Be Informed: Multifaceted approach to Mental Health

By Dr. Jack Muskat, PhD.

Changing behaviour is like changing the course of a supertanker—nothing seems to happen for a very long time, and then everything changes. Fewer people read newspapers anymore, but we are more informed then ever through the Internet. Nobody rents DVDs or buys CDs; we stream our music and get our movies from Netflix or YouTube. And as computers have finally migrated to mobile devices, we are now able to rely on apps for business, work, learning, and play. We can now add Health and Wellness to our digital world.

Apple’s just released 4th generation watch, has added EKG monitoring of heart rate to detect irregular activity and alert wearers to seek treatment. Apple and other players have bet big on digital devices that once started out as fitness and exercise monitors but are now loaded with features allow us to track our vital functions, monitor our progress, and upload our results with ease. These can then be shared with trusted health providers, as needed. A glance at your wrist can provide you with information as fast and accurate as what was once only available to elite athletes or patients enrolled in expensive executive health programs. From calorie counters to steps climbed, from heart rate to Body Mass Index (BMI) -- it is all there in the palm of your hand, or on your wrist.

A second major change has been the growing demand for alternative health approaches. Treatments that were once looked upon with scepticism by mainstream medicine have been shown to be effective partners in the fight against chronic illness or lifestyle related issues. Naturopathic and Chinese medicine, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment have been helpful in the treatment of lower back pain, fatigue, migraines, circulatory and metabolic illnesses, as well as improving energy and mood. Research on the gut microbe, for example, shows how easily the balance between mind and body can be upset by poor diet alone.

The effectiveness of drugs in treating anxiety and depression varies widely. Patients either stop responding to the drug or stop taking it due to side effects. There is no “average” patient. To improve patient compliance and obtain better outcomes we are using medication response tests like PillCheck, , which can determine the correct drug and recommended dosage based on the patient’s DNA information.

We all know that medication alone is not enough. Psychological treatment, specifically Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), has been shown for some patients to be as effective as medication for mild to moderate depression. Anti-depressants can be very effective initially in getting patients out of their “lows”, but overall patient outcomes are enhanced when combined with psychological treatment.

The third and most compelling change is the shift in our thinking from treatment to prevention, from treating illness to supporting emotional resilience. Positive Psychology is an approach to living that utilizes the character strengths and values of individuals in structuring meaningful lives. Mindfulness and meditation have become everyday practices to not only reduce stress, but to improve performance. From top executives to kindergarten kids, we are learning how to “stay calm” by taking a few minutes a day to meditate and focus on the present.

Wellness has made a comeback in the workplace, driven by motivated and informed employees, whose expectations for psychologically healthier workplaces are the norm, not the exception. Health is no longer about the absence of disease, but about optimal living. It requires a team of professionals, who combine the best from all disciplines to provide each patient with the tools to succeed in their personal and professional lives, with confidence and joy.

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Jack Muskat, Ph.D., is a Toronto based organizational and clinical psychologist, writer and lecturer with over 25 years consulting and business experience with individuals and organizations. Dr. Muskat is an acknowledged expert on issues relating to organizational culture and leadership, as well as mental health and emotional wellbeing. He is currently director of psychology at the BeWell Health Clinic, a multidisciplinary health and psychological wellness practice in downtown Toronto.

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