Columnist addresses mental health as May is designated month
By: Laura Pilafas; Therapist
Every year since 1949, May has been recognized in the United States as Mental Health Month. Mental health as defined by the Surgeon General refers to “the successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity. Mental health is the springboard of thinking and communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience, and self-esteem.” On the other hand, mental illness is the term that refers “collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders. Mental disorders are health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.” Mental illness incorporates a number of disorders including, but not limited to, mood disorders, substance abuse, social anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, sleeping disorders, sexual dysfunction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tic Disorder, psychopathology, body image disorder, conduct disorder and reading disorder.
Mental health disorders can be managed, but only if treatment is sought out.
Currently, untreated mental illness is estimated to cost this country (you and me) more than $100 billion, annually. In addition, Mental illness does not stand alone. Major depression is highly correlated with diseases such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, chronic arthritis, and stroke. In addition, smoking is also associated with mental illness. In any given month, people with mental illnesses (representing 28.3 percent of the U.S. population) consume approximately 44.3 percent of cigarettes smoked nationwide. People with mental illnesses are nearly twice as likely as individuals without mental illnesses to smoke. (Preventing Chronic Illness, April 2006) The point is not which came first, the butt or the brain.
Besides a decrease in public mental health funds, lack of insurance and access to critical mental health facilities, stigma is one of the leading reasons why those who desperately need treatment will not seek treatment. Stigma is defined as “the characteristic of an individual that is deemed by others as negative” and one of the main reasons why people would rather live in agonizing emotional pain than let anyone think they might be “crazy.” (Barker) The truth is that there is absolutely no such thing as crazy! The reality is that there are only symptoms of a disease of the brain that result in behaviors that appear unusual but really are misunderstood. We no longer live in the era of "One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest," yet most the Americans still fear seeking treatment. It is estimated that one in four adults 18 years or older suffer from Depression.
Depression is a major medical diagnosis such as heart disease, diabetes or cancer; yet because it is seen as a mental problem versus a physical problem, people take the stance “It is all in your head.” Well in reality, “It is all in your head and particularly your brain.” Your brain, just like any other part of your body, needs to be taken care of physically. The difference is, your brain is where the entire part of your essence or being is and the one body part responsible for every other body part you have. Thus, positive mental health is the key to total body health: Mind, Body and Spirit.
Currently, depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for people between the ages of 15 and 44 and at the same time is one of the most treatable illnesses. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in this country totaling about 32,000 people annually. Depressed people usually feel hopeless, guilty, and empty but often isolate themselves, so people are unaware of the signs and symptoms. In addition, depression can present as persistent physical pain that has no biological basis.
Medication treatment followed up with psychotherapy is usually enough to get people moving toward recovery. The brain can sometimes be lacking in chemicals called neurotransmitters that help the body’s nerve cells talk to one another. It would be similar to the body lacking enough insulin to help the body break down glucose after eating a piece of chocolate cheese cake. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, assists people in changing thinking patterns that foster negative thoughts, feelings and thus behaviors. In addition, it encourages the increase of personal coping skills and decreases self-defeating behaviors that we often learn as children. And finally, ‘talk therapy is being linked to changes in the physical networks of neurons in the brain.’ ( Scientific American Mind April 2006)
The following are some signs and symptoms of depression provided by the National Institute of Mental Health. (Persistent feelings lasting two weeks or more are an indication of depression):
Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" mood;
Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism;
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness;
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions;
Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping;
Appetite and/or weight changes;
Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts;
Once you have read this list, if you feel you might have depression, a good place to start is with your primary care physician. Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, and/or a clinical social worker.
At this point, your first reaction may be to say, “I am not crazy?!” Then answer yourself (Don’t worry, no one is looking); crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you have been struggling with any of the above symptoms, there is absolutely no reason to continue. Depression is not something you can “Snap out of.” It is a personal mental experience that steals every aspect of your well-being and sense of self. It is not your fault and it is not up for debate. You, and only you, know how you feel, and the fear you have comes from within. You choose; depression or treatment? Millions of people have had personal experiences with depression and there are resources available. Talk to your doctor or contact us at the Senior Life Enrichment Center at (706) 752-1616 for further information.
Printed in the May 28, 2009 Edition.