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May is Mental Health Month!

May is Mental Health Month!

oman wearing yellow sweater talking to therapist

Beginning in 1949, May has been declared Mental Health Month. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, an estimated 22.1% — or 1 in 5 — of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. The statistic is about the same for children.

Even more surprising are the signs you may have been missing: intense feelings of sadness, anxiety, worry, or sleeplessness can be indicators of a mental disorder. The most common types of mental disorders include: anxiety, mood, psychotic tendencies, and eating. While that list may seem frightening, learning what to look for could be the first step in identifying and treating a mental disorder.

General Mental Health

While there are several different kinds of mental disorders, each with unique symptoms and treatment, there are a few common factors. Typically, there is no single specific known cause for a mental disorder; several factors, such as drug use and certain chemicals in the brain becoming unbalanced, are suspected. Treatment often involves medication and therapy for periods of time, occasionally being life-long requirements.

Having a mental health disorder does not mean a life lived on medication or within the bounds of a mental institution. Often, complete recovery is possible. The key to effectively treating a mental disorder is to identify the problem, and to be honest with your physician during treatment.

Anxiety Disorders

Women are twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder, compared to men. Women are also more likely to suffer another disorder in addition to anxiety, the most common of which is depression. Anxiety is characterized by an immense sense of fear or reservation, and could include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, restlessness, and irritability. Anxiety is more than just an emotion, and includes several physical symptoms, such as panic attacks (intense episodes of overwhelming fear or panic, occurring suddenly). Often, people with anxiety will suffer panic attacks as well.

There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders, ranging from mild to severe, and include obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Treatment varies based on the diagnosis and individual, but often includes medication and therapy.

Depressive Disorder

Much like anxiety, women are more likely to suffer from, and be diagnosed with, depression than the male counterpart. Everyone feels sad sometimes, but those episodes are usually fleeting; depression is an extreme sadness that begins to interfere with daily life. There are many types of depression, which is a common but very serious illness.

The most common symptoms of depression include interference in normal sleeping and eating habits and a lack of interest in pleasurable activities. Depression, in any form, may last for a small period of time or may be long-term depending upon the woman. Treatment typically consists of medication and frequent visits with a therapist or doctor, and can be cured over time.

Mood Disorders

Also called affective disorders, this area of mental health is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness or extreme happiness, or fluctuation between the two. Symptoms include body aches, fatigue, difficulty in eating or sleeping, as well as feelings of hopelessness, sadness, or inadequacy.

The most common types of mood disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymic disorder. The treatment of these disorders is also varied, but typically includes counseling to explore possible relations between the disorder and personal life events.

Eating Disorders

A well-known condition, eating disorders are classified as a mental health disorder. Symptoms are unique to each type of disorder, the most common of which are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by excessive exercise, refusal to eat, distorted self-image, and a fear of eating in public. Physical signs are dry skin, menstrual irregularities in women, and dehydration. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by self-induced vomiting, constant dieting, excessive exercise, damaged teeth or gums, and oral sores. Bulimia and binge-eating disorder may be confused, as their symptoms are the most similar; however, binge-eating disorder also includes feelings of depression, frequently eating alone, and rapid eating.

It may become harder to diagnose an eating disorder in young children, as they could simply be experimenting with new eating habits. Red flags include skipping meals, food hoarding, distorted body image, and adopting rigid eating rituals (such as cutting food or spitting food out). If caught early, damage to the body will be minimal. Treatment varies depending on the severity of each case.

While mental health may seem to be a terrifying subject, it’s important to take care of all aspects of your body—mind included. Recognizing the potential signs of mental illness in yourself or a loved one is the first step in beginning treatment. While you may think a constant sense of worry or a lack of appetite is normal, it may be a sign of a more serious underlying problem. Don’t put your health at risk: give your mind a check-up to ensure you’re feeling your best!

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the above symptoms, please talk to your doctor for more information.