The month of May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Sometimes mental health is a topic that people avoid as there has been a stigma attached to the “unseen” mental diseases that affect literally millions of Americans every year. With that said the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) aims to fight stigma and provide support not only during the month May but all year long.
NAMI says that for Mental Health Awareness Month 2022, they will “amplify the message of “Together for Mental Health.” We will use this time to bring our voices together to advocate for mental health and access to care through NAMI’s blog, personal stories, videos, digital toolkits, social media engagements and national events.” Furthermore, NAMI stated, “Together, we can realize our shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness can get the appropriate support and quality of care to live healthy, fulfilling lives.”
To understand mental illness, let us first examine the definition. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines mental illness as “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.” The APA also says that mental illness is common revealing the following data.
In a given year:
• Nearly one in five (19%) U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness..
• One in 24 (4.1%) has a serious mental illness*.
• One in 12 (8.5%) has a diagnosable substance use disorder.
The APA says that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and is a medical problem just like heart disease or diabetes. Also just like any other medical condition, mental illness does not discriminate. The APA stated, “it can affect anyone regardless of your age, gender, geography, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity. While mental illness can occur at any age, three-fourths of all mental illness begins by age 24.”
Mental Health America (MHA) revealed that Mental Health Awareness Month has been in effect since 1949. MHA elaborated that the last two years of living in a pandemic has taken a toll on many people and effected their well-being secondary to the stress, isolation, and uncertainty.
So, what does a mental health condition look like? That is an excellent question. Often times, people that are suffering with mental illness don’t openly talk about it secondary to the stigma it has developed over the years. MHA summarizes that, “a mental health condition, or mental illness, refers to a set of symptoms that have been identified by the mental health community. Mental health conditions are described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), or by people with lived experience. People with mental health conditions deal with changes in emotions, thinking, and/or behavior. For some, this means extreme and unexpected changes in mood – like feeling much more sad or worried than usual. For others, it means not thinking clearly, pulling away from friends and activities you used to enjoy, or hearing voices that others do not. To be diagnosed, the changes in your thinking and emotions must be seriously hurting your ability to do the things you want to do; and sticking around longer than they should – weeks or months, depending on the condition. No matter what kind of mental health condition someone is facing, it’s always possible to recover.”
The MHA also released the following statement, “many people struggle with not feeling “sick enough” to seek help early on in their mental health journey. The average delay between symptom onset and treatment is 11 years, meaning a lot of people spend months or years facing mental health challenges before getting a diagnosis. It is never too early to seek treatment – if you want help for your mental health, you deserve to get it.”
MHA said, “It is especially important to pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviors. Also keep in mind that the onset of several of the symptoms below, and not just any one change, indicates a problem that should be assessed. The symptoms below should not be due to recent substance use or another medical condition. If you or someone you know is in crisis now, seek help immediately. Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24 hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.” Warning signs/symptoms to watch for are listed below.
In adults, young adults and adolescents: confused thinking, prolonged depression (sadness or irritability), feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fears, worries and anxieties, social withdrawal, dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits, strong feelings of anger, strange thoughts (delusions), seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations), growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities, suicidal thoughts, numerous unexplained physical ailments and substance use.
in older children and pre-adolescents: substance use, inability to cope with problems and daily activities, changes in sleeping and/or eating habits, excessive complaints of physical ailments, changes in ability to manage responsibilities - at home and/or at school, defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism, intense fear, prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death and frequent outbursts of anger.
In younger children: changes in school performance, poor grades despite strong efforts, changes in sleeping and/or eating habits, excessive worry or anxiety (i.e., refusing to go to bed or school), hyperactivity, persistent nightmares, persistent disobedience or aggression and frequent temper tantrums.
It is important to reiterate that sometimes medical issues can cause symptoms of mental illness which is why it is so important to consult professionals to obtain an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. There is also always someone to talk to if you are in crisis. As noted above call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center or dial 911 for immediate assistance.
Ways to provide support and to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month include taking a mental health screening, sharing your own mental health story, volunteer or donate, prioritize your mental health, and starting a conversation on the subject. Also educate yourself on Mental Health First Aid.