By Sharon Braun
Community Counseling Center
Beginning in 1949, May has been observed as National Mental Health Awareness Month for the purpose of bringing public attention to the positive aspects of mental health and their prevention and intervention.
National, state and local organizations offer mental wellness activities, screenings, statistics, education and resources to promote awareness on the scope of mental illness.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines mental illness as “a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings or behaviors (or all three) and that causes a person distress and difficulty in functioning.”
Although we all face challenges throughout our lives, living with mental illness does not make for an easier journey.
According to NIH, one in five people (20 percent) will experience a mental illness during his or her lifetime. The 2019 Status Report on Missouri Mental Health and Substance Use for Ste. Genevieve County estimates 17,888 residents which — when calculated at 20 percent — would indicate that 3,578 individuals may be living with mental illnesses.
The most recent Ste Genevieve Fiscal Year 2017 Mental Health data noted that 1,130 individuals utilized the hospital emergency room involving a principal diagnosis of a mental disorder or mental-related treatment whereas 307 patients with these same diagnoses were admitted not using the emergency room entrance. Three hundred fifty-eight Ste. Genevieve County residents received treatment for serious mental illness at publicly funded facilities.
Alcohol disorder, alcohol-related disorder, drug disorder and drug-related disorder statistics show that 339 individuals utilized the hospital emergency room whereas 87 patients with these same diagnoses did not.
Ninety-nine individuals were admitted to substance abuse treatment programs during 2018, and there were 85 DWI arrests and 152 drug-related arrests.
During Fiscal Year 2018-2019, nearly 450 Community Counseling Center (CCC) support staff and professionals — via 42 programs — treated more than 6,500 unduplicated mental health patients.
Major depressive disorder was the most prevalent diagnosis for ages 18 and over whereas the diagnosis attention-deficit/hyperactivity, combined, was most prevalent for ages 18 and under.
During 2019, CCC staff treated 678 unduplicated patients at our Ste. Genevieve County office.
Historical language used to describe mental illness primed the underpinnings of stigma, i.e. “crazy, “lunacy,” “lunatic,” “weirdo.” Although society has made strides in addressing stigma associated with mental illness, some individuals will not seek treatment because they feel shame and unwilling to share that they are struggling to cope with life’s stressors and demands. They may instead turn to “self-medicating” with alcohol and/or drugs to ease and mask their emotional and psychological pain. However, alcohol and/or drug use can lead to addictions which can exacerbate mental illness. Left untreated, it may result in declined physical health, loss of employment, failure in school, destroyed relationships and marriages and other unwanted outcomes.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, the difference between what behaviors are and what behaviors may reflect are not always apparent. There is no easy way to know or to test whether a mental illness or the actions and thoughts of a person might be typical behaviors or the result of a physical illness.
What we do know is that every family is affected in some way by mental illness. We also know that some signs and symptoms of mental illnesses are similar regardless of age and gender, but they can also vary among adults, adolescents and children. An adult’s inner experience and outward expression and/or response to living with depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses differs from that of a child or adolescent struggling with the same illness.
It is important and imperative that we educate ourselves to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness.
Doing so makes us feel comfortable in offering support and suggestions for how and where to receive treatment. More than anything, it saves lives.
Need to Know:
Mental Illness Signs, Symptoms of Adults, Adolescents and Youth
— Excessive worrying or fear, feeling excessively sad or low, tired and low energy;
— Confused thinking, problems concentrating and learning;
— Inability to carry out daily activities or handle problems and stress;
— Uncontrollable “highs,” feelings of euphoria, irritability, anger;
— Avoiding friends and social activities and difficulty relating to others;
— Changes in sleep habits, sex drive; headaches, stomach aches;
— Changes in eating habits, increased hunger or lack of appetite;
— Delusions/hallucinations — things that do not exist in objective reality;
— Inability to perceive changes in one’s feelings, behavior, personality;
— Misuse/abuse of alcohol and/or drugs;
— Thinking about suicide, thinking about completing suicide.
Need to Know:
Helping Adults, Adolescents and Youth Living with Mental Illness
— Anyone can have a mental illness just as s(he) can have a medical illness. No one asks for either one.
— Have compassion for individuals living with mental illness and addiction just as you would for individuals having cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
— Learn all that you can about mental illness, substance use and their effects on individuals, families and communities. Local mental health organizations have helpful resources to share.
— Attend community education events, including the annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Conference and the annual Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk.
— Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is the initial help given to someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. MHFA teaches you how to recognize risk factors and warning signs and strategies for helping someone in crisis and non-crisis situation and where to turn to for professional help.
— Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) is a five-step plan for how to assess a situation and how and where to refer adults, adolescents and youth for help. QPR teaches you how to recognize warning signs of suicide and how to refer a person for help.
— Have open discussions about mental illness and addiction with family, friends, co-workers as this fosters knowledge and awareness and lesson stigma.
Need to Know:
Common Signs and Symptoms of Mental Illness of Young Children
Mental health issues affect children differently because their inner worlds of language and talking, thoughts, moods and emotions are still developing and define their outer worlds.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) states “all kinds of anxiety are about avoidance.” Parents should be concerned when their child is no longer interested in doing the things they previously enjoyed. Anxiety involves unwillingness to try new things or to take risks versus replacing old interests and interactions with new ones and liking these changes. In contrast, if a child is experiencing depression s(he) may stay to her or himself versus interacting with others as before (i.e., withdrawal).
If parents hear statements like, “I just don’t feel like it; I don’t care anymore; I’m too tired,” they may indicate mental health issues and consider seeking help for their child.
Need to Know:
Signs and Symptoms of Children’s Mental Illnesses:
— Changes in school performance;
— Excessive worry or anxiety;
— Fighting to avoid bed or school;
— Hyperactive behavior, temper tantrums;
— Frequent nightmares, bedwetting;
— Disobedience or aggression.
Need to Know:
What Parents Can Do to Help Their Children
— Talk with your pediatrician and ask questions so that you understand your child’s diagnosis and treatment;
— Acquire referral to a mental health child specialist;
— Work with the school and provide updates regarding your child’s wellness;
— Make your child feel safe and loved at home; create a supportive environment;
— Make a contract with your child that s(he) will let you know if s(he) needs help
— Create a daily schedule so that your child knows what to expect;
— Help your child identify emotions specific to behaviors and what they may mean;
— Be consistent in how you respond to your child
— Monitor your voice intonation and emotions when interacting with your child.
Where to Find Help
If you or someone you know needs helps, call the 24-hour Crisis Hotline at 1-800-356-5395.
To initiate local services, please call Community Counseling Center’s Ste. Genevieve office at 573-883-7407 or other local behavioral health centers and alcohol and/or substance use providers.
[Sharon Braun, Ph.D., is the director of public relations and special projects for Community Counseling Center.]
(References: National Alliance on Mental Illness; Mental Health America; National Institutes of Health; Center for Adolescent Research and Education; Anxiety and Depression Association of America; 2019 Status Report on Missouri’s Substance Use and Mental Health.)