Millions of Americans fight a stigma and face the reality of living with a mental health condition.
In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to educate the public on mental illness and its effects on Americans.
Mental illness is a condition that can affect a person’s thinking, feeling or mood, and it can be very difficult to diagnose. Illnesses can disturb regular daily functions and the ability to communicate with others. Research has suggested that many factors, including genetics, environment and lifestyle, can influence a mental health condition. In addition, a stressful job or home life, or traumatic events can make a person more prone to develop a mental illness.
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Mental health conditions can include mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder. They also include anxiety disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, psychosis and personality disorders also fall under the category of mental illness. While one in five adults experience a mental health condition each year, The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that one in 17 adults live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
Mental illness is common in children and adolescents. NAMI reports that one in five children between ages 13 and 18 have, or will have, a mental illness, and that 50 percent of all lifetime cases begin by age 14. Untreated mental health problems can result in poor school performance, school dropout, or a child developing severe mental illness later in life. A reported 70 percent of adolescents with mental health issues don’t receive the care they need.
Knowing the warning signs of a mental health condition is important. Each illness has unique symptoms, but many share similar signs. Common signs for adults and children can include unwarranted worry, sadness, mood changes, self-harm, avoidance of social situations and peers, substance abuse, and changes in diet and fatigue.
A major warning sign of a mental health condition is suicidal thoughts or actions. Each year, more than 34,000 people in the United States commit suicide, and 90 percent of those who take their own lives struggle with a mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the United States and the third leading cause among adolescents. Any person who exhibits suicidal behavior should seek care immediately.
Treating a mental illness can be difficult because a disorder can affect people in different ways, even if they are diagnosed the same. Treatment can require medication, psychotherapy, recovery and support groups. If you are experiencing signs and symptoms of a mental illness, talk to a mental health professional to find out which form of treatment is the best for you.
Heather Goodman is with Assessment and Referral Services, Our Lady of Peace.