Our Mental Health Problems Perpetuated by Flawed Focus

Overview of Problems

Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. experiences some form of mental illness each year according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Nearly half of Americans (46.4%) reported having at least one of these conditions at some point in their life: anxiety disorder (28.8%), mood disorder (20.8%), impulse-control disorder (24.8%) or substance use disorders (14.6%). Half of all lifetime cases had started by age 14 and three quarters by age 24.

About 9.5% of school age children have ADHD. In addition, ADHD is often accompanied by learning disorders, discipline problems, anxiety, and/or depression.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death of those between the ages of 10 to 19 after accidents and unintentional injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Rates of suicide have historically been higher in boys than in girls across all age groups. From 2000 to 2016, the American suicide rate for people between 16 and 64 years old increased 34% from 12.9 to 17.3 per 100,000 population.

The U.S. has the third highest rate of depression in the world. Prevalence of major depressive disorder in the U.S. is 20.6% in a lifetime and 10.4% in the last year.

A common response to mental health problems is to take a prescribed medication. This “quick fix” treats symptoms but does not deal with the source of the problems.

Mistaken Beliefs

Many medical researchers have wrongly assumed that genes have the primary role in shaping the developing brain for our mental health. They have also wrongly assumed that deficiencies of hormones and body chemicals are the causes of emotional and behavior problems. Animal studies show that such biological changes are the results of early adverse experiences.

Such mistaken beliefs have misdirected research for the past half-century and have avoided creating programs centered on prevention. A primary reason is that there are billions of dollars to be made by drug companies whose products change and control emotions and behaviors rather than dealing with the origins of such problems.

See a description of my related personal experience at https://ronaldgoldmanphd.com/avoidance-of-open-debate-on-early-trauma-affecting-infants/.

Support for an Alternative Approach

Child psychiatrist and researcher John Bowlby’s work on the mother-infant bond, called attachment, has contributed significantly to the understanding of the effects of adverse early experience on adult mental health. These effects include reduced ability to manage stress and less psychological adaptability and resilience.

According to Bowlby, we are born with innate needs to be close to our parents. There are significant personal differences in the quality of our attachment. When the parent is available, sensitive, and responsive to the infant’s needs, attachment quality is high. When the parent is not available, sensitive, and responsive to the infant’s needs, resultant distress is not alleviated. Negative emotions about the self and others develop, and there are likely to be future emotional difficulties.

For example, an adult may have anxiety about a partner’s availability and responsiveness in times of need for connection. Another outcome is that of avoidance which involves not trusting a partner and  choosing independence and emotional distance.

Numerous studies conclude that early attachment insecurities contribute to various later kinds of psychopathology. They include low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, depression, avoidance of social contact, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Other effects are excessive weight, anxiety, inappropriate anger, potential violence, limited emotional expression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Prevention is the Key

Caring for children is our collective responsibility. A day of prevention is worth many years of treatment. Our solution involves a public education movement to raise awareness and urge changes to better satisfy early biological and psychological needs. This movement includes disseminating information through news items, articles, social media, websites, broadcast media, videos, interviews, and presentations. Interested people of all ages could help spread the message.

A significant target group would be young people who are potential parents. You could inform such people among your family, friends, and social contacts.

When children benefit, individuals and all of society benefit through greater cooperation, empathy, compassion, and connection. After one generation of change, succeeding generations will change because the new parents will be more aware and capable of satisfying their infants’ needs.

See Speaking Program on Mental Health Problems