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The National Institute of Mental Health reports that mental illness costs the United States over $300 billion annually, with one in five adults experiencing some sort of mental health condition each year. As a growing number of frontline workers report experiencing mental health issues ranging from anxiety and stress to PTSD and MDD, organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) have launched guides that specifically target healthcare professionals. While the pending Lorna Breen Act offers hope in its aims to make help more readily available for physicians and nurses, you should NOT wait.

When left untreated, mental health issues can exacerbate into life-threatening illnesses. One of these five tested, accessible, treatment options could help you feel better and function more effectively:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is focused on changing behavior and thought patterns in order to relieve symptoms and problems. CBT can be used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and certain addictions. During CBT, a professional counselor or therapist will work with you to create specific goals based on your situation. These goals can focus on decreasing symptoms or changing behaviors that may be contributing to symptoms such as anxiety or depression. The counselor will also work with you on discovering personal vulnerabilities and stressors that may contribute to your symptoms.

2. Intensive Outpatient Programs

Intensive outpatient programs can be a great option for those who want to quit drinking or taking drugs but don’t need intensive treatment. In an iop program, patients come to a rehab facility several times per week, where they participate in group and individual therapy sessions. These programs typically last from 1-4 months.

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The advantage of an intensive outpatient program is that patients do not have to stay at a rehab facility during their recovery, allowing them to go to work or school while in treatment. Since these programs are less structured than inpatient options, they may not be as effective for some people with severe drug and alcohol abuse issues.

3. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

Incorporating a variety of stress reduction techniques into your day can go a long way in keeping you healthy, happy, and prepared for life’s stressors. This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is gaining popularity as a stress-reduction technique as it works for almost anyone.

Research has also shown that MBSR training can improve sleep quality, enhance productivity and even improve symptoms of chronic illness like diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. If you want to take advantage of mindfulness training but aren’t sure where to start, then consider taking an online class or hiring an instructor for one-on-one coaching.

4. Pharmacological Therapies

Pharmacological therapies are another option front-line workers can use to treat their mental health concerns. Work with your doctor to find the best pharmaceutical treatments for your lifestyle. While these therapies are an effective way to treat mental health, be wary of your reliance on them.

Antidepressants in particular can be habit-forming and in some cases may not even work for everyone that uses them. If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, be sure to speak with a doctor about all of your options. In many cases, pharmaceuticals should be the last resort. For example, depression can be treated by talk therapy alone. More advanced mental health disorders such as psychosis or schizophrenia will likely require a variety of therapies to bring symptoms under control over time.

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5. Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Interpersonal psychotherapy, or IPT, is designed to help individuals adjust to stressful life situations. A therapy session may include discussions of emotional reactions, problem-solving techniques, and other cognitive exercises designed to make it easier for you to effectively manage your feelings. You’ll also learn how to better recognize signs of distress in yourself and others.

There are three main phases of IPT: crisis intervention, acute stabilization, and prevention. There are typically 10 one-hour sessions during each phase of IPT treatment. Oftentimes IPT is used as a form of treatment for PTSD symptoms after an emergency occurs on the scene or at home in the form of critical incident stress debriefing.

Everyone deserves mental health care, regardless of their financial situation or employment status. Front line workers should take these five ideas into consideration to care for their mental health.

  • If you have thoughts about suicide or you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). The ANA has also assembled some resources for nurses suffering from suicidal ideation here.
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