Prioritizing Mental Wellness in the Mental Health Field Is Nice in Theory, but Can It Work?

A woman meditating.
Photo by madison lavern on Unsplash

I’ve read a lot of articles lately (here’s one) that say that preventing mental illness would be better than treating mental illness. The way these authors want to do that is by promoting wellness. The theory is that we shouldn’t wait until people are sick to intervene. There should be more of a focus on what makes patients happy. This is a nice idea, but I don’t think it can work.

First, how do therapists and other clinicians reach people who are not suffering from mental illness? Without direct contact, which is impossible for most people, it will be a series of public service announcements and awareness campaigns. I strongly suspect that neither of those will be effective.

Second, people don’t listen. The opioid epidemic has been all over the news for years without any sign of abating. Don’t do drugs, in general, has been a mantra for decades. Our doctors are always telling us to avoid processed foods and added sugar. They’ve been doing everything imaginable to get us to exercise. But we don’t listen to any of the experts. People self-medicate. Sugar and fat taste good. Exercise is unpleasant and time consuming. There’s no reason to think wellness efforts will be any different.

Third, there’s a shortage of mental health professionals. They have enough trouble keeping up with the people who are ill. Who is going to keep up with all the healthy people who need wellness training? Our system just isn’t set up that way. If we had enough mental health professionals, maybe we could accommodate a yearly checkup like we do for our bodies, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

Like I said at the beginning, wellness and preventive mental health interventions, would be great, but they can’t work in anything like our current setup. We would need to revamp not just the mental health system but the entire healthcare system. Wellness is worth fighting for, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

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