Why It’s Time to Make Mental Health a Priority

May 2019

When it comes to overall health and well-being, mental health should be part of the equation. Unfortunately, all too often, we pay little or no attention to our mental wellness.

Ignoring your mental health can cause a ripple effect throughout your body and life. As Mental Health Month kicks off, here’s what you should know to put your mental health front and center.

A Common Problem

Mental illness is an umbrella term for a host of psychological disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.

Nearly one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Yet it’s estimated only half of those with mental illness ever receive treatment. Continued stigma is one of the reasons many don’t seek help.

For those with mental illness, it often takes 10 years to get a correct diagnosis and to get proper treatment, according to Mental Health America (MHA). Through its #B4Stage4 campaign, MHA advocates that we treat mental illness like any other serious disease, such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease: Address it early for
the best outcomes.

Impacts on Physical Health

Mental health can have significant affects on physical health. Untreated mental illness can cause or worsen other health conditions.

Depression and PTSD are risk factors for the development and progression of cardiovascular disease, according to a review of studies published in The American Journal of Hypertension. The researchers found that chronic anxiety and chronic stress also negatively affect heart health. A Danish study also found PTSD to be associated with non-malignant gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.

Mental illness can also affect your ability to get or stay well. People with serious medical illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, are at a higher risk for clinical depression, according to MHA. In individuals hospitalized for acute coronary syndrome, the American Heart Association considers depression a risk factor for poor prognosis and death.

Untreated mental illness can also be life threatening. An estimated 60 percent of those who died by suicide have had a mood disorder, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Depression is a major risk factor for suicide, with 2 to 4 percent of those treated for depression dying by suicide.

Know the Signs

A combination of more than one early warning sign, especially if they last longer than two weeks, could indicate you or a loved one has a mental health condition. Some of the signs and symptoms include: dramatic changes in eating or sleeping; lack of energy; lack of enthusiasm; strong feelings of anger, sadness or irritability; excessive worry or anxiety; unexplained physical ailments or pain; strange or suicidal thoughts; inability to function on a daily basis and substance abuse.

Get Screened

MentalHealthAmerica.net has numerous online mental health screening tools, including tests for depression, anxiety and PTSD. Use these as a starting point to assess your risk. Parents can also take the test to assess whether their children are at risk of mental illness.

During your annual physical, talk to your healthcare provider about mental health screening and any additional tests.

Find Treatment and Get Help

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) provides general information on mental health. It can also help you locate treatment services in your area. SAMHSA.gov also has a searchable behavioral health treatment locator. For those who feel they could benefit from peer support, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI.org) offers facilitated support groups for those living with mental illness, as well as for adults who have a family member living with mental illness.

Get help immediately if you or someone you know is thinking of self-harm or suicide: Text to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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