A new government report released last week says that nearly 46 million American adults have experienced a mental illness in the past year.
"We all know people who have suffered with depression, anxiety disorder or other type of mental illness," explained Cynde McCallum, BSN, RN-BC, Program Director of Salem Community Hospital's Behavioral Medicine and Wellness Center. "Mental health issues are treatable conditions; however, for many different reasons people don't receive the needed care."
According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) report, almost one in three people (30 percent) in the 18 to 25 age range experienced a mental illness in the last year. This compares to 14 percent of those aged 50 and older. In addition, 23 percent of women suffered with a mental illness in the last year compared to almost 17 percent of men. The SAMHSA report defines mental illness as affecting a person's ability to function normally.
Is It Mental Illness?
"Your mental health is probably one of the single most important factors in determining the quality of your life," Cynde continued. "A mental illness is somewhat unique from other illnesses in that it not only affects your life, it also affects the lives of the people closest to you. It is important to recognize that the brain regulates a person's thoughts, feelings and emotions. In general, it coordinates many functions throughout the body, but like any other organ, it can sometimes function improperly."
The symptoms of mental illness may affect a person's emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Examples of these types of symptoms include: feeling sad or down; confused thinking; excessive fears; withdrawl from friends or activities; detachment from reality or hallucinations; inability to cope with daily problems or stress; alcohol or drug abuse; significant changes in eating habits; sex drive changes; excessive anger, hostility or violence; or suicidal thinking. In addition, symptoms of a mental health disorder may appear as a physical problem, such as fatigue, back or chest pain, digestive problems, headache, rapid heart rate, weight gain or loss, or dizziness.
- About 39 percent of those with a mental illness received mental health services.
- Nearly 61 percent of those with severe mental illness received services.
- 8.7 million Americans had suicidal thoughts in the last year.
- People who abuse drugs or alcohol had higher rates of mental illness at 20 percent.
- One-fourth of those with serious mental illness were substance abusers.
"In general, signs indicating that you may be experiencing a mental illness are when the symptoms make you miserable and interfere with your ability to function in your daily life," Cynde advised. "You may have trouble coping with stress, anger or other emotions. Or you may find it difficult to handle family, work or school responsibilities. However with some types of mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you may not realize the extent of your problems. Instead, it may be family members or friends who first become aware that you have a mental illness."
Three things generally happen over time when a person begins to experience the symptoms associated with a mental illness. "First, the person often believes it's his or her fault and tries to deal with it secretly," Cynde added. "He or she may feel it is 'all in their head,' but in reality, it is an illness that affects the way the brain manages systems in the body. Very often the person is unsure or unaware of what is happening to them but knows something isn't quite right. He or she may also have feelings of being embarrassed, feeling ashamed or weak.
"Second, people may spend months or years trying to ineffectively handle the illness on their own and their symptoms can actually worsen over time. They don't realize that their early pain has progressed to daily suffering and their quality of life is now extremely poor. They may not even clearly recognize how the illness is impacting them and the people closest to them. Finally, if the mental illness remains untreated, the individual can begin to lose pieces of their life. He or she may lose a job or have a significant relationship deteriorate over time as a result of the illness."
When to Seek Help?
"Most people seek medical help when they are physically sick," Cynde concluded. "Mental health is no different than your physical health. Do not equate illnesses of the brain with being crazy or weak. A mental illness is a treatable disease. If something isn't right, ask for help in figuring out what is wrong. It is time to get the help you need and deserve. Because mental illness is an illness, it will require professional help for you to learn how to manage the illness. If you have a mental illness, there are things you can to do to help reduce or manage your symptoms. Most likely, you will need medications and therapy to reduce or relieve your symptoms to the highest degree possible."
"If you have a loved one who you think may have symptoms of mental illness, have an open and honest discussion about your concerns," Cynde concluded. "You may not be able to convince the person to seek professional care, but you can offer encouragement and support."
If you are unsure where to go for help, talk to someone you trust who has experience in mental health-for example, a doctor, nurse, social worker or counselor. Ask their advice on where to seek treatment. In times of crisis, the hospital emergency room staff may be able to provide temporary help for a mental health problem, and tell you where and how to get further help.
The staff at the Behavioral Medicine and Wellness Center at Salem Community Hospital may also be able to answer your questions about mental illness. Call Jamie Benner, Community Liaison, or Cynde McCallum, BSN, RN-BC, Program Director, at 330-337-4935, for more information about their Partial Hospitalization Program or Intensive Outpatient Program. The SCH Behavioral Medicine and Wellness Center is located at 2020 East State Street, Suite J in Salem.