Mental health encompasses our mental well-being, emotions, thoughts and feelings, ability to overcome difficulties, and social connections. The broad category of mental illness includes (but is not limited to) depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder. In an effort to bring awareness to mental health and stop the stigma that surrounds mental illness, May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month.
Dale Nasby is an advanced practice registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist who has practiced in the mental health field for 31 years. She is the founder and one of three care providers at Serene Spirit Mental Health Care in Rochester. In honor of Mental Health Awareness month, Nasby shares a few things everyone should know with regard to mental health and mental illness.
Common and increasing
Through 2019, data shows that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States has experienced a mental illness. That equates to about 51.5 million adults (and 7.7 million youth ages 6 to 17) living with a mental illness. Due to the increased isolation and anxiety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, some experts estimate the prevalence of adults experiencing mental illness increased in 2020 to as many as 2 in 5.
Stigma and delayed treatment
The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. Only about 45% of adults with mental illness get treatment in a given year. Stigma or shame around needing mental health treatment is among the barriers that discourage people from seeking treatment for mental illness. Explicit or perceived expectations that people “be tough” and do their best to cope on their own can lead to delay, shame and concerns about being judged by others for seeking help.
The mental health community continues to advocate and spread the word that mental disorders are not the result of moral failings or limited willpower. They are legitimate illnesses that are responsive to treatments, often in a life-changing way. “I often use the example of type 2 diabetes,” says Nasby. “Yes, there are some lifestyle factors that may have contributed, but it’s not something you did to yourself. Even if you make the lifestyle changes necessary, why deny yourself the medications and the opportunity for real change and improvement in your life?”
A number of factors
Though it is not always clear where and how mental illness begins, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% begins by age 24. It is thought that some mental disorders have a genetic component. But environmental factors can boost risk as well—sometimes considerably. The body’s stress response and even inflammation may play roles. “We don’t know as much as we’d like to about the causes of mental illness. We know there are genetic, biological, environmental and psychological contributors. We know mental illness runs in families. We know trauma, stress and isolation can be factors,” says Nasby. Regardless of its origin, mental illness is no one’s fault, and treatments can be very successful.
What to do
If you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of mental illness, take action. Reach out to family and friends. Talk about the symptoms. Connect with a health care provider or someone like Nasby in the mental health field. “Most of all,” says Nasby, “talk to someone.”