Despite the breakthroughs in the treatment mood disorders, there are still many barriers that often prevent sufferers from either seeking help for their illness or sticking to their treatment programme.
According to an executive of the National Depression and Manic Depression Association (NDMDA), Lydia Lewis, these new breakthroughs won’t mean a thing if people are not accurately diagnosed and treated. She identified a number of barriers to wellness that need to be looked at:
The first barrier is concerning diagnosis. Often people don’t report their symptoms or are misdiagnosed and the hurried exams carried out by overworked state doctors and the long waits to see a doctor do not help this situation.
Barrier two is the often unpleasant side effects of the medications currently used to treat these illnesses, which sadly leads to barrier three, which is non-compliance, where sufferers find it extremely difficult to stick to their treatment programmes and often decide to discontinue their medication without first seeking the advice of their doctor.
Barrier four concerns treatment effectiveness, where in a survey conducted at the NDMDA, 78% of the members felt their illness was not completely controlled and that doctors, especially primary health care professionals, do not treat to wellness.
Barrier five is about the imperfections of the doctor-patient relationship. Ms Lewis asks: "Why are we blamed for not getting better? Among other things, our doctors think patient resistance is the number one barrier to treatment."
Barrier six concerns the medical profession’s reluctance to refer people to self-help groups, which is strange, as a recent survey of the NDMDA showed that treatment compliance and the doctor-patient relationship improve as a result of being in a support group. Similarly support groups may reduce hospitalisation.
Ms Lewis also states: "97% of those in a NDMDA group say it helps them cope and 86% report they are more willing to take their medicine and put up with the side effects. Despite all these benefits, only one-third of those surveyed learned of their support group from a mental health professional."
Barrier seven concerns most sufferers’ incorrect understanding of how the various medications work, while barrier eight has to do with the fact that more than half of us are ashamed, embarrassed or angry that we have these illnesses, due to the immense emotional strain the illness puts on ourselves and our families and the huge stigma still attached to mental illness.
According to Professor Jan Fawcett, of St Luke’s Medical Centre, the solution to all these problems is education and learning. Something support groups can help with is exactly this. "It’s one thing to be better," he said. "It’s another thing to be happy."
Where to go for help
If you have depression or bipolar disorder and would like to join a support group, or if you would just like more information, the Depression and Anxiety Support Group, offers counselling by trained counsellors and referrals to a number of nation-wide support groups and to appropriate mental health professionals. The Group can be contacted Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm, and on Saturdays, between 8am and 5pm, on (011) 783 – 1464/6.
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