The Changing Face of Mental Health Treatment

Experts from Regis College estimate that 42 million adults suffer from anxiety, 16 million adults are impacted by depression, and about 6.1 million individuals have bipolar disorder in the United States alone. And while these numbers might be sobering, the truth is the state of mental health awareness in the United States is improving, thus improving the treatments available.

When it comes to any health ailment, the success one person has with treatment can be vastly different than others. Relatively speaking, however, mental illness is a treatable condition for most individuals. Follow along to see the ways mental health treatment has changed over time.

Past Treatment Options

For the better part of history, individuals with mental illnesses have been treated poorly. Abnormal behaviors presented to society during the medieval times were viewed as a sign that a person was possessed by demons. The most common treatment performed on these individuals was exorcism. Trephining was another form of treatment where a small hole was made into the “possessed” person’s skull to release the evil spirits from their body.

From 1400s to the late 1600s, religious organizations helped maintain the belief that people made pacts with the devil, committing horrible acts like eating babies. They considered these people to be witches, trying and condemning them — often burning them at the stake. Psychiatric Times estimates that tens of thousands of mentally ill people worldwide were killed after being accused of being witches.

By the 18th Century, those said to be suffering from mental illness were placed in asylums. The first institutions housed people with psychological disorders and focused their energy more on keeping them away from society than treating their disorders. Individuals in asylums were often chained to beds, having little to no contact with mental health caregivers. In general, most people who exhibited strange behaviors were misunderstood and treated very cruelly throughout history.

Holistic Healthcare

Luckily, mental health treatment has changed vastly in the 21st Century. Through the biopsychosocial model of mental healthcare, there is a better understanding of health and aspects of what makes a well being. The biopsychosocial model is a whole-body approach to mental health, linking changes in mood to specific biological, social, and/or psychological factors.

All three factors of health are thought to be involved in the cause, manifestation, and outcome of health and disease. When the three are out of balance, the result is an illness or disorder. By maintaining good physical health, good mental health often follows. The biopsychosocial also focuses on the correlation between sleep problems and mental health conditions, and the detrimental effects that it can have on individuals. Recognizing mental illness as a physical health issue as well is imperative to getting people the treatment they need.


Therapy works to change behaviors, emotions, and thoughts about how individuals see their situations. It can act as either the primary treatment or as a supplement to other treatments. Counseling can take on a number of forms depending on the type of therapy used and the goals of the treatment. Some courses of counseling can last for months and even years.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals find their own solutions to their problems by addressing the thoughts, feelings and behaviors they have. CBT focuses on the learning theory, which says that abnormal behaviors develop in part due to faulty learning. The focus of this therapy is to unlearn the detrimental behaviors in one’s life while learning beneficial ones.

Psychoanalysis is a form of psychotherapy developed by Sigmund Freud in the 20thCentury. This type of therapy typically involves having an individual meet with a counselor four or five times a week to say whatever comes to mind. This helps a patient understand the patterns of their relationships to prevent them from happening in the future.

These types of therapies are just a skim off the surface of what is available to patients in the 21st Century. Thanks to psychologists and the expansion of different therapy methods, individuals struggling with mental illness disorders have more access to specialized and patient-focused treatments.


These days medication is an important resource in treating mental health disorders. Medication provides relief for people by helping them manage symptoms enough to use other strategies for a full recovery. Medications work differently for everyone, and their effectiveness can change over time. It’s not uncommon for a person to need changes or adjustments to medications even after they have worked for some time. Medication is the most effective when it is used in combination with therapy.

There are any different types of medication available for mental health ailments including anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications. Within each of those different categories there are a multitude of different options for patients. Contact your physician if you are considering medication. Only they can suggest the best medication for you.


The introduction of technology into mental health treatment is still relatively new but rapidly expanding. Skip Rizzo, the associate director for medical virtual reality at USC, has been working with the U.S. Army to use virtual reality (VR) to treat soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for over a decade. His system, “Bravemind,” recreates incidents of war zones to activate what is called “extinction learning” in soldiers. This technology helps deactivate overactive flight-or-fight responses present in PTSD sufferers. Studies done by the Army have found that “Bravemind” can help treat other traumas, such as sexual assault.

VR works as a treatment by eliciting a response from patients who are unable to describe their symptoms to a real person. With Bravemind, patients revealed more information to an avatar than the real therapist. An immersive VR experience can take control of a patient’s brain, making it no longer focus on the pain it experiences.

Mobile health tools are another form of technology changing the way that individuals and healthcare professionals deal with mental health. Mobile apps allow patients to start or gain access to treatment anywhere. Oftentimes those with mental health issues feel uneasy about voicing their problems in support groups or to a counselor. Mental health apps allow users to get help without the need for verbal face-to-face conversations. This form of technology serves as a supplement to traditional therapies and care but allows users to reinforce material that they have learned through their clinical sessions.

Thankfully, modern medicine has turned away from the days of lobotomies. With the availability of an ever-growing number of various treatments, individuals who suffer from mental issues and disorders have a better chance at recovery than ever before.

An infographic about mobile health technologies in nursing by Maryville University Online.

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