May Is Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental health is one of the most important parts of a healthy, happy lifestyle. With your mental health in check, you can overcome obstacles, recognize your true potential, and make the most of the people and places before you. During May, which has been celebrated as Mental Health Awareness Month since 1949, activists, practitioners, and mental health advocates across the country join forces to spread the word about the importance of mental health.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 is “Look Around, Look Within,” according to Mental Health America. This year, mental health professionals’ aim is to spread awareness about the ways that our surroundings – like safe housing, healthy home lives, neighborhoods and cities, and nature – affect our mental health.

Mental Health Awareness Month is about more than spreading awareness. With events, activities, screenings, and more, Mental Health Awareness Month can be the kickstart many people need to seek help or offer support to a friend or loved one who may be struggling with a mental illness or substance use disorder (SUD).

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The Importance Of Mental Health

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five Americans have a mental health condition. Mental health can impact every aspect of our lives, from how we think and feel to how we interact with others. Therefore, maintaining our mental health and treating any mental health conditions is essential to controlling and supporting healthy behaviors, emotions, and thoughts.

Mental health is important at every stage in life, as our mental well-being can change over time. It’s a common misconception that mental health conditions primarily affect younger individuals or that young people who suffer from mental illness will simply “grow out of it.” Mental illnesses can affect anyone at any time. When someone experiences demands that exceed their resources, such as a traumatic event or financial hardship, their mental health can be severely impacted.

Sadly, many people who struggle with their mental health turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with the immense stress, trauma, or pain they may be experiencing. The connection between mental illness and substance abuse is serious and can lead to worsening mental illness, addiction, and, sadly, for some, loss of life. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health and has turned to substances, contact a treatment provider today to get help.

The Connection Between Mental Health And Substance Abuse

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 50% of people who suffer from a mental illness struggle with substance abuse, also known as a dual diagnosis. Mental illnesses like depression or anxiety and substance use disorders are both treatable mental disorders that affect a person’s brain and behavior. While people with SUDs may have other mental health disorders, and vice versa, it doesn’t mean that one caused the other.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research suggests three likely possibilities that may explain why mental illness and substance abuse occur so commonly together.

Changes In The Brain

It’s well-known that substance abuse and SUDs can cause changes to the brain. The chemical compounds of many substances can alter the chemistry, and even the physical structure of the brain, which can lead to the development of behavioral changes or mental illness.

Mental Illness May Contribute To Addiction

Sadly, many people who struggle with mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. While these substances may have an immediate, temporary effect on negative symptoms, the reality is that they can worsen them over time. This can create a vicious cycle of substance abuse to numb or cope with negative feelings, only to have the symptoms and substance abuse increase. Additionally, the changes in the brain caused by substance abuse may increase the reward feelings of substances, making substance abuse more likely.

Shared Risk Factors

Perhaps the most likely explanation for why SUDs and mental illnesses occur so frequently together is that they both share similar risk factors. First, both SUDs and mental illness can run in families, meaning your genetics may play a role in the development of either. Environmental factors, like trauma or stress, can also lead to the development of either of these mental health disorders.

Recognizing A Mental Illness

According to Mental Health America, there are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. Mental health conditions come in all shapes and sizes, each with its own symptoms, causes, and warning signs. They can range from more common, easier to manage conditions like generalized anxiety disorder to more severe conditions that may require hospitalization, like schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder.

That said, there are three mental health conditions that make up the majority of mental health diagnoses in the United States: anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Below is a closer look at each condition, along with commonly reported symptoms and warning signs.

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are mental health conditions that are marked by underlying feelings of extreme fear or worry. The most common anxiety disorders in this group include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and other phobia-based anxiety disorder such as agoraphobia.

Common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Hot flashes
  • Always expecting the worst
  • Inability to relax
  • Trembling
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Headaches

Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the country. According to data collected by the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 8.4% of all US adults had at least one major depressive episode the previous year. While depression can be caused by a wide range of events, some of the most common include tragic events such as the loss of a loved one, financial hardships, or medical stresses like cancer or other chronic illnesses.

It’s important to remember that everybody experiences bouts of depression or sadness in their lives. These highs and lows may be the result of hardships like relationship difficulties or losing a job and are completely normal reactions to stressful events. When depression becomes a mental illness, however, is when it lasts for weeks, months, or sometimes even years. When this happens, it interferes with a person’s entire life, including their ability to work and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Loss of interest in hobbies or personal goals
  • Feeling useless or hopeless
  • Irritability
  • Intense feelings of sadness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep issues
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Using drugs or alcohol to cope with depression
  • Reckless behavior
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and is having suicidal thoughts, call the suicide hotline today by dialing 988.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. People who experience PTSD are those who may commonly experience these types of events, such as veterans, first responders, or victims of domestic abuse. While most people who experience trauma are able to overcome their feelings of anxiety and depression, some are not able to, and these feelings don’t go away. For these individuals, PTSD can persist for months or years on end.

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Repeated memories of the traumatic event
  • Night terrors
  • Vivid flashbacks
  • Emotional numbness
  • Negative feelings about self
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Lapses in memory
  • Feeling “on guard” at all times
  • Insomnia
  • Harmful behaviors (binge drinking, drunk driving)

Take Control Of Your Mental Health Today

Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time to reflect on the importance of mental health and to assess how your surrounding environment may affect your mental well-being. This year’s theme of “Look Around, Look Within” reminds us all that our mental health is about so much more than the way we think. Mental illness can be affected by everything from your neighbors to your genetics. This May, take some time to reflect on how the people, places, and things around you play a role in your mental health.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, substance abuse, or both, the time to get help is now. Without proper care for dual diagnosis conditions, they can continue to worsen and impact your quality of life. To learn more about what treatment options are available for you or a loved one, contact a treatment provider today.

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Zachary Pottle

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  • Zachary Pottle earned his B.A. in Professional Writing from Saint Leo University and has over three years of journalistic experience. His passion for writing has led him to a career in journalism, where he specializes in writing about stories in the pain management and healthcare industry. His main goal as a writer is to bring readers accurate, trustworthy content that serve as useful resources for bettering their lives or the lives of those around them.

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