Mental Health Matters

In recent years, we have begun to speak openly about the incidence and treatment of breast cancer, AIDS, autism yet remain reticent to talk with candor about mental illness. NAMI provides some staggering statistics about the prevalence and impact of mental illness.

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.
  • Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.
  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

The stigma usually associated with mental illness stems from a lack of understanding or misperceptions.  Starting the dialogue, seeking support and educating others can help overcome the stigma associated with mental illness so that it can be discussed in the same way as diabetes, heart disease, cancer or any other illness.

Mental health should be part of ongoing healthy conversation and activism.  We need to have honest conversations about the effect not only on individuals, but families as well and we need to start the dialogue about positive mental health early.

Mental Health America provides some great mental health screening tools that are a quick and easy way to determine if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.  Mental health conditions are treatable and recovery is possible.

Here are 5 tips to promote resiliency and positive mental health.

  1. Take good care of yourself—Physical and mental health are interconnected therefore it is important to exercise regularly, practice good nutrition and get plenty of rest.
  2. Invest time in relationships—Strong, quality relationships have a great effect on our well-being. It is important to surround ourselves with those who have a positive impact on our emotional and physical health.
  3. Pursue challenging and self-enhancing activities—whether this is learning a new language, taking dancing lessons or embarking on a new challenge at work, developing new skills provides a sense of confidence and achievement leading to stronger emotional health.
  4. Experience the here and now—it is natural to sometimes perseverate on the past or plan and worry about the future, however, it is important to focus on the present moments. Practice mindfulness by being in the moment and making a conscious effort to appreciate the simple things—a great cup of coffee, a beautiful sunset, daffodils etc.,
  5. Be aware of and embrace all emotions—one of the key factors in fostering resiliency is to be aware of all of our emotions and learn to express them in a healthy manner. People who exhibit good emotional and mental health are reflective about their emotions and therefore present a more balanced perspective.  That is to say, they are content, have a zest for living and can handle adversity, stress and change thus creating  balance between work and play, rest and activity, social engagement and solitude, etc.,

So, when does one seek professional help for mental health issues?  The following red flags are a few behaviors that may require immediate attention:

  • Drastic changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Feeling down or hopeless most of the time
  • Concentration difficulties that are interfering at work and at home
  • Self-destructive thoughts or fears that you can’t control
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If you identify with any of these red flags, please consider contacting a mental health professional in your community.  Remember there is no shame in asking for help and a big part of improved mental health is taking this first step towards recovery.