This year, Oct. 1–7 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a time to shine a light on mental illness to replace stigma with hope, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care.
Mental illness is a medical condition, but it is often surrounded by stigma or stereotypes that prevent people from getting the help they need. One in five adults experiences a mental illness in any given year. Those problems can contribute to onset of more serious long-term conditions such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Approximately one-half of chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by age 24. Unfortunately, long delays—sometimes decades—often occur between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help.
It is critical to learn to recognize early symptoms of mental illness and talk with a doctor about any concerns. Early identification and treatment can make a big difference for successful management of a condition.
For example, major depression is a mood disorder that is more serious than “feeling blue” or temporary sadness. Be alert to any combination of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood (sadness)
- Poor concentration
- Disturbance of appetite
- Feelings of guilt
- Thoughts of suicide
Bipolar disorder involves cycles of both depression and mania. It is different from normal “ups and downs” that many people experience. It involves dramatic shifts in mood, energy and ability to think clearly. Symptoms are not the same in everyone; some people may experience intense “highs,” while others primarily experience depression. Mania involves combinations of the following symptoms:
- Surges of energy
- Reduced need for sleep
- Extreme irritability
- Increased risk-taking behavior
Schizophrenia is a different type of mental illness but can include features of mood disorders. It affects a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to other people. Untreated, it also may include psychosis—a loss of contact with reality. Symptoms include:
- Difficulty with memory
- Difficulty in organizing thoughts
- Lack of content in speech
- Emotional flatness
- Inability to start or follow through with activities
- Inability to experience pleasure
Other types of mental illness include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders (including posttraumatic stress disorder) and borderline personality disorder. Mental Illness Awareness Week is a time to learn about them all.
Also a part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, National Depression Screening Day will be held on Thursday, Oct. 5. You are encouraged to take a free, anonymous and confidential questionnaire that can help you identify potential signs of depression. Take the questionnaire at http://helpyourselfhelpothers.org/ and immediately following you will see your results, recommendations, and key resources. Remember this is educational, not diagnostic. Anyone who experiences symptoms of mental illness should see a doctor and be checked for possibly related physical conditions. The next step might be a referral to mental health specialist where many treatment options exist.
This information was brought to you by the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) which offers helpful information through its website www.nami.org and HelpLine (800-950-NAMI (6264)). Help yourself, your family, your friends and your community. Help make a difference by saving lives and supporting recovery.
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