The number of individuals being diagnosed with mental illnesses in recent years is relatively alarming from both a micro and macro perspective. From a micro perspective, an individual with a condition like depression feels bad about themselves, is lethargic, often isolates themselves, and has a low income as a result of inability to work. They may develop health problems resulting from medications that they take and/or due to feeling apathetic about their physical health.
From a macro perspective, the depressed populace takes a significant toll on society. A huge number of people are unable to stay productive, help stimulate the economy, and have positive social interactions. If we account for all individuals with any form of mental illness, the cumulative societal toll in terms of lost productivity, crime, and contributions is staggering. At the moment, there is a clear need of better treatments for individuals with a mental illness.
Want better treatment for mental illness? Do something.
Unfortunately, a great majority of individuals with mental illnesses believe that they are at the mercy of the pharmaceutical companies, so they wait in hopes that a drug company will develop a “cure.” The great irony is that pharmaceutical companies aren’t in the business of “curing” any particular condition, rather they want to maximize profits via developing temporary “patches.” When one temporary patch becomes out-dated, they come up with a newer one with flashier qualities that may be slightly better than an older patch.
Most of the general public has been incessantly brainwashed into believing that they have a “chemical imbalance” as the root cause of their mental illness. Instead, most people likely really have genetic abnormalities that are contributing to differing psychological functioning compared to the norm. Certain genetic abnormalities may indirectly contribute to chemical imbalances, but the root causes are often either genetically based and/or epigenetically based.
The great irony is that many individuals believe that a “pill” will cure their particular illness. People with depression for example excitedly await the next new batch of FDA-approved medications to be released as if they were the second-coming of Christ. While it is certainly beneficial to remain hopeful for new treatments, the reality is that many often don’t work nearly as well as expected.
Pharmaceutical drugs on the market may work for some individuals, but the fact is that a majority get either minimal or no relief. For other individuals these drugs actually aggravate their current condition, making it worse. People that have taken the time to understand that antidepressants stop working over time due to tolerance, and realize that they are not a great long-term solution know that something needs to change. Better treatment options need to be developed for the treatment of a variety of conditions including: schizophrenia, depression, dementia, anxiety, etc. – the list goes on.
How to Improve Treatments for Mental Illness & The Mental Health Industry
There are a variety of ways in which you can make a significant difference in the field of mental health. Although you may not be a psychiatrist, work in the biotech industry, or scientist – anyone and everyone has potential to make a difference in the world. Don’t doubt your ability to contribute to the world, regardless of your current situation or diagnosis.
1. Educate yourself
Before you even attempt to raise awareness of a particular mental illness or treatments for it, you need to educate yourself. It is important to realize that there are potential benefits and drawbacks to all types of treatments for various conditions. It is also important to understand that everyone with a particular diagnosis is not the exact same. While they may have some of the same symptoms, there are significant genetic, physiological, and environmental differences among all individuals.
Properly understanding the mechanisms of action behind various drugs, studies conducted with drugs, knowing how antidepressants are approved, etc. all helps. Realizing that there are natural cures for depression and other conditions in some cases that can be beneficial. It is also of value to be up-to-date with the latest technological developments in the mental health industry such as GeneSight which tests a person’s genetics to predict responses to certain drugs.
2. Educate others
After you have educated yourself properly, it is important to spread the word about various conditions and the treatments (or lack thereof). This may involve talking to immediate family members, relatives, friends, and maybe even total strangers about a particular condition or treatment for it. Explain to them what occurs and help eliminate the significant amount of stigma associated with various mental illnesses. This may involve talking to family, friends, or other acquaintances about a condition that you have and/or treatments that are currently being developed.
A way to directly influence the development of a particular treatment and/or cause is to make a donation. You don’t need to donate an exorbitant amount of money to make a difference; every little contribution adds up. If everyone on the planet made a small donation to a particular cause, there would likely be significantly better treatments than what currently exist. Whether you decide to make a donation monthly, annually, or at some other interval – it’s completely up to you. Keep in mind that donations help give researchers, developers, and people with innovative ideas the resources to help accomplish a particular goal.
