Addressing Mental Health Before Stage 4
May is Mental Health Month. Mental Health America’s (MHA) theme is “Addressing Mental Health Before Stage 4, Changing the Way We Think About Mental Illness”. It calls attention to the importance of addressing mental health symptoms early, identifying underlying disease, and planning an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health.
When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait ten years to treat them. We start before Stage 4. We begin with prevention. So why don’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness?
Mental health matters for everyone. One in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. About half Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health in their life, with first onset usually in childhood or in adolescence.
Risk factors for mental illness: Genes - traits we inherit from our families; Biology - balance of chemicals in the body and the patterns of cell communication; Environment - exposure to traumatic events like sudden loss, violence, abuse and neglect, unsafe communities, and low socioeconomic status; Lifestyle – Poor diet, substance use or abuse, lack of exercise, and irregular sleep patterns.
Symptoms and warning signs of mental illness are: too much sleep or trouble sleeping; trouble focusing or having racing thoughts; changes in appetite; isolating yourself from others, losing interest in the things you once enjoyed; irritability or having a short temper.
Research shows that ignoring mental health symptoms, we lose ten years in which we could intervene in order to change people’s lives for the better. During most of these years most people still have supports that allow them to succeed – home, family, friends, school, and work. Intervening effectively during the early stages of mental illness can save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental Illness.
The stages of mental health conditions: Stage 1 - mild symptoms and warning signs; Stage 2 – symptoms increase in frequency and severity and interfere with life activities and role; Stage 3 – symptoms worsen with relapsing and recurring episodes accompanied by serious disruption in life activities and roles; Stage 4 – symptoms are persistent and severe and have jeopardized one’s life.
Like any other chronic condition, mental health conditions can get worse if left untreated. This often results in crisis like inability to work hospitalization homelessness or incarceration. The good news is mental health conditions are not only common, they are treatable – especially when they are treated early.
When people first begin to experience symptoms of mental health conditions, they shouldn’t be ignored or brushed aside in hopes that they go away. One of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is to take a mental health screening. Go to www.mhascreening.org to take a screening for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or post–traumatic stress disorder.
MHA goal is to get every American screened and aware of their mental health so they can address it Before Stage4.
Use the screening results to start a conversation with your primary care provider, or a trusted friend or family member and begin atop plan a course of action for addressing your mental health. There are a variety treatment options ranging from talk therapy to medication to peer support. The earlier we treat mental health conditions the easier it is for people to recover and the less it costs.
For more information visit www.mentalhealthamerica.net.