Changing the Way We Think About Mental Health

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and with its observance comes a two-fold responsibility to educate ourselves, our family and friends on how to recognize the symptoms and treat mental illness, and to help rectify how mental illness is perceived in our country by learning what we can do to change the many misconceptions.

Contributing to some of the fallacies are those who still think that mental illness is the person’s own fault, and if they had any willpower at all, they could easily solve those problems that make them unproductive and a drain on our society.

If willpower can treat mental illness, then it should also be able to treat diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure or any other chronic medical illness, but we have enough knowledge to know it cannot. We don’t discriminate against people with any of these diseases, so why is there still social stigma for those suffering with anxiety, addiction, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and ADHD?

Decades of research show that the same science that helps diagnose and treat illnesses in the body can detect and provide treatment for psychiatric disorders of the brain, as well.

What are the four stages of mental health conditions?

Stage One – a person with a mental health condition has mild symptoms and the warning signs are hard to discern because they are still able to function at home, work or school.

Stage Two – the symptoms increase in frequency and it becomes obvious that something is wrong because performance of work or school responsibilities is hindered, and it is more difficult to keep up with family duties and social obligations.

Stage Three – symptoms become more severe and the person who is ill feels they are losing control of their life and the ability to fill their roles at home, work or school.

Stage Four – the prolonged and persistent symptoms have now impaired the person’s life until there is a development of other health issues along with a crisis event like addiction, hospitalization, homelessness or even incarceration.

Did you know?

At some point in their lives, 50% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition and half of those will develop the condition as early as age 14.

The delays for treating mental illnesses are much longer than for any other health condition. As examples, it can take from 9 to 23 years for someone to recognize and get treatment for anxiety disorders, 6 to 8 years for mood disorders and 1 to 2 years for a psychosis.

Many people with undiagnosed mental illnesses end up in prison and it can cost over $30,000 a year for society to care for them instead of less than $100 per student, per year, if their treatments start as a child.

When we see symptoms for other chronic diseases, we don’t wait to treat them until they have reached the point – stage 4 – where they can no longer be cured. We go to the doctor and immediately start treating the illness, so we can reverse the symptoms and stop the progression of the disease.

What are the risk factors for mental health conditions?

1. Genes. Here are estimates for the possibility of inheriting these diseases from our families: Schizophrenia – 8%, Depression – 37%, Bipolar Disorder – 75%, ADHD – 75%

2. Environment. People who have experienced suddden loss, violence, abuse or neglect along with living in unsafe communities and with low socioeconomic status are 17 times more likely to have learning or behavioral problems, 5 times more likely to have serious alchohol problems, 3 times more likely to have problems on the job and 2.6 times more likely to have depression.

3. Biology. Imbalance of chemicals in the body and the patterns of cell communication, head injuries and brain changes in “tolerance”, or the reward response, are risk factors for mental illness and substance use. 

4. Lifestyle. Poor diet, lack of exercise, substance use, abuse or addiction, and irregular sleep patterns are underlying causes of behavioral health problems. People with any mental illness are 2.3 times as likely to develop nicotine dependence, 3 times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and 30 times more likely to develop illicit drug dependence.

What are some symptoms to look for?

  • Too much sleep, having trouble sleeping or switching sleep cycles from night to day
  • Racing thoughts, problems with concentration, memory or ability to think clearly
  • Changes in eating — loss of appetite or overeating
  • Irritability, restlessness or short temper
  • Sensitivity to sound, sight, smell or touch
  • Feeling overly worried, sad, empty, hopeless or worthless
  • Not being able to complete tasks at home, work or school
  • Isolating from others, disconnection and loss of interest in things that were once enjoyed
  • Evidence of abusing alcohol or drugs in an effort to self-medicate their symptoms

The main reason it takes so long for a behavioral health problem to be treated is because people simply do not recognize that they are experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Why is this?

Despite so many years of scientific research and medically based treatment, mental illness is still sometimes whispered about and hidden from other family members because of the shame of being weak or having different feelings from everyone else.

From this embarrassment comes a lack of knowledge, so many people still have no idea what to look for and, if they do, they feel ashamed to ask for help because of the continuing stigma associated with mental illness.

Educate your friends and family of the signs so if they do appear, they are not brushed aside hoping they will go away, if ignored. Just like any other chronic health condition, a mental illness can get worse if left untreated.

What signs or symptoms require immediate attention?

  • Thoughts or plans of killing or hurting themselves or someone else
  • Hearing voices or seeing things no one else can hear or see
  • Unexplainable changes in thinking, speech or writing
  • Being overly suspicious or fearful
  • Serious drop in school or work performance
  • Sudden personality changes that are very strange or out of character

Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician or a mental health professional for a screening to check for symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, addiction and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The good news is mental health conditions are not only common – they are treatable. Treatment options include individual- and group-talk therapy, medications to treat the symptoms and peer support to provide valuable insight from their own experiences.

If you or a family member are showing signs of a mental illness and addiction, Enterhealth can help. Our staff of addiction psychiatrists and therapists are trained to treat dual diagnosis patients, those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and also have underlying behavioral health problems. 

To learn more about Enterhealth’s luxury, residential addiction treatment center or Outpatient rehabilitation programs, call 1.800.388.4601 or contact us using this form to talk to your trusted advisor, today!