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Mental health can seem like an impossibly difficult subject.

The current iteration of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders–a mouthful we lovingly abbreviate as the DSM-5–contains 22 chapters, each containing multiple mental health disorders.

For many of these problems, there are textbooks, conferences, and fierce debates. Expert conversations can quickly switch from sub-nanometer-sized medication to the history of human civilization. Mental health influences–and is influenced by–nearly everything in our environment. 

It’s easy to get lost in the complexity. 

In this blog, I’ll be taking complicated ideas and breaking them down into easily understandable chunks. And in my opinion, the smallest piece of useful information is a mental health model. 

Models are simplified descriptions of complicated ideas. They can be nuanced enough to fill books or simple enough to be captured by a single phrase. Some are backed up by hundreds of studies, while others have only theoretical support. No model is perfectly accurate, and even well-supported models may not be very useful.

But trying to talk about mental health without clear models is a fool’s errand. When I’m working in the clinic with someone, my mind is rapidly testing models to see if they fit my observations. A model that matches the problem often leads to a specific solution. And if that solution doesn’t work? We re-examine the model until we find one that fits better.

Because ultimately, the most important model is the one that works. And if you and I can keep finding models that fit that goal, our mental health may just get a little bit better.