May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Observed since 1949!

One in 5 adults experience mental illness in any given year in the United States; most often including disorders such as depression and anxiety.

This statistic is repeated often in this section of BOI magazine and also in programs and articles across our country; but we cannot remind ourselves enough that mental health disorders are common. Mental illness is so common; you might even say that mental illness is just part of what it means to be human.

Mental illness is a disorder of our brain, the most important organ in the human body. With every body, everybody being so different, the causes are many. Some causes are oriented to genetics, some are linked to social, cultural or biological factors and some causes are situational and recurrent or a one-time experience leading to a lifetime of trauma-related thoughts and behaviors. Regardless of cause, mental illnesses are not an issue of fault.

Although treatable through talk therapies and sometimes medication, there is a barrier, overall, for improved mental health. It is actually one word that stands in the way of positive mental health: STIGMA. How people view mental illness has, historically, meant that not everyone will receive the mental health support that they need. Out of fear and anxiety for perception in the workforce, with family and in school settings, many of us will not seek help. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), only 40% of adults and 50% of our youth will get the necessary help they need to be productive and satisfied with their lives. People will sometimes wait up to 10 years to seek assistance. Stigma is what creates reluctance to get help and shame for contracting an illness that you simply cannot “catch” like the common cold.

During mental health month, let’s take a look at some common illnesses:

  1. Anxiety Disorders: Age of onset in the United States for anxiety disorders, according to the National Council for Behavioral Health, is 11 years old. This disorder is characterized by difficulty in certain situations and responding with panic or fear. People can be affected both physically and mentally by anxiety disorders and, in panic attack situations, the signs and symptoms can mimic a heart attack. If the anxiety response lasts for more than a couple of weeks and affects work or school, relationships, and daily activities, then it is definitely time to take a closer look at what is happening and find some support.
  2. Mood Disorders: Mood disorders are just that: disorders related to how one is feeling. This can include depression at all levels. Some mood disorders are extreme in nature and can fluctuate rapidly or keep one hyperactively “up” or depressingly “down” for extended periods of time. Bipolar disorder is often the best known and often most misunderstood disorder. People inappropriately say things like, “You are so bipolar”, when really all is meant is “moody” or having an “off” day. Mood disorders can be debilitating and the impulsivity and potential lows can create dangerous and self-injurious behaviors. Suicide is a frequent risk of mood disorders. Diagnosis and medication are important with mood disorders and seeking help is a must to move toward recovery.
  3. Addiction Disorders: Alcohol and drugs are among the most common addiction-related disorders, but these can include things like compulsive gambling and other impulse control disorders. Addictions without treatment can last a lifetime and cause severe isolation and a retreat from health into the dangers of use and abuse of a physically and mentally damaging substance or behavior.
  4. Eating Disorders: Food, exercise and weight are at the focus of this sometimes life-threatening disorder for men, women and youth. Common among these conditions are binging behaviors, anorexia, bulimia, and any unhealthy preoccupation with any combination of food, exercise, and weight. The physiological impact of eating disorders is of grave concern to the treatment professional. Due to this, many specialized programs are needed to help those living with eating disorders find a path to recovery and positive physical and mental health.
  5. Psychosis: Distortions in thinking and how one’s environment is perceived is the basis for psychotic disorders. Psychotic disorders are the most puzzling and are often misunderstood mental health conditions. People often fear these disorders and it is misconstrued that people with psychosis are dangerous. In most cases, people with this form of mental illness are more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators of crime and assault (NAMI). When these disorders are discussed the words “hallucinations” and “delusions” come to mind. Hallucinations involve an experience that is real only to the person having the change in perception and may involve alterations in hearing, sight, sound, touch or smell; any of our 5 sensory experiences. Delusions are distortions in thinking.
  6. Dual Diagnosis: A person with this disorder has both a mental health disorder and an alcohol or drug problem. It is not unusual for these conditions to occur together. According to Medline, nearly “half of people who have a mental disorder will also have a substance use disorder at some point in their lives and vice versa”.
  7. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Trauma is at the core of many mental health conditions and PTSD is recognized as a disorder characterized by frightening and worrisome memories or thoughts about an event(s) which has occurred in someone’s life.

All in all, positive mental health is essential. Being emotionally and mentally healthy is more than just being absent of the disorders listed above. It involves attention to self-care and self-monitoring of one’s moods and thoughts. The goal, of course, is to “live, laugh and love”; have good relationships, manage school and work well and to attend to daily living activities. Resilience in stress-filled situations is key and resilience is a developed skill driven by a sense of purpose for staying healthy and happy. Tell your story; this often helps both the teller and listener, and reminds both that no one is alone when it comes to mental health. Be empathic: be a good listener and work to understand others. Confront stigma; don’t be silent! As you go day by day through the month of May, work at being adaptable and flexible, nurture relationships, and pay attention and prioritize your mental health! Call Lake Behavioral Hospital for a free assessment if your mental health is a worry for you. You are one call away from the help that you need 24/7/365. Call Lake Behavioral Hospital at 855-990-1900.