It’s time to talk about seeking support and reaching out to others
Feb. 6 is Time to Talk Day in the United States — a day that draws attention to the importance of reaching out to others and talking to others about mental health-related concerns. If you reach out to someone in your life to talk about mental health issues, you not only help lessen the stigma surrounding the topic, but you also may feel like a weight has been lifted off of you.
Mental health in America: The numbers
The statistics surrounding mental health in America might be surprising. According to Mental Health America, nearly one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year. Among specific mental illnesses, anxiety is by far the most common. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) provides additional details about the annual prevalence of mental illness among U.S. adults by condition:
- Anxiety Disorders: 19.1% (estimated 48 million people)
- Major Depressive Episode: 8.4% (21 million people)
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: 3.6% (estimated 9 million people)
- Bipolar Disorder: 2.8% (estimated 7 million people)
- Borderline Personality Disorder: 1.4% (estimated 3.5 million people)
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 1.2% (estimated 3 million people)
- Schizophrenia: <1% (estimated 1.5 million people)
Talking about mental health
There are many reasons why it is so important to talk about mental health concerns — whether you are experiencing these issues yourself or you suspect someone you love is having challenges.
- Human beings cannot fight mental illnesses alone. When anxiety, depression, PTSD and other potentially devastating mental health problems stay private, they tend to fester, grow bigger and possibly get out of control. Talking about mental health can help anyone feel like they have a community to lean on.
- When one person talks about mental health, others feel empowered to do so, too. Decades ago, people who had mental health issues feared discussing them with anyone else because there was such a stigma associated with mental illness. In the United States, some of that stigma has gone away — but some people still have preconceived notions about what a person with mental illness looks or sounds like. As more and more people share that they have struggled with their mental health, it becomes normalized, and others feel more comfortable acknowledging they have challenges, too.
- Talking about mental health can save a life. Sometimes, people think if they talk about suicide, they are “encouraging” someone to follow through with it, but in reality, it can help the person.
- Open communication can help facilitate diagnosis. Many people with mental illness can’t put a name to it — they just know they feel “off.” Without proper treatment, their mental health may continue to deteriorate. But when people talk about how they’re feeling, they’re more likely to come across a friend or family member who can point them toward appropriate support.
Early warning signs of mental illness
Of course, it’s also important that more people know about the signs of mental illness, so they can then recognize those signs in people they love. Time to Talk Day is not only about reaching out to others, but also educating yourself on how to recognize when you or someone in your life needs help. Early intervention is all about being able to recognize the early warning signs of mental health problems. According to the American Psychiatric Association, some warning signs of mental illness include:
- Sleep or appetite changes — Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or decline in personal care.
- Mood changes — Rapid or dramatic shifts in emotions or depressed feelings, greater irritability.
- Withdrawal — Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed.
- Drop in functioning — An unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks.
- Problems thinking — Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain.
- Increased sensitivity — Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations.
- Apathy — Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity.
- Feeling disconnected — A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality.
- Illogical thinking — Unusual or exaggerated beliefs about personal powers to understand meanings or influence events; illogical or “magical” thinking typical of childhood in an adult.
- Nervousness — Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling.
- Unusual behavior — Odd, uncharacteristic, peculiar behavior.
- Changes in school or work — Increased absenteeism, worsening performance, difficulties in relationships with peers and co-workers.
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