Mental Health Awareness: Together for Mental Health

Written By: Eyuel Terefe, MD – Outpatient Psychiatrist at WWH

May marks National Mental Health Awareness month. Taking charge of your mental health begins with awareness, adjustment, and making positive lifestyle changes with increased attendance to self-care and wellness. These include, daily exercise, eating healthy, getting adequate and consistent quality of sleep, avoiding/limiting stressors, avoiding and abstaining from substance use (e.g., cannabis, alcohol, THC, illicit substances) and fostering positive coping and relaxation methods. If signs and symptoms of mental health exceed such measures, it is important to seek professional assistance to address these distressing symptoms. As part of your clinic visits it is imperative that you discuss your mental health concerns with your providers and physicians as it is a significant component of overall wellness and wellbeing.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the advocacy group for mental health, has designated 2022’s awareness message “Together for Mental Health.” To foster awareness, to bring voices together to advocate for mental health and access to care. Fittingly this is a mission that aligns with our values at Western Wisconsin Health (WWH) and a cause we champion in our clinical services to support and provide quality care to individuals in their mental health wellness journey.

In recent years, and partly due to the pandemic, mental illness has risen to the forefront as a component of our overall wellness. However, a majority of the public still perceives mental health information as confusing, resulting in a state of low mental health literacy. This has a tremendous detrimental effect on awareness and beliefs about mental health disorders, recognition, management, treatment, and prevention. Consequently, resulting in a state where individuals are lacking the proper guidance and access to resources to improve their conditions and address the mental health aspects of their wellness.

Mental illness/disorders include a varying range of conditions and age groups. Although most commonly regarded as mainly depression, anxiety, and suicidal behaviors – there are multiple other distressing conditions including panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorders, autism spectrum disorders, substance use disorders, bipolar disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia, psychosis, learning disorders, dementia/Alzheimer’s, and insomnia. These conditions greatly impose distress and dysfunction upon the individual – but also commonly affect family members and the community.

Furthermore, a majority of such conditions result in a chronic, recurrent, unique features, signs, and symptoms. Unfortunately, some conditions become progressively worse and could result in a severe risk to the individual without the proper medical treatment. The situation is made worse by the negative stigma of mental illness.

Often the cited reason for delay and avoidance of care is due to societal and self-perceived stigma. With concerns about being treated differently or fears of losing their jobs and livelihood, as well as prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness still serving as a significant barrier to care to treatable conditions. Despite an ingrained social stigma and perception, mental illness is widely prevalent and afflicts many people in the U.S. as evident below from NAMI’s data and statistics on mental health:

Mental Health Care Matters: by the numbers

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
  • The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years

Annual prevalence among U.S. adults, by Mental Health condition:

o Anxiety Disorders: 19.1% (estimated 48 million people)

o Major Depressive Episode: 8.4% (21 million people)

o Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: 3.6% (estimated 9 million people)

o Bipolar Disorder: 2.8% (estimated 7 million people)

o Schizophrenia: <1% (estimated 1.5 million people)

  • 46.2% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment in 2020
  • 64.5% of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment in 2020
  • 50.6% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment in 2016

To make matters worse, there has been a frighteningly increasing pattern and trend of worsening mental illness in the U.S. In adolescents aged12-17: there has been a 31% increase in mental health-related emergency department visits. While in young adults aged 18-25, 1 in 3 experienced mental illness. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has had a significant negative impact on mental health, with 1 in 10 people under age 18 experiencing a mental health condition following the COVID-19 diagnosis. Furthermore, there has been an increasing utilization of dysfunctional/dangerous/addictive means of coping with a trend of increased dependence on alcohol and drugs being reported as a means of managing stress and self-medication.

The downstream and community level ripple effects of mental illness tend to be severe, resulting in increased rates of disability, failure to take medication or receive treatments for medical illnesses, loss of productivity/unemployment, chronic medical illnesses, homelessness, substance use disorders, incarceration, and higher behavioral concerns and dropout rates in schools. Therefore, we must help individuals become aware and mindful of early signs and symptoms of mental illness and to improve outcomes, with 90% of individuals who commit suicide reportedly experiencing symptoms of mental health conditions; resulting in suicide attempts as the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Understandably, early treatment and recognition as well as individuals that are taking charge in mental health recovery and journey are keys factors to the recovery process. Mental illnesses are highly variable and complex, leaving room for misunderstanding and being misconstrued by the general public and unfortunately stigmatization. For clarification, numerous factors result in the development and aggravation of mental illness, these include but are not limited to genetics, environmental factors, lifestyle influences, developmental experiences, history of trauma, stress, biochemical processes, and circuits of brain structures and pathways, substance use. Therefore, it is necessary to have multifaceted and individualized approaches and treatment options available to tackle these conditions that can present in varying degrees of intensity, and frequency in an individual.

Fortunately, there are evidence-based interventions available for the mitigation and improvement of these conditions, to enhance functionality, reduce distress, and optimize quality of life as a form of treatment. These wide degrees of treatments vary from individual therapy sessions of counseling or combination of treatment with psychopharmacological medications that greatly have been well studied and provide benefits.

Therefore, it is crucial that we not only equip ourselves to improve our mental health literacy for our own sake but to be able to serve as a source of advocacy, support, guidance, and a resource for family and friends. As we encounter individuals that might be suffering from mental health illnesses, it is imperative we offer grace, validation, and guidance to ensure that those receive assistance and treatment. It is with this collective understanding and acknowledgment that this year’s mental health message harkens back to my favorite quote from James Baldwin “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Lastly, I ask you to prioritize and advocate mental health wellness and to become the agents of change. Individually and collectively, we must act to destigmatize, address, and tackle mental illness. The cornerstone of this goal is by entrusting ourselves with the responsibility, bravery, and vulnerability to confront what ails us and our communities. We at WWH, strive for and envision a promise and achievement of a Healthier Tomorrow Together and gladly take part in such transformations of our community. We assist those individuals affected by mental illness to obtain the appropriate support and quality of care to lead and maintain healthy and fulfilling lives.

WWH, fortunately, has numerous levels of providers, psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists that will be able to assist you in your mental health journey. Please contact Western Wisconsin Health at 715-684-1111 to set up a consultation or request your primary care provider for a referral.

Western Wisconsin Health~Building a healthier tomorrow, together.

Crisis Resources

  • If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.
  • If you are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255)
  • If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI at 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.