This year, Oct. 1–7 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a time to shine a light on mental illness and replace stigma with hope. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. You can get involved at www.nami.org/miaw.
One in five adults experiences a mental illness in any given year. Those problems can contribute to onset of more serious long-term conditions such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Approximately one-half of chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14. Unfortunately, long delays—sometimes decades—often occur between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help.
It is critical to learn to recognize early symptoms of mental illness and talk with a doctor about any concerns. Early identification and treatment can make a big difference for successful management of a condition.
For example, major depression is a mood disorder that is more serious than “feeling blue” or temporary sadness. Be alert to any combination of the following symptoms:
Depressed mood (sadness)
Disturbance of appetite
Feelings of guilt
Thoughts of suicide
Bipolar disorder involves cycles of both depression and mania. It is different from normal “ups and downs” that many people experience. It involves dramatic shifts in mood, energy and ability to think clearly. Symptoms are not the same in everyone; some people may experience intense “highs,” while others primarily experience depression. Mania involves combinations of the following symptoms:
Schizophrenia is a different type of mental illness but can include features of mood disorders. It affects a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to other people. Untreated, it also may include psychosis—a loss of contact with reality. Symptoms include:
Difficulty with memory
Difficulty in organizing thoughts
Lack of content in speech
Inability to start or follow through with activities
Inability to experience pleasure
Other types of mental illness include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders (including posttraumatic stress disorder) and borderline personality disorder. Mental Illness Awareness Week is a time to learn about them all.
NAMI offers helpful information through its website (www.nami.org) and HelpLine (800-950-NAMI (6264)). With affiliates in hundreds of communities nationwide, NAMI also offers free education classes and support groups.
Anyone who experiences symptoms of mental illness should see a doctor to discuss and be checked for possibly related physical conditions. The next step might be referral to mental health specialist. Many treatment options exist.
During Mental Illness Awareness Week, please take the first step by taking the #StigmaFree Pledge at www.nami.org/stigmafree. Help yourself, your family, your friends and your community. Help make a difference by saving lives and supporting recovery.