Given the recent headlines in the news and the surge of violent crimes, it is likely that the public's awareness of mental illness has risen over the past few years. We have learned about schizophrenia, "blind rages" and depression through the many reports and opinions available through the media. Underneath the issues of what to do about gun control, bullying, suicide and violence, among others, are issues of mental health and what we can do to recognize signs of trouble early and to get those affected involved with treatment.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that can disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, moods, relationships and the ability to adjust to change and hard times. Mental illnesses result in a variety of symptoms that can affect one's ability to relate to others, express empathy and compassion, cope with the stresses of daily life and regulate behavior. Our psychological wellness affects many layers of our life and can result from a variety of medical or situational issues. People of any age, race, socioeconomic class, religion or income level can be affected by mental illness.
Over the course of life, many factors can contribute to mental health problems, including biological factors such as genes or brain chemistry, family history, drug and alcohol use/abuse, and life experiences such as trauma or abuse. Mental health problems are common and are very treatable, and are not a sign of personal weakness, lack of character or poor parenting.
According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, one in four adults, or approximately 60 million Americans, experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One person in 17 live with a serious mental illness. About one in 10 children live with a serious mental or emotional disorder. Fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with diagnosed mental health issues receive treatment each year.
It is likely that every one of us has either been touched by mental illness or knows someone who has. When the symptoms of mental illness strike, it can be hard to recognize and can be easily explained away. However, if the symptoms persist and patterns of behavior and mood difficulties are clear, those closest to you will notice. Often it is a concerned family member or close friend who sees the changes first.
If someone you care about is exhibiting changes of behavior and mood, encourage them to get a comprehensive assessment from a qualified mental health professional, as this is the first step in planning a recovery. And, if you are being told by a family member that they are noticing warning signs and symptoms of mental health problems, listen to them. Early identification and treatment is key. When the assessment is complete, supportive services such as education, psychotherapy and medications treatment, along with a change in lifestyle choices, can assist in recovery.
The week of Oct. 7 through Oct. 12 is Mental Illness Awareness Week.
The National Depression Screening Day is Oct. 10.
Take advantage of this identified week to increase your knowledge about mental illness and to learn how you can help. Become an expert by learning about the symptoms of mental illness, early warning signs and how to help. Participate in local, state and national activities to help heighten awareness. Read a book or watch a movie on the topic. Talk to a family member that you are concerned about. Educate your children about self-care, kindness, resiliency and wellness. Teach yourself and others about coping strategies to help you manage stress. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol as a way to alleviate the symptoms. Learn about healthy habits like good nutrition, exercise and relaxation to achieve balance. Connect socially with others. Volunteer. Check in with yourself to be sure that you are taking care of yourself and are symptom free. If not, get help.
No one needs to face mental illness alone.
--Stacey Brown is program director of the Human Services Program at Edison State College School of Health Professions. She is also a Licensed Mental Health Therapist.