October 5-10, is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Though there have been some major strides in raising awareness of mental health issues, it remains largely stigmatized in the media and among specific gender and race groups. In light of the recent tragedy in Oregon, and the way too many other heartbreaking public attacks executed by the mentally ill, it’s time we gain a better understanding of mental illness in America as a whole.
Behind closed doors, closed lips, and heavy eyes, millions of Americans are suffering in the dark. Mental illness currently affects nearly 43 million American adults and is steadily taking hold of our youth. That’s 20% of the U.S population suffering from some form of mental illness every year, with conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia.
What You Should Know About Mental Illness
Mental illness is a term that covers a very broad spectrum of disorders and behavioral issues. As the Mayo Clinic points out, mental illnesses are also called mental health disorders. The most prevalent are depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, anxiety, and schizophrenia. The severity of these illnesses vary tremendously from case to case; however, mental illness is classified as a mental disorder that affects mood, behavior, and thinking on an ongoing basis. These conditions often affect one’s daily life and ability to function fully at work, home, and socially.
During this Mental Illness Awareness Week I’d like to spread awareness about what mental health disorders are, what causes them, and how to get help for them without shame. There should be no stigma to having a mental illness any more than having a physical illness.
Causes of Mental Illness
Although mental illnesses are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, scientists are still unable to point out the exact cause. Some view mental illness similar to a disease because of its progressive nature; however, mental illnesses can’t be detected by examining cells, tissues or organs in the body. It’s detected by behavior, which means each case can be just as unique as the person afflicted. According to Mayoclinic.org, there are typically three factors at work that research can agree promotes mental illness:
Mental illness does show biological links as it is more common to develop in people with a family history of mental health issues. Though certain genes may put you more at risk, life events may be necessary to trigger the onset.
Prenatal exposures to viruses, toxins, and drugs or alcohol can sometimes be linked to mental illness as these things have the ability to affect brain chemistry.
The biochemical makeup of the brain is believed to affect mood and other aspects of mental health. Neurotransmitters, naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, can affect mental health when they aren’t functioning properly or are at depleted levels. Hormonal imbalances can also be a huge factor in severe mood change.
Who Is Affected By Mental Illness?
People like to say mental illness doesn’t discriminate…but it does. While it’s true no particular group of person is exempt from mental illness, there are groups that suffer more disparagingly on account of lack of available health care and cultural stigma.
African American and Latino people actually average a slightly lower number of mental illness cases than the White population; however, the gap between those suffering and receiving treatment is larger in minority groups according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Half of the reported cases of adult mental illness begin before the age of 13. More than 40% of youth ages 13-17 have experienced a mental illness or behavioral problem by the time they’ve entered middle school. Society and even parents can sometimes be quick to excuse behavioral and mood issues amongst teenagers as a normal part of adolescence. If concerning behavior persists and starts to affect school and their social life, the child should be evaluated by a psychologist.
The Risks of Untreated Mental illness
One truth about mental illness that has become unfortunately apparent, if it’s left untreated the results can be devastating. America has seen an alarming rise in public shootings largely at the hands of mentally unstable individuals. In many cases there had been warning signs that these people were not mentally well.
It’s paramount to realize that although mental illness was involved in these tragedies, there were many other motivations at work. Not even untreated cases in the majority of people suffering from mental illness would turn to violence or criminal acts to such an extreme degree. In these extreme cases there have usually been conditions of abuse, extremist belief or religion, and severe mental illness. Approximately 9 million people ( out of the 43 mil.), are said to be living with severe mental illness in America every year.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America and the second leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years. Let that sink in for a moment. A treatable and preventable issue is the second most fatal problem among America’s youth. More men die by suicide than women; however, there are more reports of attempted suicide from women. More than 90% of those who commit suicide had reported one or more mental health issues.
Struggles to cope with mental illness often lead to substance and alcohol abuse. An estimated 9 million Americans are living with a co-occurring mental and substance abuse disorders. According to SAMHSA by 2020 , mental and substance use disorders will surpass all other physical diseases as a major cause of disability across the world. This will continue to put a humongous burden of cost on healthcare and society’s safety if preventative measures aren’t taken.
What To Do About Mental Illness
Today, depression and other mood disorders are largely treated with anti-depressants and other prescription pills. This has caused a new epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The U.S spends in the hundred billions on mental health treatment every year. That money is largely spent on prescription drugs and outpatient treatments. Although these pills can be immensely helpful for some when used correctly, they should never be prescribed to a patient that does not regularly visit a psychologist for ongoing counseling, or has an established treatment plan.
The most effective, cost-saving, and non-invasive treatment for preventable illness is always prevention. Symptoms and behaviors that signal the possible onset of a mental illness often manifest 2-4 years before a disorder fully shows itself. That’s why a focus on mental health for our young people is so critical. There has been a more comprehensive system of care implemented for the treatment of mental illness referred to as the Mental Health Intervention Spectrum; the model includes the following components:
The goal is to promote a culture that is more accepting of those suffering with mental illness and to become more “mentally healthy” overall. Work to reduce stress and well-being for all is the focus.
Interventions are intended to prevent or reduce the risk of a behavioral disorder fully developing. Action should be taken when warning signs present themselves such as severe ongoing mood change, underage alcohol use, prescription drug misuse and abuse, and illicit drug use.
This might be an inpatient or intense out-patient therapy for people in the midst of substance or behavioral disorders
An attitude of ongoing care. Mental health should be continuously monitored and assessed through mental health professionals, personal provisions, and a health care regimen.
Mental illness does not just affect the societal outliers. Whether it’s you, your family, co-workers, or neighbors, we all need to take part to create a more aware and sensitive nation. Mental illness is not a black and white issue. The only way to create more acceptance is to continue to shed light on all the ways mental illness presents itself in America and work towards a brighter future.
Mental Illness Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En español 1-888-628-9454
HRSA works to improve access to health care. The HRSA website has information on finding affordable healthcare, including health centers that offer care on a sliding fee scale.
While this App is by now means substitution for treatment, it may help with prevention by helping improve mental health and reduce stress.
I hope this article about Mental Illness Awareness Week helps answer some of your basic questions and helps you realize the challenge that face so many.