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May is Mental Health Month

May 13, 2016

The month of May is National Mental Health Awareness Month.  May’s designation offers the opportunity to raise awareness and lower stigma by providing information about how common mental health problems are.  Mental health is an important part of overall health.  There’s a connection between the mind and body.  The “check up from the neck up” is often overlooked even though it is as valuable as an annual physical.  Mental health problems effect millions of Americans every day.  Nearly sixty million people in the US suffer from mental health problems every year.  That’s about 1 in every 4 people.  Twenty-six percent of all Americans will experience a mental health problem in any year, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health (visit www.nimh.nih.gov).   That’s a lot of people, and, chances are good that mental health problems will affect someone you know and someone you care about. 

Researchers supported by the National Institute of Mental Health (visit www.nimh.nih.gov) found that half of all lifetime cases of serious mental illness begin by age 14.  Three quarters of all lifelong cases of mental illness begin by age 24.  Researchers also found that despite access to very effective treatments, there are usually long delays, sometimes decades, between noticing the first symptoms and when people seek and receive treatment. The study also reveals that an untreated mental disorder can lead to a more severe, more difficult to treat mental illness, and can lead to the development of co-occurring (or multiple) mental illnesses.  Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada.  "These studies confirm a growing understanding about the nature of mental illness across the lifespan," says Thomas Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health. "There are many important messages from this study, but perhaps none as important as the recognition that mental disorders are the chronic disorders of young people in the U.S.", as reported at www.nimh.nih.gov.  Unlike heart disease or most cancers, young people with mental disorders suffer disability when they are in the prime of life, when they would normally be the most productive.

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which a person realizes their abilities, can cope with ordinary stress, and can work productively and contribute to the community, according to the World Health Organization (see www.who.int/en/).  Mental health includes psychological, social and emotional well-being.  Positive mental health has been researched and proven to be associated with overall positive physical health. The term “mental health” has been commonly used to describe “mental illness”.  Recently, the field has made an effort to refer to “mental health” as “mental wellness”.  The terms “mental illness” and “mental disorders” is the opposite psychological state of “mental health”.  So, mental health or mental wellness means a state of well-being psychologically, socially and emotionally, and mental disorder is used to describe a set of diagnosable symptoms that affect functioning.  Mental wellness and mental disorder are not opposites as much as they are points on a continuum that do not exist in isolation from one another.

Mental illnesses are serious mental disorders that affect a person’s thinking, mood and behavior.   The term “mental illness” can be misleading because it’s not an illness or a sickness or a disease.  It’s a disorder.  There are many causes of mental disorders.  Family history and genetics may play a role.  Life experiences that are very stressful or a history of traumatic experiences or abuse can also contribute to mental disorders.  Mental disorders are common and treatments are widely available.  Depression is the most common type of mental disorder, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population.  It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only heart disease.  Mental disorders, especially depressive disorders, are strongly related to many chronic health problems including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and obesity as well as many risk behaviors for chronic disease such as: physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking, and insufficient sleep.

In the health care and public health arena, more emphasis and resources have been devoted to screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders than mental health.  Little has been done to protect the mental health of those free of mental disorders.  Mental wellness includes having self-acceptance, ability to cope with change and adapt to adversity, personal growth including openness to new experiences, optimism, hopefulness, sensing a purpose in life, having control over one’s environment, having a sense of spirituality, self-direction and positive relationships.  Social well-being includes fulfilling relationships, social acceptance, beliefs in the potential of people and society as a whole, experiencing a sense of personal self-worth and usefulness to society and holding a sense of community.

The former US Surgeon General notes that there are environmental determinants of mental wellness, just as there are environmental determinants of general health that need to be in place to support mental wellness. These include adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, equitable jobs and wages, quality education, and equity in access to quality health care.  See the entire US Surgeon General’s report on mental health at http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/ResourceMetadata/NNBBHS. 

Prestera Center offers access to effective behavioral health services.  When you or someone you know is struggling with feeling mentally unhealthy, emotionally or psychologically unwell, Prestera Center can help.  Prestera Center offers rapid intake and high quality behavioral health services to people of all ages:  children, adolescents, adults, seniors and families.  Individuals and families get better with the right kind of care.  A variety of services are available that promote wellness and recovery, helping people achieve their full potential.

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