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The first week of October of each year is Mental Health Awareness Week. During this time, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), participating organizations, and individuals across the nation raise awareness around mental illness. The goal of Mental Health Awareness Week is to educate the public, fight stigma, and provide support to those who are suffering from mental illness. 

Although nearly 25% of U.S. adults experience mental illness each year, NAMI reports that the average delay from the initial onset of symptoms and finding treatment is 11 years. This means that many people who suffer from mental illness may go years before acquiring a proper diagnosis and even longer before having access to sufficient treatment. A delay in the treatment of mental illness can be devastating because untreated mental illness can severely affect one’s quality of life. In fact, 90% of people who die by suicide previously have shown symptoms of mental illness, yet only 46% of those who die by suicide actually had a diagnosis. In addition, rates of unemployment, homelessness, and other health problems are all higher among people who suffer from mental illness. 

In order to improve rates of mental health diagnoses and improve the quality of life of Americans, it is crucial to speak up about mental illness and break the stigma that may stop some people from reaching out for help. Similarly, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness, so that families and friends are prepared to help a loved one find the help that they so desperately need. 

7 Days, 7 Ways

For 2019’s Mental Health Awareness Week, Mental Health America (MHA) has chosen to focus on the theme, “7 days, 7 ways.” They are focusing on bringing awareness about 7 of the most prevalent mental health conditions: anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis, eating disorders, depression, PTSD, and substance use disorder. 

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental illnesses in America. Although anxiety is a normal feeling to experience, people with anxiety disorders are far more extreme. They cause crippling worry, racing and obsessive thoughts, and physical distress. The most common forms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Phobia (Social Anxiety Disorder)

These disorders are so prevalent. That nearly 21% of American adults live with a diagnosable anxiety disorder.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder consists of extreme shifts in mood and energy levels. A person with bipolar disorder will experience fluctuating bouts of mania and depression, which can seriously affect personal relationships, careers, academic performance, and overall wellbeing. In severe cases, manic states can involve psychosis and irrational behaviors, and depressive states can be debilitating. Nearly 4.4% of American adults will experience bipolar disorder, and approximately 83% of these cases are considered severe. 

Psychosis

Types of psychosis include schizophrenia, schizophreniform disorder, schizoaffective disorder, schizotypal disorder, and delusional disorder. These types of mental illnesses describe someone who has bizarre thinking, irrational behaviors, and intense emotions. Nearly 3.5% of the U.S population experiences psychosis at some point in their lives. Individuals may hear voices, hallucinate, and have heightened perceptions of light and sound. These disorders can be terrifying and confusing, because many people may not realize the difference in reality and delusion. 

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and body dysmorphia can be life-threatening. A person who has an eating disorder will become obsessed with things like food, weight, and body image to a dangerous degree. Nearly 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder. Unfortunately, these disorders can be difficult to diagnose and treat - and they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. 

DEPRESSION

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses as it affects more than 16 million American adults. Despite how common depression is, only about one-third of those who suffer from it seek treatment. It can lead to extreme fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, and loss of interest in activities. 

PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after an individual experience a shocking or scary event. People with PTSD may experience flashbacks, frightening thoughts, mood swings, difficulty sleeping, and an inability to cope with emotions. Nearly 4% of men and 10% of women will develop PTSD in their lifetime. PTSD can greatly impact one’s quality of life as it can lead them to struggle with relationships, isolate, and neglect their own well-being.

SUBSTANCE USE DISORDER

Substance use disorder, or addiction, is not a lack of moral character - it is a mental illness that affects nearly 21.6 million Americans. Substance use disorders are characterized by chronic, relapsing, compulsive drug or alcohol use. Additionally, it is common for people with substance use disorder to have a co-occurring mental illness, as nearly 7.9 million U.S. adults have dual diagnosis substance use disorder and mental illness. 

FIGHTING THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS

It is evident that mental illness is a widespread issue that affects people from all walks of life. However, many are afraid to speak out because of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Here are the 7 steps you can take during Mental Health Awareness Week to help fight the stigma. 

  1. Educate yourself and others. This is the first step in fighting stigma because the more knowledge and understanding the public has about mental illness, the more compassionate and loving we can be towards those affected. 
  2. Change the way you think. Too often, issues regarding mental health are addressed after a crisis. Instead, preventative measures should be taken to prevent mental illness from becoming a crisis. Like any health condition, prevention is key. 
  3. Normalize mental health care. This refers to getting regularly screened for mental health, practicing self-care, and going to see a therapist when you need someone to talk to. When you are physically sick, you go to the doctor. You should treat mental health in the same way. 
  4. Share tools and resources with others. Taking care of your own needs isn’t enough - you never know when the person next to you is battling their own demons. Instead, talk openly about mental health. Share with others how you care for your mental health. Don’t be afraid to speak up.
  5. Get involved. Reach out to local community organizations and find out how you can get involved in supporting people and education in your area. 
  6. Be an advocate. Advocate for others to get mental health screenings, visit a therapist, and reach out to others who may be struggling. In addition, advocate for local policies and organizations that provide prevention, information, and intervention for mental illness.
  7. Repeat! Doing these things once isn’t enough. In order to really make a difference, these efforts should be continuous. The more you educate, speak up, and normalize mental health, the more the stigma can be broken.

Millions of lives are greatly affected by mental illness. Unfortunately, not everyone speaks up and gets the help they deserve. By speaking up and taking action, the stigma of mental illness can be broken and lives can be saved. 


AUTHOR BIO

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer who advocates spreading awareness around mental illness and co-occurring disorders. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.

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