Two years ago in May I wrote my first column titled “Mental Health for Everyone”, addressing mental health conditions and encouraging destigmatization. For 66 years, May has been recognized as Mental Health Month by national organization Mental Health America, focused on raising awareness about mental health conditions and the importance of good mental health for everyone. Just as in overall health, everyone fits on a spectrum of mental health.
When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4- we begin with prevention. When people are in the first stage of those diseases, and are beginning to show signs of symptoms like a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms. We don’t ignore them. In fact, we develop a plan of action to reverse and sometimes stop the progression of the disease. So why aren’t we doing the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness? When you or someone close to you starts to experience the early warning signs of mental illness, knowing what the risk factors and symptoms are will help to catch them early. Often times, family and friends are the first to step in to support a person through these early stages. What are some signs to pay attention to?
Loss of sleep or changes in sleep patterns
Extreme changes in energy levels: feeling tired for no reason or energy spikes
Feeling sad, empty or hopeless
Feeling anxious, on-edge
Loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoyable
Withdrawal from others and/or feeling disconnected from others
Not being able to complete school or work tasks
Problems with concentration, memory, or ability to think clearly
Changes in eating such as loss of appetite or overeating
Irritability and restlessness
These are often symptoms that show up early and shouldn’t be ignored or brushed aside in the hopes that they go away. Mental health conditions are real and prevalent. According to one oft-cited study, 46.4% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life, and half of those people develop conditions by the age of 14. Mental health conditions should be addressed long before they reach the most critical points—before Stage 4. Many people do not seek treatment in the early stages of mental illnesses because they don’t recognize the symptoms. Mental Health America’s screening tools can help. Taken online at www.mhascreening.org, screening is an anonymous, free and private way to learn about your mental health and see if you are showing warning signs of a mental illness. It only takes a few minutes, and after you are finished you will be given information about next steps you can take based on the results. A screening is not a diagnosis, but it can be the start to getting information and help if appropriate.
If this column hits close to home, please reach out to someone. For 24 hour assistance, call Contact Lifeline at (302) 761-9100 or Mobile Crisis (302) 577-2484.
Content adapted with permission from Mental Health America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net #B4State 4.