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Mental Illness: 10 Things you May Not Know

Did you know that 1 in 4 Americans suffer from a mental disorder? That’s approximately 57.7 million people ages 18 and older. The month of May has been designated to observe mental disorders, and we have been doing so since 1949. Every year a number of activities are based on different themes. This year the theme is “Mind your health.” The focus is to create a motivational effort that will build public recognition regarding the importance of mental health.

President Barak Obama, in a proclamation released on May 1, 2014, stated, “Despite great strides in our understanding of mental illness and vast improvements in the dialogue surrounding it, too many still suffer in silence. Tens of millions of Americans face mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder. During National Mental Health Awareness Month, we reaffirm our commitment to building our understanding of mental illness, increasing access to treatment and ensuring those who are struggling to know they are not alone.”

The following 10 facts help to describe mental illness and those affected:

1. Mental illness is a disease.

All mental illnesses are brain diseases that form when the brain is not functioning properly. They are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Mental illnesses often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

2. The mental illness spectrum is vast.

There are more than 300 different mental health disorders. Some of the most common mental disorders include:           

  • mood disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder and suicide
  • schizophrenia
  • anxiety-related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD) and agoraphobia
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • autism
  • personality disorders

3. Signs and symptoms of mental illness vary.

Most people become mentally ill between the ages of 16 and 30, with the late teenage years being the most common. Approximately 20 percent of youths between 13 and 18 experience a severe mental disorder. Signs and symptoms of mental illness vary depending upon the condition. Some symptoms include feeling sad or down, extreme mood changes, suicidal thoughts, isolation, confusion or inability to concentrate, change in eating habits, and even alcohol or drug use. Symptoms can sometimes even present themselves as physical problems such as stomach pains, headaches or back pain. If you notice something different in how you are feeling go see your primary care doctor. Mental illness can be treated but if left alone the symptoms may worsen over time.

4. Mental illness does not equate to low intelligence.

Just because an individual is suffering from some type of mental illness does not mean they are not intelligent. In fact, some of the most accomplished people have suffered from mental illness, including the following:

  • Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Ludwig Van Beethoven, a German composer, lived with manic depression.
  • Josh Nash, a 1994 economic sciences Nobel prize winner, was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia
  • Charles Dickens, a British author, was clinically depressed.

Even celebrities suffer from mental illness:

  •  Actress, Catherine Zeta-Jones and actor Mel Gibson both have bipolar disorder.
  • Herschel Walker,a former NFL player, has been diagnosed with a dissociative identity disorder.
  • Paula Deen, celebrity chef, suffers from panic attacks and agoraphobia.

5. Mental illness usually has a lifetime membership. 

Most mental illnesses last forever. There are no cures. No matter what treatment you receive, you will most likely always suffer from the diagnosed condition. There may not be an exact solution to mental illness, but there are several treatment options that may make it possible for individuals to live with their condition, including medications and therapy. The key is to seek treatment to help manage your condition and help you live a normal life.

6. Mental illness is not a personal failing. 

Often times mental illness can be related to genetics. A person’s family history can give a pretty good roadmap of what the individual can expect regarding their mental health. Mental illness is no one’s fault and cannot be caught like the flu. Understanding your pre-disposal to mental illness can help you prepare for what may come.

7. Receiving mental health treatment is not shameful. 

You should never be ashamed to seek help regarding any emotional or mental problems you are experiencing. And if you know someone suffering from anxiety or depression you should suggest they seek professional help. Receiving treatment for your condition can make a world of difference in your daily life.

8. Talking to someone can help.

Friends and family members can help those suffering from a mental illness in simple everyday ways such as being there to listen and asking how they are doing. Approaching the situation head-on rather than avoiding it helps everyone. Try to treat the individual the same as everyone else while also recognizing and supporting their mental illness. Often times this can be a balancing act. Individuals suffering from a mental illness don’t want to be defined by that illness, but they will also need extra support from those around them. The worst thing you can do is avoid the issue or brush the person off because you find it awkward to talk about their mental illness. Talking can help put a different perspective on the issue and can sometimes help make it seem less scary.

9. Mental Illness does not mean violence.

It is important to remember that individuals suffering from a mental illness are not necessarily more prone to violence than others. In fact, people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be a victim of a violent crime rather than being the aggressor.

10. Mental illness can affect your ability to work.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a mental condition that interferes with their ability to perform work-related tasks, they should consider applying for Social Security disability (SSD) benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA)considers both physical and mental conditions when making a disability determination. A disability determination is simply SSA concluding whether the individual is able to work in spite of their condition.

SSA looks at whether the individual meets a mental health listing or whether their functional capacity prevents them from completing work-related activities. If you are suffering from a mental illness and not able to work you should seek the help of a Social security disability lawyer to help you apply for benefits.

The process for applying and obtaining disability benefits is long and complicated. Depending on the individual’s mental illness they may become easily overwhelmed with the steps required and may give up on obtaining benefits. Eliciting the help of an attorney will ensure your claim is properly prepared and also allows the individual to focus on their mental health. 

First image courtesy of Mental Health America

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