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Understanding Comorbidity: Two or More Mental Health Conditions

Understanding Comorbidity: Two or More Mental Health Conditions

  • Admin
  • Apr 01, 2020

Understanding Comorbidity: Two or More Mental Health Conditions

Mental health can be a very delicate and complex thing. A single mental health disorder is hard enough to deal with - so what about people with more than one condition? This article explains mental health comorbidity - the condition of having more than one mental health disorder. We'll cover what comorbidity is, how common it is, and how it's treated. Use this information to make informed decisions about mental health care for yourself or someone you care about.

What Is Comorbidity: More Than One Mental Health Issue?

Comorbidity is a big and scary sounding word. However, the concept it refers to isn’t that difficult. Generally, it means have two or more health conditions. In the context of mental health it means having two or more mental health conditions. Comorbidity is also called dual-diagnosis or co-occurring disorders.

There’s a good chance that you or someone you know has a comorbid mental health condition. People getting treated for anxiety and depression, depression and ADHD, bipolar disorder and anxiety, or autism and depression all have a comorbid mental health condition.

It’s important to recognize if someone is dealing with more than one mental health condition at a time. This is because comorbid conditions require more care and understanding to successfully resolve than situations where someone only has one mental health issue.

These conditions are more complex to treat because the symptoms of one issue might undermine or prevent common treatment methods from working. For example, many common therapy techniques, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy rely on the patient using specific techniques to cope with their mental health conditions.

However, having more than one mental health condition can make these techniques ineffective unless a complete picture of a patient’s situation is available. As a result, successful diagnosis and consideration of comorbid mental health conditions is essential to getting effective treatment, allowing patients to live their best lives.

How Common is Mental Health Comorbidity?

Comorbid mental health conditions are surprisingly common. Studies suggest that 34 million American adults – 17% of the population – have comorbid mental health conditions. Comorbid mental health conditions are even more common depending on someone’s specific diagnosis.

For example, some studies estimate that as many as 60% of people with anxiety also have symptoms of depression. Anxiety and depression are two of the most common comorbid conditions, often accompanying other issues like ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, and more.

In the largest study to date, which looked at nearly 6 million people and more than 83 million person-years of data, researchers found that diagnosis with one mental health disorder was associated with a second disorder 2 to 48 times more often.  This shows how common comorbid mental health conditions are, and why it’s so important to work to understand them.

Furthermore, comorbid disorders are especially common in those with a substance-use disorder. One study found that 60% of adolescents in substance-abuse treatment programs fit the diagnostic criteria for another mental illness. The most common disorders that show along with substance abuse are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

How is Mental Health Comorbidity Treated?

Unfortunately, there’s very little consensus on the best way to treat comorbid mental health disorders. That’s because each situation is unique and different. What works for one person may not work for another.

One thing that researchers and doctors agree on is that the best approaches to treating comorbid mental health disorders are evidence-based. Evidence-based treatment can include several different options, including a combination of medication and therapy techniques. The next section provides some more details about evidence-based treatment.

Evidence-Based Treatment for Two or More Mental Health Disorders

Evidence-based treatment is a specialized process that lets mental healthcare providers customize treatment options for an individual. Evidence-based treatment focuses on understanding what methods work, which methods don’t, and seeking to maximize the value the patient gets from treatment. Methods that don’t work are discarded, and methods that work are augmented. Providers can also use knowledge about what works and didn’t work to help pick further treatment options. As a result, evidence-based treatment offers the best hope for people suffering with comorbid mental health disorders.

Comorbid Mental Health and You

If you or someone you care about is suffering from one or more mental health disorders, there are options. The most important thing to do is seek out evidence-based treatment. You need to make sure that your treatment providers understand that you have comorbid or co-occurring mental health disorders. This will allow them to come up with a customized, individually tailored treatment plan that works for you. Don’t give up hope, there are options available. The first step to successful treatment is an accurate diagnosis. Ask your mental healthcare provider about comorbid disorders to get more information. 

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