- Biotech: Many biotech companies often accept private donations for their research and development.
- Development: Take a look at all of the new developments in the mental health industry. Some of them are pharmaceutical based, others are technology-based, and others may involve genetic modifications. Also keep in mind that there are always new studies being conducted by universities and private research groups that could use additional funding to accomplish their goals. If you find some research being conducted that you think has potential to make a big impact, consider making a donation.
- Research: There is a lot of new research in the works at various universities, private companies, public companies, etc. Find a research project that you strongly believe in and provide some funding for it. I am a strong advocate for donating to various universities that are doing research that you believe in because these universities are often not indirectly influenced by pharmaceutical companies.
- Technology: There is a lot of new technology in the works that has potential to revolutionize the mental health industry. Unfortunately developing funds are not unlimited and often need extra donations to help a particular product come to fruition.
4. Clinical trials
If you want to be a direct part of the action, you could consider subjecting yourself to a clinical trial. There are many pharmaceutical drugs in development that need people to be “guinea pigs” in the early stages of trials. If you find a particular pharmaceutical in development that you’d like to try, you may want to sign up for the trial. Additionally, there are clinical trials that expand far beyond pharmaceuticals such as that for various types of low-field magnetic stimulation.
- Drugs: There are many different types of drugs undergoing clinical trials. You can choose to be a part of the trials if you are in the area and fit the description of what the researchers need.
- Experimental therapies: Other experimental therapies are being investigated for the treatment of various conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc. It may take a little digging to find a study involving different types of therapy, but there is incredible variety these days.
Want to make a contribution to the field of mental health based on your personal findings? Consider biohacking. Biohacking involves finding what things work for you on an individual basis to improve your mental health. You change variables in your life such as: sleep, diet, light, noise, environment, relationships, habits, exercise, supplements, and/or pharmaceuticals to essentially alter your homeostatic functioning. The goal behind biohacking from a mental health perspective would be to find the “hacks” or adjustments that optimize your mood, attention, and overall functioning.
- Biohack yourself: It is possible to alter the homeostatic functioning of your brain and nervous system by making calculated lifestyle changes (Read: Biohacking Your Mental Health). In other words, you change the stimuli presented to your body and brain, and your reality follows suit. Biohacking your brain often takes some work, but there are incredible ways to improve your mental health if you experiment and find what works for you. (Read: Top 10 Biohacks for Mental Health).
- Improve psychiatric treatment: I wrote an article about data and variable tracking that can be used to help improve psychiatric treatment outcomes. If you can afford to track many variables in your own life (e.g. brain activity, drugs, diet, sleep, etc.), and you find something that works, share it with others. While your same formula may not work for everyone else, you may discover something that others may have not known.
6. Get a degree / career to make a difference
Another phenomenal way to contribute to the mental health industry is to get a college degree in a field of study that will allow you to make a direct impact. You may want to get a degree in biochemistry and be a part of pharmaceutical drug development. You may want to get a degree in biotechnology and work for a biotech company that is passionate about finding a cure for a particular illness.
Others may want to pursue psychiatry and work directly with patients suffering from a particular illness. Some people may want to partake in psychological research – it’s completely your call on deciding what you are most passionate about and determining how you could make the biggest difference in the mental health industry. If you are extremely talented in a particular niche, pursue that niche knowing that you will likely be helping many people.
- Biochemistry: Come up with a safe, long-term pharmaceutical treatment for a mental illness.
- Biotechnology: Work with a biotech firm to develop a treatment or cure for a particular mental illness. Devise ways to treat each mental illness on an individualized basis rather than assuming everyone with a particular condition will benefit from the same treatment.
- Genetics: Study genes and come up with safe, effective solutions to treat mental illness via gene therapy.
- Psychiatry: Become an ethical psychiatrist and help people get proper treatment for mental illnesses.
- Psychology: Become a psychologist and help come up with therapeutic solutions for various mental conditions.
- Research: Participate in research and/or be a part of a research experiment.
- Social work: Engage in social work to help individuals learn how to cope with various problems.
- Technology: If you are skilled in technological development, join a company that is developing a piece of technology to treat a particular illness or improve the mental health industry.
There is a lot of research that is currently being conducted, as well as a lot of research that needs participants to be completed. There are also new ideas for beneficial research that are conceived on a daily basis. If you feel like you could contribute as a psychological researcher, a participant in a particular study, and/or you have an idea for a new study, feel free to propose it to the appropriate committee.
- Researcher: Not just anyone can become a researcher, it takes a significant degree of intellect mixed with critical thinking and analytical skills. Researchers need to be able to properly set up a study, collect data, and analyze that particular data to determine whether their study reveals anything of scientific significance.
- Participant: There are countless studies that lack adequate numbers of participants. Many studies are waiting on people to sign up so that they can gather new data. If you qualify for a particular study and want to be a part of something bigger than yourself, be sure to sign up as a participant.
- Proposal: Many universities allow students to propose new ideas. If you have a new idea for a study, get in touch with the right people and/or enroll in a university that will give you the freedom and tools to conduct your own experiment.
8. Invest in a company and/or product
Making an investment can often be a win-win situation in terms of finances and developments. If you invest in a particular company by purchasing stock or private equity, you can sell the stock at a future date. Assuming a company is developing a product of importance and/or that will be useful to people in the mental health industry (practitioners, patients, therapists, etc.), you can support that particular cause by buying stock.
- Buy stock: By purchasing stock with a particular company, you are giving them the funds that they need to create a product. If the product does well, the value of your stock will increase, allowing you to sell it at a future date if you’d like.
- Private investment: If a company does not have a public stock offering, you may want to make a private investment.
9. Invent something useful
If you have an inventive mind, resources at your disposal, or are working with a talented company, you may want to pool some ideas together and devise a new invention. An example of a current invention that may prove to be highly beneficial is an iPhone app called “StudentLife” to track mental health among college students. The idea to develop this particular app was thought of by a professor and he made it become a reality.
- Company: You could start or join a company that wants to create something to improve mental healthcare, treat various mental illnesses, and/or help people manage a particular condition.
- Supplement: There are new supplements being researched and developed each day. Some researchers may be focusing on nootropics, while others may be focusing on a supplement that better treats anxiety.
- Technology: There is an array of new technological devices being developed to treat mental illness. Examples include: brain-to-brain communication, bionic brain implants, neurofeedback, and even devices like the emWave2.
10. Raise awareness
For many conditions, there is still insufficient awareness. In the process of raising awareness, people often get confused about what a particular illness specifically entails. They may hear about a particular person having mood swings a lot and getting diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so they assume that they must also have it. When raising awareness, it is important to make sure that people thoroughly understand the particular condition being discussed or showcased.
Raising awareness properly helps people who may be untreated with a particular condition the help that they need. However, it should also help people who may have been misdiagnosed and/or falsely under suspicion that they may have a particular condition.
11. Eliminate stigma
Society as a whole often doesn’t hear about mental illness because people that have it don’t want to talk about it. It can be embarrassing to admit you suffer from a particular condition like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety. However, when one person talks out, it helps reduce stigma. A great example would be when Edmonton Oilers (NHL) goalie Ben Scrivens helped raise awareness for schizophrenia. You don’t need to actually have a mental illness or even know anyone with a mental illness to make a positive impact.
12. Start a website, blog, YouTube channel
Starting a website or blog can be a phenomenal way to contribute to the field of mental health. You could work on it in sporadically in your free time, or make it a full time mission. Your website could be run by you, a team of experts, or a combination of both. You may dedicate it to a specific niche such as breakthroughs in the industry or you may focus on sharing your personal battles with a particular mental illness.
- Contribute: Find a way to contribute that you believe will make someone else’s life better. If this means inspiring hope, helping people stay motivated, discussing beneficial treatment options, or sharing personal heartbreaks or triumphs – do whatever you think will be best.
- Personal experiences: If you have a particular mental illness or know someone with an illness, you could write about your experiences. Relating to others with that particular experience can make more of a difference than you might think.
