It wasn’t so long ago that mental health was deeply misunderstood. As recently as the 1950s, treatments that are now considered inhumane (such as lobotomies) or controversial (such as electroconvulsive therapy) were common treatments for mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, and more.
To compound the problem of these aggressive procedures, a lack of clinical understanding of psychology and psychiatry previously resulted in misinformed diagnoses. Social and cultural biases were also inseparable from mental health diagnoses. For example, in the past, “hysteria” was a disease that presumably afflicted women. It was first recorded in ancient times: 1900 BC in Egypt and just a little later in Greece. The word comes from “hystera,” meaning “uterus” in Greek, and those who had hysteria were prone to excessive emotion and sexual dissatisfaction. It was sexism masquerading as a legitimate illness and was actually “treated” until the second half of the 20th century.
Another long-overdue overhaul of a historically biased classification was in 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association finally declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder.
Mental illness in the family was a source of shame and disgrace for much of modern history. Therefore, institutionalization and removing the ill person from society was the primary way of handling their condition. Forced sterilization, which had nothing to do with illness treatment, was a routine procedure applied to those who lived at a mental institution. Needless to say, fixing the confusion around what is “mental illness” and how to apply mental health care through equitable and therapeutic practices is a major source of fuel for the work of contemporary mental health care practitioners today. There is still so much headway to be made in the future of mental health care.
Let’s flash forward, away from this grave history lesson. Recognizing and managing mental health concerns across the lifespan is now mainstream, front-page news. Innovations in drugs and therapies have allowed people with previously unsolvable mental health challenges to participate in society. Research has empowered doctors to more reliably diagnose mental illness, and knowledge has empowered patients to actively consent and participate in choosing treatment options.
With so much action and discourse around mental health today, psychologists, psychiatrists, and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) are poised to be involved in new sectors previously overlooked and to see job prospects skyrocket.
Here are the top trends impacting mental health today, and why PMHNPs are vital in this environment.
1. Mental health continues to be a collective concern for Americans.
About 50 million Americans report that they are experiencing a mental illness, which is defined as any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, separate from a developmental or substance use disorder. Almost five percent, or 2.5 million people of those 50 million individuals, rank their illness at a “severe” level. This means that it is negatively affecting their ability to function in everyday life.
The sheer quantity of respondents is impossible to ignore, and mental health is now a prominent public health problem in the eyes of government agencies, healthcare professionals, and citizens alike. CNN reported that 9 out of 10 adults agree that there is currently a mental health crisis in America.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t separate Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners from other types of APRNs, but nurse practitioners are included in the Top 20 Most New Jobs in the U.S., proving that the outlook for this career choice is excellent.
2. The stigma of mental health is fading.
The widespread awareness of mental illness in America comes with a surprisingly wonderful effect: normalization. No longer are people with mental health challenges pushed to the outskirts of society. Increasingly, friends and family members are taking a proactive role in helping their loved ones seek help, with less fear of being ostracized. Mental health is so normalized that, in 2017, the mental health and addiction services sector of direct-to-consumer advertising made the largest leap proportionally to all health service advertising types. $162 million were spent on direct-to-consumer mental health and addiction services advertising that year, which was an 8,000% increase from the $2 million spent twenty years earlier, in 1997. The media has always had a powerful grip on American perception and attention. Advertising campaigns are likely to affect the choices of Americans to seek mental health attention, keeping PMHNPs busy in their careers.
3. Mental health treatment is becoming more accessible through technology.
The ability of the health care system to handle mental illness prevalence is key to healing such a large quantity of mental health patients. The top five states that have a lower prevalence of mental illness and a higher rate of access to care are New Jersey, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. That’s great news for aspiring PMHNPs who decide to pursue a flexible, online education at Goodwin University, and ultimately practice in Goodwin’s home of Connecticut or nearby, neighboring states.
Did we mention that access to treatment is a key to healing? What if we told all 50 million Americans that they already have the key? It’s in their back pocket, on their desk during the day, and hanging out on their nightstand by evening. You guessed it: Mental health treatment is now available through phones, computers, and any device with an internet connection, all thanks to telehealth.
With a health crisis hotline just an arm’s reach away, help can be dialed at any hour. Certain healthcare apps allow a person to manage their mental health by tracking symptoms and communicating with mental health counselors via text, or FaceTime, with a PMHNP. Anyone with a device can take control of their mental health at low or no cost, and even anonymously. Smartphones can also harness predictive technology to go beyond the conscious decisions a user makes, and algorithmically understand the cues of a crisis building due to changes in their habits and behavior using the device. It might not be a stretch to say that mental health smartphone technology, and the developers, researchers, doctors, and nurses behind it, are saving lives.
4. Federal investments are contributing to healthier communities.
When crisis management measures result in the federal government funding the issue, big change can be seen on the horizon. In 2022, the U.S. House of Representatives addressed the need for mental health care funding by passing a spending package. The package included $2.14 billion for the National Institute for Mental Health, $101.6 million for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and $111 million for school mental health professionals and health services, among many other funding initiatives that comprised this $1.5 trillion investment in American mental health.
Federal government funding for mental health helps to regulate the system of healthcare providers, consumer rights, provision of services, and research and innovation projects. They also establish standards for states to use as a baseline for the services offered within state lines. Increased funding for mental health filters into hospitals, research labs, and pharmaceuticals. Ultimately, this means there is more money in communities to meet the challenges of mental health needs in clinical environments and more variety of career outcomes for PMHNPs.
Luckily, the United States’ capacity for managing mental health in the country’s population is growing. Violence, depression, and a substance abuse epidemic are unfortunate buzzwords seen across headlines daily. With more attention paid to the root causes of these problems, and more funding to mobilize, mental health practitioners can reach patients earlier and more easily.
Consider a fulfilling career in psychiatric-mental health nursing to put yourself on the front lines of fostering positive change in the future of mental health care. Goodwin’s online APRN-PMHNP program is available to residents of SARA states. Learn more by visiting us online here.