The pressures and challenges of today’s society – along with the myriad global, political, and social issues that continue to escalate around the globe – are taking a toll on mental health throughout the US.
As thousands of people across the country are swept up by this growing crisis, the value of specialists such as psychiatrists, counselors and occupational therapists is becoming increasingly evident.
The delivery of effective and affordable treatment, along with the introduction of preventative methods to fight the possibility of recurring symptoms and relapses, continues to be vital.
Here is a look at some of the ways in which occupational therapy can make a significant positive difference to those who are struggling with mental health conditions and why this type of therapy should be considered a powerful tool for reducing the prevalence and severity of these disorders.
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy is a practice in the medical, health and wellbeing sector. Specialists in this field focus on behaviors and activities that can alleviate the symptoms of mental and physical health conditions in their patients, creating healthy coping mechanisms, promoting self-care and aiding recovery.
This vital aspect of healthcare is often delivered alongside a program of other treatments, which sometimes include prescribing drugs and employing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other techniques.
Mental health in the US
According to Mental Health America, more than 50 million Americans were found to have experienced some form of mental illness throughout 2019 and 2020. This equates to 20.78% of the population.
The most commonly reported conditions include:
- Depression or Major Depressive Episodes (MDE)
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Personality disorders
- Substance abuse/misuse and its mental health impacts
With almost a quarter of the country’s adults struggling with their wellbeing in this manner, this is clearly a crisis that must be tackled urgently.
Moreover, research suggests that only half of those suffering from mental health issues are receiving treatment. While this is often due to the stigma associated with health conditions of this kind, the costs involved in therapy can also be prohibitive.
How occupational therapy can make a difference
Occupational therapy is a key part of recovery for those experiencing issues with their mental health and wellbeing.
Many disorders directly impact an individual’s ability to perform daily tasks with ease, socialize comfortably and take on new challenges. The role of the occupational therapist (OT) is to provide support and advice that will enable them to manage these hurdles with ease and reassurance.
This is particularly valuable when you consider the fact that many of those with untreated mental health conditions are likely to seek out potentially harmful or unsustainable coping mechanisms. An OT will be able to help them give up harmful habits and replace them with far healthier alternatives.
Many interventions, including prescription drugs, can incur heavy financial costs on the part of the patient. While this is often unavoidable in the effective treatment of a condition, the activities, exercises and approaches suggested by OTs are often free or highly affordable.
This means that OTs may provide straightforward solutions that will support recovery without adding detrimental financial pressure.
The nature of occupational therapy also means that treatment may be tailored to the individual, often to a greater extent than more clinical or drug-related methods can achieve.
A patient’s personal preferences and challenges can be taken into account when developing a program of activities, making effective uptake and adherence far more likely.
By ensuring that mental health patients can finish their full course of treatment, medical professionals will be able to alleviate their conditions in a far more complete manner and stave off their recurrence or at least prevent symptoms from returning with such severity. The healthy behaviors and coping mechanisms introduced by OTs can make a significant difference in these matters.
Thanks to their highly personalized approaches, occupational therapists are also well-placed to facilitate healthy transitions from a heavily care-focused environment or routine into aftercare and then back to day-to-day life while minimizing any negative impact this may have on the individual’s wellbeing.
How you can become an occupational therapist
Occupational therapy is a highly rewarding career path with plenty of opportunities for progress and competitive pay.
The path to a position in this field may vary from state to state depending on licensing regulations. However, most occupational therapists need a master’s degree in the field and must pass a National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®) exam.
After working as an OT for a period of time, some professionals in the field may decide to study for a doctorate. This will enable them to progress into leadership positions in the industry or become educators for future therapists.
There are many highly reputable colleges that provide the opportunity for OTs to continue their professional practice and manage their other responsibilities while studying. This is facilitated by remote learning.
With a range of online OT doctorate programs available from reputable institutions such as American International College, students can engage with teachings in a flexible manner online and graduate in as few as five semesters. There are even options for in-person or virtual residencies.
The future of mental health
The under-reporting of mental health conditions may well have led to a delay in developing a comprehensive picture of the current scale of the problem in the US.
However, as the stigma begins to slowly reduce and affordable care options continue to be developed, the future of mental health treatment seems to be taking a slightly more positive trajectory.
This depends on filling key positions in the field with skilled professionals who have innovative mindsets and a passion for effective and accessible care. Therefore, it is vital that occupational therapy courses across the US are populated by as many talented and proactive students as possible.