Public Health

What doctors wish patients knew to improve their mental health

Sara Berg, MS , News Editor

AMA News Wire

What doctors wish patients knew to improve their mental health

Nov 30, 2023

Recently, conversations surrounding mental health have gained momentum, breaking down barriers of stigma and encouraging open dialogues. But navigating the complexities of mental health can be a challenging journey. Knowing how to address mental health concerns can make a significant difference.

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In the U.S., more than 20% of adults live with a mental health condition. Meanwhile, about four in 100 adults live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression. Additionally, more than one in five adolescents either have or have had a seriously debilitating mental illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Additionally, the prevalence of any mental illness was highest among adults who reported two or more races at 34.9%. This was followed by Native American and Alaskan Native adults at 26.6%. Meanwhile, 23.9% of white individuals and 21.4% of Black adults had any mental illness. The prevalence of any mental illness was lowest among adults who are Asian at 16.4%, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Here is a list from the AMA’s What Doctors Wish Patients Knew™ series—which provides physicians with a platform to share what they want patients to understand about today’s health care headlines—on some steps patients can take to keep their mental health front and center.

  1. Don’t diagnose seasonal affective disorder on your own

    1. When the days grow shorter and temperatures drop, millions of people find themselves grappling with the “winter blues.” This is known as seasonal affective disorder, which is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. Emerging primarily during the fall and winter months when sunlight exposure decreases and clocks fall back, seasonal affective disorder can take a toll on a person’s daily life. Knowing what to keep in mind and when to seek help can make all the difference during fall and winter months.
  2. Practice coping skills for anxiety disorders

    1. Anxiety is a shared human experience. For instance, the prospect of speaking in front of a large group of people or taking a test can trigger anxiety. Yet this unease can also serve as a catalyst for diligent preparation and rehearsal. But if feelings of extreme fear and turmoil become overpowering and hinder routine activities, this may indicate an underlying anxiety disorder. Two psychiatrists discuss how to recognize and manage anxiety disorders.
  3. Identify and address loneliness

    1. Even though people are becoming more connected through social media and other outlets, the great irony is that many people still feel lonely. That loneliness, in turn, can have far-reaching implications on a person’s health and well-being. Two physicians discuss how to recognize loneliness and what can help patients overcome feeling lonely.
  4. Stop catastrophic thoughts

    1. For many people, stress and anxiety escalated significantly at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet for others, additional fears, worries and thoughts of doom and gloom predominated their daily lives throughout the pandemic. While the anxiety may be unavoidable, the endless fears, thinking of the worst-case scenario and that things won’t get better can be consuming. This is catastrophic thinking—or catastrophizing. A psychiatrist shares how to stop these destructive thoughts.
  5. Recognize eating disorders early

    1. In a society that has long celebrated the idea of the perfect body, the dark reality of eating disorders continues to cast a haunting shadow over countless lives. This silent epidemic affects people of all ages and backgrounds, striking at the core of their physical and mental well-being. Despite its widespread impact, the gravity of eating disorders often remains concealed behind closed doors, leaving many patients with the condition to battle silently while society grapples to understand the magnitude of the issue. Knowing more about eating disorders is key.
  6. Find ways to reduce decision fatigue

    1. Making decisions day in and day out—whether they are as easy picking a route home from work or as difficult as navigating a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic—can be exhausting and cause people to feel overwhelmed, anxious or stressed. This is known as decision fatigue, which is a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions. A psychiatrist shares more.
  7. Cut down on screen time

    1. It is understandable that people are on their devices more now than ever before to remain connected. But spending too much time on screens can have negative health effects. That is why it is important to take proactive steps to cut down on screen time. Two AMA members share how patients can reduce screen time.

Mental health issues can impact both patients and physicians. That is why the AMA is committed to keeping you up to date with articles on the latest mental health news and developments.