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Mental Illness Awareness Week

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

October 11th -17th is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a national initiative to educate and increase awareness about mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.  While individuals and families dealing with other serious illnesses such as cancer receive support from the community, family, and friends, mental illness is often termed the “no casserole” illness.  That is food, cards, and well wishes are often absent.  This is primarily due to the stigma attached to mental illness.  As a result of the negative image associated with mental illness, people may not seek treatment.  If they are treated, they may be hesitant to share a diagnosis with family, friends, and co-workers.  Even if the diagnosed individual shares his diagnosis, family and friends may not talk about the illness or offer support.    Mental Illness Awareness Week hopes to put the spotlight on mental illness, its prevalence, and possible symptoms and as a result, get people talking.  
Mental illness is quite prevalent in American society.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately, 1 in 5 adults in the U.S - 43.7 million, or 18.6% - experiences mental illness in a given year.  In addition, 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. - 13.6 million, or 4.1% - experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits their life.  1.1% of American adults live with schizophrenia and 2.6% live with bipolar disorder.  The most common disorders, however, are major depression, which affects 6.9% of the population and anxiety disorders which affect 18.1%.   Statistics show that mental illness affects men and women, the young and the old, all races and ethnicities, and social economic classes. No group is left untouched.  It impacts life and death on a daily basis in the US. 
90% of those who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness.  Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US among all age groups, the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10-24, and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24.  Adults living with a serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others in the general population.  In addition, mood disorders including major depression, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the US for persons aged 18-44.  Many suffering from mental illness will not be hospitalized or die by suicide, however, they may have trouble going to work or maintaining employment.  It is estimated that serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion per year in lost earnings.  The first step to combatting these numbers is to talk openly about mental health and seek help.  Diagnosis, however, is often tricky.
There's no easy test to differentiate typical behaviors from mental illness.  According to NAMI, each illness has its own set of symptoms but some common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents may include the following: 
  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low 
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning 
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria 
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger 
  • Avoiding friends and social activities 
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to other people 
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy 
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite 
  • Changes in sex drive 
  • Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don't exist in objective reality) 
  • Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight”) 
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs 
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”) 
  • Thinking about suicide 
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress 
  • An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance (mostly in adolescents) 
Mental health professionals offer this advice.  Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help.  Important first steps include:  1) Talk with your doctor; 2) Connect with other individuals and families; and 3) Learn more about mental illness, symptoms, and treatment.  
For more information, connect with the National Institute of Mental Health at or the National Alliance on Mental Illness at  
Locally, Noyes Mental Health Services can be reached at (585) 335-4316 and Livingston County Mental Health Services can be reached at (585) 243-7250.  If you or someone you know is in danger or suicidal, call 911.  
Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at or 585-335-4327.  

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