Millions of people are affected by mental health conditions each year.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, nearly one in five American adults experience mental illness.
Dr. Imran Iqbal of Baptist Health Hardin Medical Group Behavioral Health said to have a mental health illness means a person has a condition that requires medication, behavioral modifications and possibly psychotherapy.
“My understanding of what it means to have a mental illness, therefore, is very similar to what it means to most of us to have a medical condition like hypertension or diabetes,” he said in an email. “Unfortunately, to many people, having a mental illness means something more negative, which really isn’t fair or accurate.”
“It isn’t your fault. It isn’t a sign of weakness. The stigma toward mental illness has diminished significantly over the years, but even today, people are still frowned upon by many for having mental illness,” he said. “This goes a long way towards people not getting the help they desperately need.”
Two very common conditions are depression and anxiety.
Iqbal said depression is when you feel sad all the time. You can’t sleep, you can’t concentrate. The things you used to enjoy are no longer fun. Sometimes, he said, you may even want to just lie in bed all day.
Anxiety is when you worry all the time, he said, and sometimes you aren’t even sure why.
“Like depression, it affects sleep and concentration,” Iqbal said. “You may also feel exhausted from all the worrying, and neck pain or headaches from your muscles being tense all the time.”
He noted there are many special types of anxiety, such as feeling particularly anxious around people or during public speaking; feeling scared of enclosed spaces; and avoiding things that remind you of an awful experience.
Bipolar disorder is another, less common, example of mental illness. With this disorder, Iqbal said you have episodes of both depression and the “opposite of depression” — also known as mania — where you have lots of energy, don’t need sleep for days at a time yet still feel rested and talk really fast, so much so that your friends and family point it out.
Schizophrenia is an even less common, he said. It involves paranoid thoughts, hearing voices and seeing things that are scary but not really there.
Iqbal said mental illness can affect everything from how you work and how you play to how you get along with your family, friends and co-workers. He said stress, bad relationships, traumatic experiences, genetic factors, head injuries all can cause changes to our physiology that can bring about mental illness.
According to Iqbal, a common stigma of mental illness is the fear of being labeled “crazy” or “psycho.” Many fear being seen as “weak” if you have a mental illness or that it is “your fault.”
He said many patients with depression and/or anxiety are told they simply need to stop feeling depressed or anxious, as if it is somehow in their power to be depressed or anxious — and therefore in their power to just make it go away.
“The reality is we are no more in control of our depression or anxiety than we are of our high blood pressure or diabetes. You can’t ‘think away’ your high blood pressure or your high blood sugars any more than you can ‘think away’ your anxiety or depression,” he said.
Iqbal said the first step to helping someone with a mental health condition is to listen and let them know they are being heard and taken seriously, and to figure out exactly what the diagnosis is. Once a diagnosis has been established, he said it is usually managed through a combination of medication, behavioral changes and psychotherapy.
“The process can take a while, and evolves over time as improvements occur. Seeing people get better is an incredible part of doing this. It’s one of the best feelings you can ever have,” he said. “People with mental illness can certainly recover and recover completely.”
Although many cases require medication and psychotherapy, Iqbal said there are some coping strategies that anyone can try, such as getting a good night’s sleep, setting aside time to do things you love and making time for loved ones.
Iqbal said the past few months of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought enormous challenges.
“Health care workers have had to provide care under difficult circumstances. We’ve all gone to work fearful of bringing COVID-19 back to our families. Students have had to adapt to taking classes from home, and even losing contact with their teachers and friends. Due to the lockdowns and travel restrictions, many of us have experienced greater social isolation than ever before. Workers have had their livelihoods threatened. Many lost their jobs. We all fear losing someone we love. Some of us actually have. Some of us didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye,” he said in an email.
“These ongoing challenges affect us each in powerful ways, and will have consequences on our health for a long time to come. We might feel angry or depressed. Anxious. Maybe even scared or paranoid. Please set aside time each day to take care of yourself to remedy this.
He encouraged people to spend time with loved ones, play with pets or exercise to help cope with their situation. Getting rest also is essential, he said.
If you still aren’t feeling right after taking those steps, Iqbal said talk to your primary care provider about seeing a mental health specialist.
Iqbal said to try to find a mental health specialist, making a connection is key and cannot be overemphasized. He said this might require “shopping around” for the best fit.
“Take the time to do this,” he said. “You and your health are most certainly worth it,
Saturday was World Mental Health Day. The overall objective of the day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health.