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Erasing the stigma of mental illness

As a nation, we are making progress in eroding the stigma associated with mental health. According to a recent survey, 90 percent of American adults see mental health as being equally important to physical health. This is encouraging because lifetime prevalence rates of mental illness in the U.S. reaches nearly 50 percent. And seeking help—education, psychotherapy, medications other novel treatmentsis key. Together, we can build and light-up the path of hope and healthy breakthroughs.

We have long known that physical illness can impair our mental health. Suffering from chronic pain, uncontrolled diabetes, or a cancer diagnosis can result in anxiety or depression. And vice-versa. For example, depression is associated with an increased risk of hypertension, heart disease, dementia and stroke. And substance abuse issues can affect every organ in the body. In order to achieve our best health, it is important that we stay vigilant to our and our loved one’s mental health.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About Mental Illnesses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that depression at any given moment affects up to 1 in 11 people; and over a lifetime, 1 in 6 people. Recognizing the symptoms is key and can range from sadness, lack of energy or motivation, feeling empty, and an inability to sleep as well as anger, irritability and aggression.

For many, seeking a therapist or psychiatrist may be a daunting matter. If so, a good place to begin is by discussing your concerns with your primary care provider, family member or close friend. Enlist their help to assist with determining your next steps in seeking professional help. Treatment may consist of psychotherapy, or ‘talk therapy,’ an effective method that can be individualized to fit your needs. In some instances, anti-depressants may be considered. And in others, novel treatments such precisely targeted magnetic pulses (similar to an MRI) may be used to stimulate key areas of the brain that may be underactive in patients who suffer from depression.

Suicide prevention
Suicide does not discriminate by gender, age, education or economic status. It affects everyone. In 2014, 9.4 million American adults, aged 18 and older, seriously contemplated killing themselves. And over the last few years, suicide was responsible for an average of 38,000 deaths yearly. Experts believe that due to underreporting, this number is actually much higher. To put this in perspective, every year, death from suicide takes more lives than breast cancer, AIDS and homicides. There are actually more people killing themselves than being killed.

Warning signs include: talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself; looking for a way to kill oneself (buying a gun, researching); talking about feeling hopeless, being in unbearable pain or a burden to others, or having no reason to live; increasing the use of drugs or alcohol; behaving recklessly; or withdrawing or isolating themselves.

If you observe warning signs in yourself or someone you know, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) offers confidential, free, trained counselors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. In a crisis situation, call 9-1-1.

Addiction is considered a mental illness because it “changes the brain in fundamental ways, disturbing a person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug.”

There are an estimated 18 million Americans (approximately 15% of the adult population) that are considered “problem drinkers.” And over a lifetime, 30% of Americans will experience a problem with alcohol.

A diagnosis of alcoholism is likely when we experience tolerance to its effects (needing more to become intoxicated); withdrawal symptoms (tremors, insomnia, anxiety) when we cut down or stop drinking; drinking more than we intended; having an ongoing desire to cut back on drinking or making unsuccessful attempts to do so; spending a good deal of time drinking, attaining or recovering from alcohol; or abandoning important activities so we can drink.

If you are an alcoholic, seek or maintain the appropriate treatment options: Talk to your healthcare provider; go to a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous; and ask for help from your family and friends. If we know someone struggling with alcoholism – seek help. We too suffer. Educating ourselves on how to set limits and boundaries is one of the most important things we can do.

And, too, other common mental illnesses include eating disorders, narcotic and other drug abuse, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important to understand that these problems rarely just go away without intervention. And early intervention can decrease suffering.

While we are making progress in viewing mental health as being equally important to physical health, we still have work to do. Even when people believe they have a mental health condition, fewer than half seek treatment. They may want to get help but a lack of accessibility and cost can become barriers. But help is still within reach. Let’s continue to build bridges to a safe refuge and offer radical conversations with healthy actions for mental health.

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions and cannot substitute for the advice from your medical professional. Dr. Nina has used all reasonable care in compiling the current information but it may not apply to you and your symptoms. Always consult your doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions or questions.

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