Occupational therapy began when it was identified that people could heal the mind with the use of their hands in daily activities. Since the profession of OT was formally established in 1917, advancements in many areas of the field have occurred. Unfortunately, financial changes within the medical care system have created significant cutbacks on the way occupational therapists are able to provide services, impacting many of our clients in need. One population that has significantly been impacted by these changes is individuals in need of mental health support.
There are so many things changing in our world in the last 2 decades. It seems all moments are fleeting and everything is moving so fast. Increased issues within the realm mental health have also climbed with these fast paced societal changes. In an article released by the CDC, suicide rates have been rising to the point that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and continues to climb in frequency (CDC, 2018). To make this statistic a little more concrete, almost 45,000 Americans ages 10 and over died by suicide in the year 2016 (CDC, 2018). Think about that number right there! There were most certainly 9 other illnesses that lead to death more frequently than suicide in 2016, but those numbers are hard to swallow when we think about the individuals being lost. They were mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, significant other’s, children, teachers, doctors, lawyers, housewives…the list could go on forever. They were not a number, but those 45,000 people were PEOPLE first! Although suicide is “just” number 10 on the list the cause of death in 2016, it was not on the top 10 list just 10 years ago in 2006.
The CDC is working to determine the linked causes of suicide and to implement a comprehensive approach to addressing this rising issue in America. It was noted in an article published by the CDC just days after the reported suicide of Kate Spade that suicide is not typically caused by a single factor. Currently, suicide prevention is focused on individuals that are noted to be at risk for suicide, particularly those with an identified mental health condition. Unfortunately, the CDC noted that more than half of the people that die by suicide do not have a diagnosed mental health condition. Other circumstances led to emotional stress such as relationship issues, substance misuse, physical health problems, and personal stresses related to money and housing contribute to an individual’s risk for suicide (CDC, 2018). If prevention of suicide is only aimed at the individuals with an identified mental health disorder, then we still would have lost 22,500 people unexpectedly to suicide in 2016. So, the question lies in what we can do to address this issue from a prevention standpoint that reaches all people that could potentially be struggling with mental health issues and possible suicidal ideations behind closed doors.
Balance was identified as a major component related to mental health issues, leading to development of stress and possible regular mental health symptoms (McKenzie, Patel, & Araya, 2004). Balance is an equal proportion of various factors. One could make a case for the fact that moderation in all areas would result in successful balance. In our society, balance of occupations has become an afterthought. Our lives are so busy and full of “things” we end up in autopilot, just trying to survive each day, year, and month. Working toward achieving a balance of all occupations could provide a much needed opportunity to feel balanced internally, in turn preventing the development of distress and mental health symptoms. These occupations that need balancing include self care, caring for others and our home, sleep, education, work, play, leisure, and social participation.
Occupational therapists are the health care provider most equipped to work on addressing the important need of balancing occupations. Helping individuals already experiencing issues is most definitely important; however, imagine if health care provided an opportunity to prevent the start of these issues! If occupational therapy services could be provided to all on a regular basis, along the lines of going for an annual check up at the family doctor, it could promote mental health and overall wellness. Too often we address issues after the fact, rather than preventing the issues from developing in the first place! Prevention in the end would be cheaper and promote improved overall outcomes, therefore resulting in improved quality of life for all individuals!
CDC. (2018, June 7). Suicide rates rising across the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0607-suicide-prevention.html
McKenzie, K., Patel, V., & Araya, R. (2004). Learning from low income countries: Mental health. British Medical Journal, 329(7475), 1138-1140.