Mental health is more than treating mental illness
A common misconception about mental health is that it solely pertains to identifying and treating mental health disorders. The truth of the matter is that it’s about ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to live a full and productive life. Dichotomous thinking about mental illness does a disservice for the treatment of mental illness. Mental illness is not just extreme psychotic and mood disorders, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, versus absolute mental health. Thinking in such a blackand-white way about mental illness does not consider personality disorders, depression, anxiety and substance use disorders, which are statistically significant diseases.
Additionally, dichotomous thinking is equally detrimental toward achieving and maintaining mental health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being; how we navigate challenging situations, interact and connect to others; and how we make decisions. If people only view mental health and illness as one extreme option, that does not consider the complex reality of the situation.
How are physical and mental illness connected?
Mental illness is not always tangible, and for some that may make it easier to devalue the importance of mental health. The correlation between physical and mental health is undeniable, and it is through the tangibility of physical illness that cynics can be presented substantial evidence. For instance, anxiety and depression drain our immune system. A consequence for people suffering from anxiety or depression is that their bodies are not as capable of fighting off bacteria and preventing illness. This means that people with untreated anxiety and depression are more likely to be sick at an increased frequency and for more extended periods. The degree of illness ranges from minor like a common cold, to more serious illnesses, such as cancer, along with traumatic wounds that take longer to heal.
Further accentuating the link between our mind and body is the fact that physical pain and depression are both influenced by the same neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. Due to this, antidepressants that inhibit the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine may be used as the first line of treatment in depressed patients who presents with physical symptoms.
How Mental Health Awareness Month promotes advocacy and education
Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each year in May. It was first established in 1949 by Mental Health America, making this the 70th year that Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed. Mental Health America is one of many organizations that work throughout the year to enlighten the general population about the importance of mental health. Each year, Mental Health America and their affiliates host local events, mental health screenings and work with the media to achieve their goal of directing the public’s attention toward the current issues and achievements in the mental health field.
What are some current issues in the mental health field?
• Rising Suicide Rates: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in their 2018 Vital Signs report that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and is one of just three leading causes of death that are on the rise.
• Opioid Crisis: The abuse of, and addiction to, opioids is a national public health crisis that has received a lot of attention in recent years. The CDC and National Center for Health Statistics report that more than 130 people in the United States die from an opioid overdose every day.
• Cyberbullying: Cases of cyberbullying have increased as technology has advanced and with so many young people having a presence online. Victims of cyberbullying can develop depression and suicidal thoughts/behaviors.
• School and Public Mass Shootings: The rise of school and public mass shootings in recent years has brought the conversation about the mental health state of the individuals who commit these crimes, and the immediate
and lasting effects on the mental well-being of those who survive such a traumatic experience, into the national media spotlight.
How can you get involved in promoting mental health awareness?
The key to improving the state of mental health across the country is awareness, education and support. Talking about mental health and mental health issues, and encouraging others to do the same, is a great place to start. Other ways you can promote the importance of mental health awareness include:
• Joining an advocacy network, like Mental Health America’s Advocacy Network.
• Volunteering with local mental health awareness organizations. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has an affiliate branch in Shreveport.
• Sharing mental health screening sites, like HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org, on social media.
• Learning the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide risk warning signs.
• Memorizing the suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
• Encouraging the use of non-stigmatizing language. People forget that words like “crazy” and “insane” can be damaging to someone when used as insults.
Dr. Tiffany Arnold is a graduate of the LSU Health Shreveport School of Medicine and is currently a chief psychiatry resident. For assistance with finding information about where to seek additional help, contact Dr. Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.