May is Mental Health Month, an issue we all need to care about.  According the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 4 adult Americans experience a mental health disorder in a given year.  That is approximately 57.7 million people.  The likelihood that you, or someone you know will experience mental health problems is very high.  Understanding mental health problems is vital in helping both you and your loved ones.

Here are some facts about mental health disorders:

  • Despite its high rate of occurrence, fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a mental disorder receive mental health services. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).  Some reasons for this are stigma, lack of information or resources and lack of adequate insurance coverage.
  • The most common mental illnesses in adults are anxiety and mood disorders. (CDC)
  • Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the US (the 3rd leading for people ages 10-24).  More than 90% of those who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder. (NAMI)
  • Mental illness accounts for indirect economic losses due to decreased productivity.
  • 70% of youth in the juvenile justice systems have at least one mental disorder. (Skowyra, K.R. & Cocozza, J.J. (2007) Blueprint for change)
  • More than half of students ages 14 and older with a mental health disorder end up dropping out of high school. (U.S. Department of Education)
  • Many times, people turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate symptoms, creating even more problems.

As you can guess, mental illness affects not just the individual, but the society at large.  The good news in all this is that mental health disorders are treatable.  Individuals with mental disorders can go on to live healthy, productive lives with treatment.  Treatments can include medication, counseling, skills training, exercise, support groups, group therapy and more.  If you think that you or someone close to you, is suffering from a mental illness, treatment is vital.  A good first place to start is to talk to your health care provider or local hospital.  They can treat you or refer you to treatment providers.

With suicide being the 11th leading cause of death in the US, and even higher among young people, it is important to be aware of the warning signs (courtesy of National Suicide Hotline website):

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Take any and all suicidal threats seriously and seek help immediately by calling the 911, the Suicide Prevention Hotline, or take the individual to the emergency room.

It is sad that the stigma of mental illness prevents individuals from getting help.  You can make a difference by educating yourself about mental health issues and sharing that information with others.  Don’t be afraid to talk to people who appear to be suffering from mental health issues and lend them support.  Don’t judge or label people who are suffering from mental health problems.  Remember, mental illness is treatable!

Resources for information about mental health disorders, suicide, and treatment: