The Problem of Delayed Treatment for Mental Health Conditions
From recognizing one needs treatment to finding an in-network provider to scheduling an appointment, getting help for one’s mental health can be a time-consuming and disheartening process. One study found that since 2000, individuals with schizophrenia, mood, and anxiety disorders have taken nearly 32 months on average to receive their first treatment.
Aside from the immediate harm of suffering from the symptoms of a mental illness, a delay in treatment is associated with a range of negative outcomes, highlighting the importance of prompt access to rapidly effective interventions.
Here are some key findings:
When examining the impact of the duration of untreated illness (DUI) on mental health outcomes, much research has focused on rates of response (i.e., at least a 50 percent reduction in symptoms) and remission (i.e., a full recovery). A meta-analysis, which compiled data from several studies on the topic found some striking results. In particular, they found that:
Researchers looked specifically at the response to antidepressants and found similar results. For example, studies have found that:
Mental illness can bring about feelings of hopelessness and despair which can cause patients to think about or attempt to commit suicide. Several studies have found that a longer DUI is associated with more suicidal thoughts and attempts for a range of conditions. For example, studies have found that:
Deficits in cognitive performance (e.g., in tasks involving memory, attention, verbal abilities, etc.) have become one of the core features of mood disorders and are significantly associated with DUI. A 2020 study found that:
Researchers have found that as mental health conditions go untreated, they can produce a range of physiological changes in the brain. For example, one meta-analysis found that:
Mental illness is associated with various other chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Again, a longer DUI is associated with worse outcomes regarding many of these conditions. A 2022 study found that:
These findings highlight two general takeaways. First, there is an obvious need to shorten the time it takes for patients to receive treatment. Given the wide range of adverse outcomes that become more prevalent as DUI increases across several mental health conditions, individuals dealing with mental illness must receive treatment as soon as possible.
Second, there is a need for novel treatments. Even when patients can see a physician, first-line treatments can take several weeks to months to work. For a sizable subset of these individuals, these solutions may not be effective, even when their illness is recent. Additionally, longer DUIs are associated with physiological changes in the brain, which may be why standard treatments tend to be less effective over time. As a result, solutions working in different ways targeting different parts of the brain, like ketamine, TMS, or other emerging interventions, may prove critical for treating individuals who do not respond to first-line treatments.
At Heading Health, we utilize a multi-pronged approach to combat these issues. First, we offer an integrated team of specialists who work together to provide prompt care tailored to each patient’s individual needs. In most cases, we can see patients within 24-48 hours. To support this approach, we use cutting-edge treatments with rapid and sustained responses, meaning patients get in and get better quickly.
Talk with your doctor to determine whether these treatments are right for you, or schedule an appointment with one of our psychiatrists or therapists to advise you on any other potential treatments for depression, including ketamine, Spravato, and TMS. Call us at 805-204-2502 or request an appointment here.
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