This year, Oct. 1–7 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a time to shine a light on mental illness and replace stigma with hope. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for equal care. You can get involved at www.nami.org/miaw.
One in five adults experiences a mental illness in any given year. Those problems can contribute to the 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. Unfortunately, long delays—sometimes decades—often occur between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help.
It is critical to learn to recognize early symptoms of mental illness and talk with a doctor about any concerns. Early identification and treatment can make a big difference for the 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
- 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 are not the same in everyone; some people may experience intense “highs,” while others primarily experience depression. Mania involves combinations of the following symptoms:
- Surges of energy
- Reduced need for sleep
- Extreme irritability
- 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
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.
During Mental Illness Awareness Week, there will be many opportunities to learn more and provide support. In addition, as part of Mental Illness Awareness Week, National Depression Screening Day will be held on Thursday, Oct. 5. Organizations around the world are encouraged to offer free, anonymous questionnaires that can help individuals identify potential signs of depression. Learn more at www.mentalhealthscreening.org/programs/ndsd.
Anyone who experiences symptoms of mental illness should see a doctor to discuss and to be checked for possibly related physical conditions. The next step might be a referral to a mental health specialist. Many treatment options exist.
During Mental Illness Awareness Week, please take the first step by taking the #StigmaFree pledge at www.nami.org/stigmafree. Help yourself, your family, your friends, and your community. Help make a difference by saving lives and supporting recovery.