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8.3 Million Adult Americans Suffer From Serious Psychological Distress: What Is It And What Can You Do About It?

19 April 2017, 12:14 am EDT By Alexandra Lozovschi Tech Times
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Depression and anxiety are taking their toll on Americans, as more and more people struggle with psychological distress. Find out what the most common symptoms of PD are, what triggers this mental health disorder, and how to combat it.  ( Mario Vedder | Getty Images )

A recent study reveals depression and anxiety are on the rise in the United States, as more people than ever currently exhibit symptoms of mental illness.

According to this analysis, roughly 3.4 percent of American adults, or 8.3 million people, are affected by a form of mental illness called psychological distress.

Based on data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between 2006 and 2014, the research also points out a serious lack of access to proper treatment for people with psychological symptoms.

To raise awareness on how important mental well-being is and to promote the spirit of education for mental health, this year's World Health Day, celebrated earlier this month, was themed around depression - how to recognize it and what the available treatment options are.

What Is Psychological Distress?

Psychological distress is a general term used to describe unpleasant feelings or emotions that impact one's level of functioning.

In other words, it is psychological discomfort that interferes with daily activities and can result in a negative perspective on life and on the self.

Serious psychological distress refers to mental health problems that are severe enough to require treatment, because it substantially hinders one's social and professional life, shows the CDC analysis.

In the study, researchers describe PD as a disorder resulting in "feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and restlessness that are hazardous enough to impair people's physical well-being."

PD manifests itself through anguish, anxiety, lack of happiness, difficulty in staying focused, as well as symptoms of mental illness.

The experience is highly subjective, meaning each person goes through a different process and exhibits distinct manifestations of PD.

Experts point out "the severity of psychological distress is dependent upon the situation" and how each affected person perceives it.

PD Causes And Symptoms

Psychological distress can be triggered by a number of causes that range from traumatic experiences and struggling with difficult situations to poor stress management.

According to experts, PD "occurs when external events or stressors place demands upon us that we are unable to cope with," and can be brought about either by major life transitions (such as moving to a new state or graduating from college), sudden unexpected events (losing one's job or a loved one), or even everyday stressors (such as traffic jams).

Symptoms of psychological distress include:

• Sleep disturbances: sleeping more or less than usual, difficulty falling asleep, or waking up after just a few hours of rest without being able to go back to sleep
• Dramatic weight fluctuations and changes in eating patterns
• Physical symptoms that can't be explained by a medical condition
• Problems with anger management or controlling one's temper
Compulsive or obsessive thoughts or behaviors
• Chronic fatigue, tiredness, and lack of energy
• Memory problems
• Avoiding social activities
• Mood swings and erratic behavior, such as impulsive shopping sprees
• Decreased pleasure in sexual activities and lowered libido

The CDC study also uncovered that psychological distress takes its toll on physical health as well. The research suggests people dealing with PD are more likely to be affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and diabetes.

Treatment Options For PD

As with any other type of illness, the most important step in combating PD is to seek help. Both the World Health Organization and the British Royal House have started public campaigns in an effort to prioritize mental health and promote openness and dialog.

Called "Depression: let's talk" and, respectively, "Heads Together," the campaigns encourage people struggling with psychological symptoms to open up and discuss their problems. Their message supports talking therapy as a means of managing anxiety, depression, stress, and other related issues that lead to PD.

When it comes to treatment options, specialists typically recommend a combination of non-drug therapies and antidepressant medication, depending on each case.

Although antidepressants may be required for some people, these drugs do not however get rid of the mental illness problem altogether. This explains why psychological therapies have gained more importance over the years, as they provide "small but significant improvements" in combating depression and anxiety.

The types of psychological therapies listed as effective in the management of PD are:

Cognitive behavior therapy - based on identifying and changing damaging thoughts and behaviors in order to improve emotional well-being.

Psychodynamic therapy - promotes a better understanding of the self and helps patients forge healthier relationships with themselves and others by developing more productive interpersonal patterns.

Narrative therapy - explores the dominant and alternative stories of the individual's life, deconstructing powerful stories that impacted the patient and externalizing the issue.

Relaxation therapy - includes an array of stress-reducing strategies, such meditation, breathing exercises, visualization activities, progressive muscle relaxation, tai chi, and mindfulness exercises.

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