need to be in therapy for years,” Thornton said. “It wreaks havoc on people’s lives unnecessarily because those are things with the proper treatment that are very, very modifiable, or correctable.”
The biggest step is getting to the door of someone who can help, the psychologist said.
Postpartum depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and psychosis have all continued to receive more attention in part from the Affordable Care Act’s order to include treatment on most insurance plans. Having practiced in Fort Smith for the past 13 years, Thornton said he has seen how the city’s “growing pains” translates into mood disorders among its population.
“I have seen with that growth a greater awareness of depression and anxiety and I think it’s a greater acceptance the more we know about mental health issues,” Thornton said.
Getting the right treatment from an “evidence-based” provider, Thornton said, is going to be valuable to anyone who feels like they have suffering from depression or anxiety. Growth is good, he adds, but it does bring a lot of problems. It can add stress on families that may not spend get to spend as much time as they used to with their children. The loss of a job can also feed a higher pressure environment.
As much as 8 percent of the population suffers from depression or a bi-polar disorder, and postpartum depression affects one in seven pregnant women.
A June 20 event at Fort Smith’s Ben Geren Park aims to create more awareness of postpartum depression and give women a chance to reduce the stigma attached to this all-too-common illness. Only 15 percent of women will seek help for their disorder, according to the nonprofit group Postpartum Progress. That means there are between 500,000 and 750,000 mom in the United States suffering without treatment each year, a news release states.
“Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression are temporary and treatable with professional help,” the release adds.
Postpartum Progress also states that 95 percent of respondents to an audience impact survey reported that Postpartum Progress helped them learn more about mood and anxiety disorders during pregnancy and the postpartum period. And 79 percent reported Postpartum Progress helped them recognize they were suffering from a maternal mental illness.
“This event is so important to our overall cause and our growing community of Warrior Moms, as it grants both the visibility that they so richly deserve,” said Katherine Stone, founder of Postpartum Progress. “Your local Warrior Mom is rallying together friends, family, the health care community and other survivors to celebrate their journeys rather than feel ashamed of them, therefore reducing the stigma associated with these health issues. We hope that at least one mom who is currently suffering feels empowered to get the help she needs from our efforts – that would make it worth it for us.”
The River Valley Team for Postpartum Progress can be reached through Audra Barrick at (304) 559-6435.
“There are some biological issues that occur during pregnancy that can affect mood, but also it’s a huge life change,” Thornton said. “We often feel unprepared to take on the role of parenting, and that can bring upon depression, and there’s anxiety as well. It’s a real problem, and something that needs to be addressed aggressively.”
Cognitive behavioral therapy can be introduced into any point, but the earlier a diagnosis can be found the better, he said. A complete evaluation is conducted to find out someone’s co-morbidities and get a total picture on all forms of mental illness.
The Affordable Care Act’s inclusion of mental health in most insurance plans has helped dissolve some of the stigma attached with mental illnesses, Thornton added.
“I think that awareness does help eradicate some of that stigma,” Thornton said. “We still have a long ways to go. People are still viewed in a very negative light in many ways, which is why so many people go untreated for such a long period of time.”
The ACA requires that most individual and small employer health insurance plans, including all plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace, cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Also required are rehabilitative and rehabilitative services that can help support people with behavioral health challenges. These new protections build on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) provisions to expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and federal parity protections to an estimated 62 million Americans.
Because of the law, most health plans must now cover preventive services, like depression screening for adults and behavioral assessments for children, at no additional cost. And, as of 2014, most plans cannot deny you coverage or charge you more due to pre-existing health conditions, including mental illnesses.
Thornton, who earned his doctorate in south Florida, was a clinical director for a mental health agency that serves the state before going into private practice in the past year.
“Many people are hesitant to seek help because they fear reprisal from work. They fear being looked at and treated differently by their friends and relatives,” Thornton said. “So to breach that barrier and pick up the phone or go to a website, that is a huge step.”
Mental health issues are very common, he adds, and it does not mean that they will have a lifetime of despair.