Mental illness is hard to talk about, but it’s something we really need to do. A good time to start is now – the first week of October during Mental Health Awareness Week. And it’s not someone else’s problem, mental illness can affect you, your friends and co-workers, and the people you love:
- 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
- 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
- 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
- 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
- Mental illness affects:
- 37% of LGBTQ+ adults
- 27% Mixed/Multiracial adults
- 22% of American Indian or Alaska Native
- 20% of White adults
- 17% of Latino adults
- 16% of Black adults
- 15% of Asian adults
The most common mental health issue is anxiety which is involved in about 19% of cases. Major depressive episodes affect 7.2% of people with mental health disorders, followed by post-traumatic stress at 3.6% and bipolar disorder at 2.8%. Only 1.2% of people with mental health issues have obsessive-compulsive disorders and less than 1% have schizophrenia.
So, why is there so much stigma involved with mental health problems? It begins with you. If you understand mental illness as a biological issue, similar to diabetes or asthma which can require medications and health care regimens to control, you’re on the right path. It’s not about weakness or being strange—mental health disorders are physical problems that manifest psychologically.
Many people struggle with these problems alone, often using alcohol and drugs to ease their symptoms. And as you can imagine that changes brain chemistry even more, making the problem worse.
So how do you help someone with a mental health disorder? First, let them know you care. A simple “I know life’s difficult sometimes, and I want to help if I can” will do. Don’t be discouraged if you’re brushed off at first. Remember how hard it is to talk about mental health disorders. Just keep being there for your friend or loved one. Offer to help make an appointment with a mental health specialist and provide a ride on that day. You don’t have to say much, just be a pilar of support.
Next, remind yourself and the person you’re supporting that recovery is a reality for mental health disorders. It can take time and working with different medications, but improvement happens for most people.
For more information on mental health issues, check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at: https://www.nami.org/Home