- Share ideas: If you have any new ideas regarding how to improve treatments, revolutionize the industry, etc. – you can share them with people on the website.
13. Focus on the present
Even though the future is full of endless possibilities and developments, it is important to stay “present” or “in-the-moment” and work hard each day on doing what you can to help contribute. Many people get caught up in thinking about the future treatments for mental illness and get so excited that they forget that work needs to be done before these treatments will manifest. At the end of the day, someone is putting in the hours and working hard to make new treatments a reality.
If you want to speed up the process, focus on the present moment and do whatever you can to contribute. In the back of your head, be grateful for what we already have in terms of treatments, but don’t rest on present-day laurels. Understand that when you get caught up in the present and find a way to contribute, time ends up flying by. Before you know it, a better treatment or groundbreaking research has emerged for not only you, but everyone else.
- Gratitude: Be grateful for what treatments and developments we already have, but never become stagnant and/or satisfied with what you have.
- Future possibilities: Understand that future possibilities in the field of mental health are endless. It is important to realize this to inspire hope in both yourself and others.
- “Present“: Do whatever you can to contribute in the present moment, knowing that each contribution you make can expedite developments for a particular cause.
14. Teach others how to make a contribution
The entire purpose of this article is to help teach others ways in which they can make a positive contribution to the mental health industry and people with mental disorders. You can start by sharing this article with them. If you have any other ideas that you think may be of significant benefit, feel free to share those as well. Understand that not everyone may be receptive to helping improve mental health treatments and the industry as a whole, so focus on targeting the people who likely want to partake in this mission.
Understand: Everyone can make a difference
Whether you think you’ll make a difference or not, you do. Years ago when I was deeply depressed, I questioned, “What’s the point of living?” Inevitably, I concluded that there doesn’t necessarily need to be a point. Ultimately you are the one who chooses what the point of your existence is as well as your purpose – if you chose to credit some divine being for your path (whether it be one with or without purpose) that is also a choice.
Understand that sitting around “waiting” for someone else to do the work of finding a cure, raising awareness, or contributing to the field of mental health isn’t beneficial. As the population increases and technology continues to improve, we can eventually expect better treatments for a variety of conditions and hopefully one day, functional cures that eradicate all mental illnesses. However, this dream will become a reality at a much quicker rate if everyone makes some sort of contribution.
Take the time to think about what you’re good at and how you could contribute. If you earn a lot of money, you may want to invest it in a company or developer of a particular treatment. If you are good at writing or are highly social, you may want to raise community awareness of certain conditions. If you are highly scientific and educated, you may want to pursue a degree in biochemistry or biotechnology and develop a treatment that works for most people with minimal side effects.
Based on future projections, depression is expected to be one of the biggest epidemics in the coming years. By 2030 it is expected to be the top epidemic throughout the world. If we work diligently to contribute (in any way) to the field of mental health, we have the potential to change the entire landscape of the industry in coming years.
Wonderful post. To your point about giving agency to the mental health community themselves in affecting scientific progress, we need to do a better job of coalescing as a group to lobby support and increase funding. Beyond the public/govt realm of funding, the largest private funder of mental health research is the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation (formerly NARSAD) https://bbrfoundation.org/. Their grants fund more groundbreaking research in the areas of depression, bipolar d/o, schizophrenia, autism, and other CNS conditions than any other private entity.
Since 1987 the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation has awarded over $320 million to fund 4,769 NARSAD grants to more than 3,700 scientists around the world. We as a community can do a better job of crowdsourcing our scientific research and treatment by getting the word out on organizations such as this. I would encourage anybody affected by mental health issues to consider donating. A good way to do this beyond just a simple online donation on their website is to use the “Amazon Smiles” link if you’re a frequent amazon shopper.
AmazonSmile is a simple and automatic way to support a favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost. Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price from eligible AmazonSmile purchases. You can sign up at smile.amazon.com. Just make sure all your future purchases are made through smiles.amazon.com rather than amazon.com for a charity to be awarded the donation.