Happiness and Mental Health
Mental health has made great strides in the last decade, but in other ways, we’re still in the earliest stages of gaining a complete understanding of this complex issue.
Since the 1960s, depression has been thought of as often being a chemical imbalance, in particular low serotonin. Various types of depression are almost certain to be caused by this, but there has been concern for a number of years that many psychiatrists may be oversimplifying the situation, and that antidepressants are being over-prescribed. While some patients certainly require medication to treat their conditions, others may be able to trace the causes of their distress to particular events. By simply masking the pain with prescriptions, the underlying root cause can go unaddressed. Given that many people on antidepressants report a general feeling of numbness and an inability to feel positive as well as negative emotions, the life consequences of an inappropriate mental health diagnosis could be devastating.
Now more questions are being asked within the medical community. More studies are showing that even with antidepressants, feelings of sadness and despair persist for notable proportions of patients. The pharmaceutical industry has been heavily promoting medication-based approaches linked to serotonin since the 1990s, but evidence continues to emerge that depression is more complex, and its causes are more varied. After more than two and half years of dealing with the pandemic, many people have seen their mental health deteriorate significantly. Although some of these cases may have chemical roots, many others are caused by stress, isolation and the fear of contracting a deadly disease. Compounding the problem, mental health resources have been operating far in excess of capacity since Covid emerged. Due to the sheer volume of patients that mental health professionals need to assist, the urge to lean towards quick treatments involving medications is understandably strong. Yet to truly address their problems, many patients will need to confront the underlying stress and fears that are driving their suffering.
Those feeling depressed should look to understand the causes of their emotional distress. For those feeling severe anxiety about catching Covid, they could explore novel ways to socialize while feeling physically secure. We should also educate ourselves on the relative risks of both the virus and our reactions to it given our age and health status. For instance, in the case of children, the impacts of isolation and sedentary lifestyles can present far more of a danger than many people realize. Regardless of what’s happening in the world, looking at what makes us unhappy and carefully planning out possible solutions can help us improve our satisfaction with life. This could be as simple as taking up a new hobby that will allow us to make more friends, or as complex as changing careers or moving to another part of the world to force ourselves out of a rut.
Discoveries in mental health will continue for many years to come. If as a society we give it the importance and resources it deserves, it will be time and money well spent.