Chances are, someone you love is struggling with mental health issues.
About 1 in 5 Americans will experience mental illness in a given year, and more than 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We know everyone knows someone,” said Kay Raga, executive director of NAMI Stark County, the local branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But despite that prevalence, mental health and illness is still taboo.
“There’s absolutely stigma. There’s still a fear (of people finding out),” she said.
Most of the folks dealing with mental illness are working, raising families and living successful lives, but many worry that if their employer finds out, they’ll lose their jobs or be treated differently, she said.
In some cultural backgrounds, mental illness just isn’t discussed, she added.
Recently, celebrities including Kevin Love and Lady Gaga have openly discussed their mental health challenges. That’s a good thing, Raga said.
“I think the more that folks who we recognize, whether acting or music or sports, I think that trend is helping tremendously with breaking down a little bit of that stigma with mental illness.”
NAMI doesn’t deal in diagnostics, so Raga couldn’t say if more folks in Stark County are experiencing mental health issues. But more people are seeking NAMI’s services.
NAMI’s mission is support, education and advocacy. It relies on trained volunteers and offers free support groups and education.
If someone you know is struggling, you should educate yourself, Raga said. NAMI offers several classes that can help you navigate a diagnosis, learn how to better communicate and become an advocate for your loved one.
NAMI also offers peer-to-peer support groups for those with mental health challenges and their families. Many of those who have participated in the groups, come back as leaders, Raga said.
If you’re concerned about yourself or someone in your life, there are a few signs that it’s time to seek help: being sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks; engaging in reckless behavior such as driving erratically or behaving irrationally; sudden overwhelming fear; dropping a dramatic amount of weight; mood changes; substance abuse; dramatic changes in behavior or personality; sleep issues; lack of focus; increased worries, real or imagined.
If someone is expressing or making plans to harm themselves, or it’s another emergency situation, call the 24-hour, 7-day-a-week Coleman Services crisis hotline at 1-877-796-3555.
It’s important to understand that mental illness isn’t something someone can just “get over.” You’d never say that to someone with cancer, Raga said.
“People don’t choose to have mental illness. They don’t choose to be depressed.”
TIPS FOR BETTER MENTAL HEALTH
Raga passed along some self-care tips from the nonprofit Active Minds for taking care of your own mental health:
• Make time for activities that promote well being and reduce stress, such as cooking or baking, exercising, getting a massage, meditating, deep breathing, playing a game, listening to music or a podcast, reading, taking a bath, watching TV or movies, napping, mindfulness exercises and yoga.
• Find ways to distract yourself from your current emotional state until you’re better able to cope; when we’re distressed, we can’t always handle a situation effectively. Distractions can include some of the same activities as self-care. They also can include calling a friend, using your five senses to describe your surroundings, holding ice, making a list of things, doing a puzzle, taking a hot or cold shower or focusing on a single task.
• While emotions are always valid, our responses aren’t always justified by the situation. Ask yourself if your emotions match the circumstances. Examine your behavior to see if what you’re doing is helping or hurting the situation. If it’s making things worse, commit to doing the opposite. For example, if you want to isolate yourself, force yourself instead to leave the house or to interact with others.