By Carra Sergeant, Licensed Professional Counselor
May is Mental Health Awareness Month so let’s pull this dark secret into the light! Take a look at the people standing around you right now. Statistically, 35% of them are dealing with some degree of mental illness. While everyone at some point in their lifetime experiences feelings of isolation, loneliness or disconnection. When these feelings begin to interfere with everyday functioning, however, they are considered symptoms of mental illness. Mental illness can affect every aspect of an individual’s life: personal and family relationships, education, work quality and community involvement. Too often, life closes in and the individual’s world becomes narrow and limited.
Mental illness is characterized by alterations in thinking, mood and/or behavior. The symptoms of mental illness vary from mild to severe, and can take many forms, including mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, and addictions such as substance dependence and gambling.
Mental and physical illnesses are often intertwined. Individuals with physical health problems often experience anxiety or depression, which affects their response to the physical illness. Conversely, individuals with mental illnesses can develop physical symptoms, such as eating disorders, stomach problems or chronic headaches. Additionally, mental illnesses often occur together. For example, an individual may experience both depression and an anxiety disorder at the same time.
The specific links between brain dysfunction and mental illness is not fully understood by neuroscientists. It is generally accepted, however, that mental illness is the result of a complex interaction of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors with the brain as the final common pathway for the control of behavior, cognition, mood and anxiety. Most mental illness is found to be more common among close family members, suggesting a genetic basis to the disorders. Personal factors such as age, sex, lifestyle and life events can contribute to the onset of mental illnesses Environmental factors, such as family situation, workplace and socio-economic status of the individual, can precipitate the onset or recurrence of a mental illness.
The serious stigma attached to mental illness is one of the most tragic realities of the condition. Many people are embarrassed about and have reported experiencing discrimination because of their mental illness or mental health problem. 53.5% report feeling embarrassed about their mental health problems and 54.3% report facing discrimination due to mental health problems.
Stigma about mental illness is strongly connected with public fears about potential violence, yet very few people with mental illness are violent. Feeling stigmatized and judged causes people to remain quiet about their mental illness, delay seeking health care, circumvent recommended treatment, and avoid sharing their concerns with family, friends, co- workers, employers, health service providers and others in the community. Stigma in the workplace has a particularly profound impact on people with serious mental illnesses, including diminished employ-ability, lack of career advancement, and poor quality of working life. People with serious mental illnesses are more likely to be unemployed or to be under- employed in positions that are not commiserate with their skills or training.
Addressing stigma about mental illnesses is one of the most pressing priorities for improving the treatment protocols of mental illness. Educating the public and the media about mental illness is a first step toward reducing stigma and encouraging greater acceptance and understanding. Developing and enforcing policies that address discrimination and human rights violations provide incentives for change.
Most mental illnesses can be treated in order to reduce symptoms. Placing treatment within a recovery model, however, helps individuals go beyond symptom reduction and move toward improving their quality of life. A variety of interventions such as psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and occupational therapy can facilitate improvement of an individual’s functioning in day-to-day life. Since mental illness arises from disorders of brain functioning, medication is often an important part of treatment. Making the correct diagnosis and tailoring effective treatment to the individual’s needs are essential components of an overall management plan. Once the diagnosis is made, active involvement in therapy and complete medication compliance is critical to successful treatment and recovery.
Recovery does not refer to an end product or result. It does not mean that one is “cured” nor does it mean that one is simply stabilized or maintained in the community. Recovery often involves a transformation that requires both acceptance of one’s limitation, and discovery of a new world of possibility. This is the paradox of recovery, i.e., that in accepting what we cannot do or be, we begin to discover who we can be and what we can do. Thus, recovery is a more than just a process. It is a way of life. It is an attitude and way of approaching the day’s challenges. Most importantly, those experiencing mental health issues must realize that recovery is not perfectly linear. Much like a flower, recovery has its seasons, its time of downward growth into the darkness to secure new roots and then the times of breaking out into the sunlight. Recovery is a slow, deliberate process that only occurs through hard work and commitment.
It is important to treat the health of your mind as you would your body. Life can be complicated, uncertain, and stressful. Struggling, alone, with a mental health issue can make it seem unbearable, but it doesn’t have to be. There is no reason to be ashamed about having a mental health disorder. The more we talk about mental health conditions and treatments, the less taboo the subject becomes. There are millions of Americans that are living their lives happy and free from the suffering of their mental health illness, and so can you. What you are going through does not make you weak or a bad person, it just means you have a health condition that needs to be treated. If you are struggling with a mental health disorder, ask for help TODAY! For a list of certified therapists in the Lake Charles area, you can go to a website such as https://www.psychologytoday.com and click on the FIND A THERAPIST link.
For more information on dealing with mental health issues, check out the following information sites:
National Alliance on Mental Illness (Lake Charles Chapter): www.namiswla.org
Mental Health America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net
Psych Central: www.psychcentral.com
Carra S. Sergeant, LPC
Peace from Pieces Counseling Services
For an appointment, call 337-515-6716