Your regular doctor can give you a mental health checkup during your yearly visit if you ask.(Photo: Dan Garrow, The News Journal, Wilmington, Del.)
Would you be offended if someone told you to get your brain checked out?
Doctors worldwide are asking you to not be.
A new study from the University of Cambridge suggests everyone should get their mental health checked as often as they have an annual physical.
Essentially, treat your brain just like any other organ.
"Unfortunately, most people don't address mental health issues until they are drastically interfering with their lives," said Dr. Nizar El-Khalili, medical director of Alpine Clinic in Lafayette, Ind. "If they were just more aware of mental health from the start, problems could be avoided long before it complicates their lives and costs them thousands of dollars."
Mental health screenings can be administered during most annual checkups. Some doctors always screen their patient's mental health, but El-Khalili recommends that all patients, no matter their age or family medical history, ask for a screening during their checkup.
Mental health screenings typically include a series of questions about lifestyle, eating and drinking habits and mental wellness designed to check for potential mood or anxiety disorders, including depression substance abuse and post-traumatic stress.
If a doctor finds that a patient shows symptoms of a mental illness, he or she might recommend the patient see a psychiatrist or psychologist. These brain doctors also are more than qualified to administer a mental checkup.
It's estimated that 25% of American adults suffer from some form of mental illness each year. But many attempt to cope with the illnesses for an average of 10 years before seeking treatment, according to Mental Health America, formerly the National Mental Health Association.
El-Khalili said that trend needs to change. Common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse in their early stages often are highly treatable through basic coping methods.
Prompt recognition of an illness can also help patients avoid large medical bills down the road, he said.
This is especially important for low-income families. The federal sequester, recent forced government spending cuts that will make mental treatment through federally supported health care programs increasingly difficult to access, is likely to affect that group.
These impending budget cuts will slash $168 million from the the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administation, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. The Obama administration estimates that more than 373,000 mentally ill adults and seriously emotionally disturbed children will lose mental health services.
Along with improving quality of life and saving money, health professionals say annual mental checkups would help reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness works to change people's views of what it means to be mentally ill. The organization's executive director in west central Indiana, Pattie Wollenburg, said recognizing that mental illness could happen to anyone is key to cultural acceptance.
"People shouldn't be apprehensive about going to a psychiatrist," Wollenburg said. "Mental health is just as important as physical health. You just need to take care of both."
Symptoms that could turn into a mental illness later in life, according to Dr. Nizar El-Khalili, medical director of Alpine Clinic in Lafayette, Ind.