Why It Matters: Etiology and Treatment

This photo depicts a large group of people sitting in a circle on the beach.

Figure 1. Many forms of therapy have been developed to treat a wide array of problems. These marines who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with community mental health volunteers, are part of the Ocean Therapy program at Camp Pendleton, a program in which learning to surf is combined with group discussions. The program helps vets recover, especially vets who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Why does one person in a family develop depression while the other sibling does not? If a person’s parent or parents were alcoholic, what is the chance that their children will develop the same disorder? These are questions related to etiology—the causes of mental disorders. You have already learned about the history of how people and clinicians attempted to explain the development of mental disorders and some of the early treatments that were used as a result of those explanations. In this module, we will expand on what you have learned by exploring the best current scientific understanding of what causes mental disorders, discuss how they arise, and introduce how they can be treated. Understanding these issues is essential to combating the stigma against mental disorders and helping all of us and society find better ways to support those who are struggling with symptoms.

In this module, you will see that treatment approaches to mental illness include biological, psychological, and social interventions, all with the goal of alleviating distress and enhancing the person’s ability to cope. Because psychological problems can originate from various sources—biology, genetics, childhood experiences, conditioning, and sociocultural influences—clinicians have developed many different therapeutic techniques and approaches. The Ocean Therapy program shown in Figure 1 uses multiple approaches to support the mental health of veterans in the group.