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October – Take the Pledge: Learn About Mental Illness

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By Mary Ircink, parish nurse

October 4 through October 10, 2015 is Mental Illness Awareness Week.

It is also a perfect time to take the “StigmaFree Pledge” launched by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) earlier this year. The pledge involves three basic steps that can be found at www.nami.org/stigmafree.

  • Learn about mental health and educate others
  • See the person not the illness—strive to listen and understand
  • Take action, spread the word, raise awareness and make a difference

Mental illness is a medical condition, but one that often is surrounded by silence or stereotypes that discourage people from getting help if they need it.

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 and three-quarters by age 24.  Unfortunately, long delays−sometimes decades−often occur between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help.

 If nothing else during Mental Illness Awareness Week, please learn to recognize early symptoms of mental illness and the importance of talking 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)
  • Poor concentration
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • 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 also are not the same in everyone; some people may experience intense “highs,” while others primarily experience depression. Mania involves combinations of the following symptoms:

  • Euphoria
  • Surges of energy
  • Reduced need for sleep
  • Grandiosity
  • Talkativeness
  • Extreme irritability
  • Agitation
  • Pleasure-seeking
  • Increased risk-taking behavior

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
  • Emotional flatness
  • Inability to start or follow through with activities
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations

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 information through its website www.nami.org and HelpLine 1-800-950-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 discussion then and be checked for physical conditions to which they may be related. The next step might be referral to mental health specialist. A range of treatment options exist.

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, please take the first step by taking the StigmaFree Pledge. Help yourself, your family, your friends and your community. Help make a difference by saving lives and supporting recovery.