Mental Health Awareness
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Mental health refers to your overall emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health is important at every stage of life and it reflects how we handle stress, relate to others, and the kinds of choices we make. A person’s mental health can change over time as they have added stress in their life. Part of mental wellbeing involves balancing ongoing stressors with proper coping strategies and interventions.
Mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse are a source of tremendous pain and suffering. They are also very common health problems in society today. Researchers tell us that each year 1 in 5 Americans will experience a diagnosable mental illness, and more than half of us will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in our lives.
During the first week of October, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) works to raise awareness and compassion for those directly and indirectly affected by mental illness. During National Mental Health Awareness Week (October 4th-11th) special efforts to decrease stigma and provide support for those in need are highlighted.
Mental Illness and Mental Health
Often, the words “mental health” and “mental illness” are used interchangeably. This is a mistake. A person can have poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness.
Mental illnesses are treatable conditions. Understanding that these disorders are medical problems that require the help of trained professionals is a great first step in addressing treatment. It also helps remove the stigma unfairly associated with these conditions. Although much of the brain’s function remains a mystery, we know that mental illnesses can be caused by biologic factors, early or ongoing trauma, chronic medical issues, excessive use of alcohol and drugs, and limited social connection.
Signs of an illness that warrant seeking help from your doctor or another qualified professional include:
- Feeling sad, down, or hopeless much of the time
- Confused thinking or inability to focus
- Excessive fears, worries, or feelings of guilt
- High or low mood swings
- Withdrawal from family, friends, and activities
- Problems with lack of energy or motivation
- Significant sleep or appetite changes
- Detachment from reality (delusions)
- Feeling suspicious or paranoid
- Inability to cope
It is essential to consult a health care professional if you think you might be suffering from symptoms of mental illness. If you don’t have one, see if your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) — these organizations provide 24-hour telephonic support and will arrange prompt follow up with a local specialist, specifically trained to treat brain-based illness. Helpful educational resources include the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the American Psychological Association (APA).
It’s important to discuss mental health year-round and remind our friends and loved ones that they are not alone and that resources and support are available. Here are some other helpful resources:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- World Federation for Mental Health
- World Health Organization