With Mental Health Awareness Week on the horizon, it is even more important to pay attention to the impact of mental health in our community. The issue is far more widespread than many people believe. 1 in 5 American adults experiences some type of mental illness. 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Though mental health issues are common; a strong stigma is attached to these disorders. People are ashamed to reach for help, and they are discouraged from talking about their suffering publicly. Many people believe that mental illness results from a personal failing rather than a disease. Sandro Carbone examines the role of mental health in today’s society.
Roots of Mental Health Disorders
Mental health issues do not stem from character flaws. They are biologically based illnesses which can be triggered by adverse life events. However, adverse events do not have to occur to trigger symptoms. They can arrive with no apparent rhyme or reason.
The root of mental health disorders lies in chemical imbalances in the brain. The role of various hormones and chemicals in the brain is not completely understood, but deficiencies in serotonin are the cause of depression. Excess cortisol is related to anxiety.
Living with a Mental Health Disorder
Living with one of these disorders can be extremely challenging. People are constantly fighting against the feelings of exhaustion, sadness, worthlessness, and anxiety. Other feelings which are common with mental health disorders include confusion, mood changes, irritability, and altered sleep habits.
People with serious mental health disorders also have to cope with the stigma society has placed on them. Many people are afraid of serious mental health disorders and feel that anyone who suffers from these conditions is dangerous to society. The vast majority of people with serious mental health disorders are dangerous to no one but themselves.
The stigma of mental health disorders is highly damaging. With such pressure from society, people who are feeling symptoms of mental disorders are far less likely to seek treatment. Seeing a therapist or psychiatrist is seen as a sign of personal failure.
Many uninformed people believe that psychiatric medications are unnecessary. They may believe that mental illness can be cured with a proper diet, exercise, herbal supplements, and getting outside more often. This belief further damages people with mental illness. While those lifestyle interventions may help people feel better, most people with serious mental conditions cannot function without proper medical treatment.
Types of Mental Health Disorders
Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders. When a person has depression, they are victims of self-defeating feelings such as sadness, hopelessness, lack of concentration, confusion, and anxiety. Major depression is responsible for a great many suicides in the United States. Frequently, other mental health disorders are misdiagnosed as major depression.
Anxiety causes a patient to feel apprehension, dread, tension, and restlessness. Physical symptoms include a racing heart, sweating, headaches, insomnia, and stomach problems. Anxiety has a major impact on teens and young people who experience a great deal of pressure in their lives.
Bipolar disorder causes severe shifts in mood, from mania to depression. These changes far outpace the normal ups and downs felt by most people in the course of their lives. Bipolar mania can cause a person to take dangerous risks, become irritable, and have unpredictable behavior and impaired judgment. Both mania and depression are associated with a higher risk of suicide or self-harm.
Impact of Mental Health Disorders
Mental health disorders have a serious impact on the American economy. $193.2 billion in earnings per year are lost due to serious mental illness. Mood disorders like major depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymic disorder are leading causes of hospitalization in the United States.
Also, people with mental health disorders are more likely to suffer from treatable conditions like diabetes and heart problems. On average, people with serious mental health disorders die 25 years earlier than others.
Mental health disorders can also be an unknown cause of problems with the law. Many people in jail are dealing with mental health disorders, which usually go untreated in a prison setting. This lack of treatment can only complicate life for these people.
Awareness and Acceptance
While it is important that everyone be aware of the possible signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, it is even more important to accept sufferers as full members of society. The stigma placed on mental health sufferers is highly damaging. Accepting these people and acknowledging that their struggles are real, goes a long way toward easing the path.
Sandro Carbone encourages everyone with worrying symptoms to contact their primary care doctor for help. They will be able to refer people to a mental health professional. There is no shame in reaching for help.