Self-Rating Poor Mental Health as 'Good' Tied to Better Outcomes a Year Later

A new study finds that over 60 percent of patients who screen positive for either depression or serious psychological distress rate their own mental health as “good.” And one year later, these individuals are significantly less likely to meet criteria for mental health problems, even without any treatment, compared to those who rate their mental health more negatively.

The findings, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, suggest that self-rated mental health may have an independent positive impact on future mental health.

“Self-rated mental health is a very powerful construct that can be useful in clinical practice if we consider it a potential screener for mental health. Positive ratings of mental health even in the face of symptoms might not be a result of denial but may offer valuable insights about a person’s ability to cope with their symptoms,” said study co-author Dr. Sirry Alang, assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh University.

Alang noted that strong mental health is not just the absence of symptoms or mental illness, but also includes the ability to cope and adapt to life, fulfill desired roles, sustain meaningful relationships and maintain a sense of purpose and belonging.

Alang conducted the study with Drs. Donna D. McAlpine of the University of Minnesota and Ellen McCreedy of Brown University.

Using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, the authors sampled people who met the criteria for having a mental health problem and then compared the outcomes of those who did and did not rate their own mental health as poor.

After examining whether self-rated mental health affects the future outcomes of individuals with mental health problems, the team estimated the impact of these self-ratings on later mental health among disordered persons who did not receive treatment.

The study authors say they were surprised to find that self-rated mental health had an independent positive impact on future mental health. They conclude that asking patients to rate their own mental health may be a simple intervention to help identify individuals who might benefit most from treatment.

Source: Lehigh University