There is often a stigma of mental health in society, leaving people afraid to talk about it. Because of that, people suffer in silence and often don’t get the treatment they need. The percentage of adults with mental illness who did not receive mental health treatment is 56%; that’s 27 million people! Further, this percentage has increased every year since 2011! We can change this if we work together by empathizing with our brothers and sisters who are currently suffering and talking about mental health openly and honestly.
Here are some strategies and issues we’ll be discussing to break this stigma of mental health:
- Realize that mental health issues are extremely common. Most of us will be touch by this in some way.
- Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM)
- Start mental health education early and continue when needed.
- How do mental health issues affect caregivers and their patients?
- What resources are available for mental health assistance?
- How to take care of your mental health
Mental Health conditions are common
Half of Americans will meet the criteria for a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime. Additionally, nearly 1 in 5 American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. Given these numbers, it’s rare that a family is not touched by some form of mental health condition.
The last couple of years has been a strain on most of our mental health. The uncertainty of the pandemic has kept us from loved ones, which has been incredibly isolating to our elderly population. This can leave some folks not only feeling isolated but anxious and depressed. Here are the figures from 2020:
- Anxiety disorders affected 19.1% (an estimated 48 million people) in 2020.
- The figure was higher for adolescents who showed an estimated 31.9% of some kind of anxiety disorder.
- Depression affected 8.4% of the U.S. adult population in 2020.
- Overall, 21% of all U.S. adults experienced some form of mental illness in 2020
It is essential not to ignore one’s mental health. By openly discussing mental health, we can destigmatize it and help those with mental illness.
Mental Health Awareness Month
Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM) is an annual campaign in May. The U.S. has been observing MHAM since 1949. This campaign aims to break the stigma of mental health and educate people about mental illness.
Mental health issues are biological conditions much like any other physical illness. Unfortunately, you have no control over the disease your body experiences, and the same holds true for a mental illness you or a family member may suffer.
We should all strive for mental health awareness every day, not just in May, because mental health affects anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
Mental Health Education
Breaking the stigma of mental health begins with education. Fortunately, in the current curriculum standards in Idaho, this begins immediately in K-2 with the study of a positive sense of self-image and self-esteem, recognizing emotions, and socially appropriate responses of self and others. Lessons build upon these topics and eventually by the upper grades discuss suicide prevention, stress management, conflict resolution, etc.
However, study doesn’t end in school, and if you or a family member are experiencing a mental health condition, one of the best things you can do is educate yourself about the specific mental health challenge.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provides an e-book that includes essential information about mental health conditions, including conditions and diagnoses, treatment and recovery, crisis planning, resources, etc. Explore other resources on the NAMNI site, including virtual classes options for those of us in Idaho.
Mental Health and Caregivers
- At least 8.4 million people in the U.S. provide care to an adult with a mental or emotional health issue
- Caregivers of adults with mental or emotional health issues spend an average of 32 hours per week providing unpaid care
- 15.3% of U.S. Veterans experienced a mental illness in 2019 (31.3 million people).
- People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population.
Caregivers have a tough job. So it’s not uncommon for you to experience depression or anxiety, especially if you are doing the job alone, without outside assistance. Some of the most common indications include feeling overwhelmed or stressed, feeling sad or anxious, having trouble sleeping or eating, struggling with self-care, and feeling isolated or alone.
You should also be aware of signs in the person you care for. If you are an outside caregiver, inform the family of your concerns.
Additionally, many diseases afflicting older people carry mental health problems as additional burdens. For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease (the most common cause of dementia in older people) have confusion and memory loss and also may experience frustration, anger, grief, and depression.
Each mental illness has its own set of symptoms; however, some common signs include the following:
- Excessive worrying or fear
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling guilty
- Lack of energy
- Avoiding social events–isolation
- Feeling numb
- No self-confidence
- Low self-esteem
- Insomnia or Hypersomnia
- No appetite
- Extreme mood changes
If someone is exhibiting any of these signs, it’s essential to reach out and offer help.
Resources for Mental Health Assistance
There are many resources available to people who need mental health assistance. Some of the most common resources include therapy, medication, and support groups.
- Learning what you can about mental health issues is an excellent first step.
- Therapy can be helpful for those who need to talk about their feelings and experiences.
- Medication can be beneficial for those struggling with mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive behaviors.
- Support groups can also be a great way to connect with others going through similar experiences.
- Often a person will opt for a combination of these treatments.
It’s important to remember that mental health assistance is not one-size-fits-all, and what works for one person might not work for another. You need to find the right resources for each individual. It all starts with reaching out and asking for help. Your primary care physician is a great place to start.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
Metal Health shifts over time. When you’re mentally healthy, you can better handle stress and other difficult situations. This also boils down to self-care. One way to take care of your mental health is to create some positive habits. These habits will strengthen you so that when you face difficult situations, you’ll be able to handle them better. Some of these things include:
- Take care of your physical health by eating well and getting exercise
- Get enough sleep
- Spend time with friends and family
- Practice self-care, such as relaxation techniques or meditation
- Consider therapy with a mental health professional if you are struggling
- Increase laughter to help mental health
- Listen to a funny podcast or book tape
- Watch your favorite comedy on tv
- Take the Stress Screener test to see if you are too stressed out!
- Be on the lookout for negative self-talk and irrational beliefs (try reframing these thoughts)
- Focus on your strengths
- Focus on the future instead of reviewing hurts from the past
- Focus on your life instead of your illness
- Find connections. Finding connections might be easier than you think when you volunteer. For example, volunteering at Bluebird Hospice connects you with people who appreciate your efforts and with families, patients, and the organization.
Mental health conditions are widespread and will affect half of us at some point in our lives. Given this fact, it’s crucial to have open discussions about mental health to destigmatize it and help those currently suffering. Mental Health Awareness Month in May strives to open the lines of communication and educate us to help do that. The schools have realized this importance and have begun mental health education from as early as kindergarten.
Caregivers deserve a special part in this discussion. People who care for family members can be especially suspectable to depression and anxiety because of the responsibilities and burdens they are faced with. In addition, hired caregivers may feel lonely and anxious about doing the right thing in their caregiving duties.
Additionally, caregivers are charged with looking for signs of mental health issues in their patients. We’ve discussed symptoms to look for in this article and where to get help.
Finally, one of the most critical aspects of mental health is taking care of your own. Our list begins with taking care of your physical health, but don’t forget to get help when needed, whether from a therapist, family time, or laughing.
For more information on the stigma of mental health, check out this journal article on The Public Stigma of Mental Illness.
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