Spreading the word: why we need to talk about mental health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but it’s important to talk about mental health all year round. In large part, this is connected to the societal stigma that has plagued mental illnesses. But this topic is about more than just disorders. Here’s what else it covers and why it’s important to talk about mental health.

What is mental health?

Mental health is a state of well-being that encompasses the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of our lives.

If you have positive mental health, you’re able to realize your own potential, work productively, manage the normal stresses of life, have healthy relationships, and make a contribution to your community. Conversely, if you experience mental health problems, it could impact how you think, feel, and act, and this could adversely impact other areas of your life.

Why is it important to talk about mental health?

Mental health is a crucial part of overall health, yet it is often a hushed topic of discussion — if it’s even discussed at all. This is largely due to the stigma that has long surrounded mental illnesses. Mental disorders are actually quite common and there is treatment to help with recovery. The stigma, however, often prevents people from seeking treatment, which can isolate them even more and worsen their conditions. Talking about mental health helps improve our communities by making it more acceptable for those suffering from mental illnesses to seek help, learn to cope, and get on the road to recovery.

In addition, mental health isn’t just about mental illnesses. It’s also about maintaining a positive state of wellbeing. Talking about mental health helps improve our communities by helping members maintain positive mental health, and a community of people in good mental health creates a more productive and collaborative environment.

Whom do mental illnesses impact?

Mental illnesses are common and widespread and can affect anyone. Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. adult population lives with some sort of mental disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Approximately four percent live with a serious mental illness. The statistics are similar for children and adolescents. The CDC estimates that approximately 13-20 percent of minors in the U.S. experience a mental disorder in any given year. In fact, 75 percent of mental illnesses manifest before age 24, with 50% showing the first signs before age 14.

When you add in the family members and friends who are supporting those living with a mental illness, the number of Americans impacted is significant.

What are some of the most common mental illnesses in the United States?

Anxiety disorders are the most common, with nearly one-fifth of the adult population in the U.S. living with this type of mental illness. Many people with anxiety disorders also suffer from depression. In the United States, nearly seven percent of the adult population live with major depression. Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are also more common in the U.S. than you might think at 2.6 percent and 1.1 percent of the adult population, respectively.

What are the signs and symptoms of the most common mental illnesses?

Each mental illness is different, though some have overlapping symptoms. There are, however, some warning signs that could indicate a need to see a medical or mental health professional. These early warning signs include:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Abusing alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
  • Fighting more with friends and family
  • Considering harming yourself or others
  • Feeling fatigued with low or no energy
  • Feeling apathetic
  • Feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Feeling sad or irritable for long periods of time
  • Experiencing excessive amounts of anger, anxiety, confusion, fear, forgetfulness, and worry
  • Experiencing extreme mood swings that negatively impact relationships
  • Experiencing unexplained physical pain
  • Hearing voices or having delusional thoughts
  • Withdrawing from other people and social activities
  • Being unable to do your daily tasks

What should I do if I think I have a mental health issue?

Find and talk with a mental health professional if you think you may be living with a mental illness so you can get the appropriate treatment. This is important for both your mental and physical health. In addition to impacting your day-to-day life and potentially causing financial distress due to lost earnings, serious mental illnesses also increase your risk of having chronic medical conditions.

You can also take screening tests for some mental disorders, but only a mental health professional can formally diagnose you and get you on the road to recovery.

How can I help a friend or family member who has or may have a mental health issue?

Learning the signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other common mental health illnesses can help you spot potential mental health issues. If you’re concerned, talk to your loved one and encourage him or her to speak with a mental health professional.

If you think your friend or family member may hurt him or herself, encourage them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK to chat with a trained crisis worker. Online chat is also available.

Is mental health coverage included under the Affordable Care Act?

Yes! Mental health services are one of the essential health benefits that are mandated by the ACA. Coverage includes behavioral health treatments such as counseling and psychotherapy, inpatient services for mental and behavioral health, and treatment for substance abuse. The exact mental health benefits you have will depend on your health insurance plan.

In addition, most plans also include preventive mental health services such as depression screenings.

How can I maintain positive mental health?

Being mentally healthy allows you to realize your own potential and help with that of your community’s. Proactive ways to maintain positive mental health include exercising, getting adequate sleep, learning how to cope with life’s stresses, connecting with other people, and speaking with a mental health professional when you need it.

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