Why Aren’t We Up to Speed on Mental Illness?

Millennials, let’s get educated.

As millennials, our generation is currently in the most vulnerable time of our life in terms of mental illness. According to a recent literature review, 75% of all mental illnesses surface around 24. Specifically, our generation is in the age-of-onset range for anxiety, mood and substance abuse disorders. Those categories of disorders include: panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.

This is us.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 20% of adults in the United States suffer from some kind of mental illness. NAMI also revealed that only 41% of adults with a mental illness received treatment last year, which means that almost 60% of adults with mental illness in the United States are not receiving treatment. We need to do better.

What can we do?

There are a lot of barriers to receiving mental health treatment, most of which I’m not going to discuss in this article. But one contributing factor that I think we all can work on is awareness. Know the warning signs, know when to seek help, and be willing to support each other.

Roughly 1 in 8 women in their lifetime will develop breast cancer. We know the warning signs of breast cancer, the primary being a lump in the breast. We are also aware of the importance of conducting self-examinations and receiving annual mammograms, which can result in early detection and a more hopeful prognosis.

Nearly 1 and 5 adults experience a mental illness in any given year. So the odds are pretty high that we know a close friend or family member suffering, or perhaps we ourselves are struggling. But do we know the warning signs to recognize this?

Why are we not as informed about preventive care for mental health as we are for physical health? We need to change that. To help others or ourselves, we must become educated.

Warning Signs

Below is a list of common signs to look for that may indicate someone is struggling with a mental illness. (For a more comprehensive list of warning signs click here).

1. Prolonged Sadness

We all experience times when we are sad or feel “depressed.” This is not always a cause for alarm, and is often very normal and appropriate. Sadness can also present as numbness, for example feeling ambivalent towards activities that you used to enjoy. When sadness seems to linger for a longer amount of time then usual, or the sadness seems to be out of proportion to the triggering incident, we may want to pay closer attention to it and consider consulting a mental health professional.

2. Mood Changes

Much like sadness, we all experience mood changes. When mood changes happen frequently, are extreme, and occur without a known antecedent, this may be a sign of something else going on internally.

3. Social Isolation

Often when we start to experience change, it’s normal for us to isolate ourselves from others because we feel uncomfortable. If social situations begin to feel extremely overwhelming and provide less satisfaction than they once did, this may be an signal that we are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression.

4. Hopelessness

Feeling a sense of hopelessness may be indicative that we are feeling unfulfilled in our lives, and are doubtful that our situation will improve. If you or a loved one feels that they don’t have much “to live for” it’s important to seek professional help immediately as a sense of hopelessness may generate thoughts of suicide.

Call to Action

Because we are at a time in our lives that we are so susceptible to mental illness, let’s be proactive. Let’s educate ourselves on mental illness so we can spread awareness, detect the warning signs, and stimulate increased rates of treatment. Recovery from mental illness is possible, we just need to take the first step.

Ali Pirone Donohoe is in a Master’s level Clinical Social Work program. Ali is particularly passionate about eradicating stigma surrounding mental illness, and spreading awareness to increase early intervention. Ali has experience working with children and adolescents with varying mental illnesses including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, and developmental disorders.

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