Noyes News and Events

May 15, 2017

Mental Health Awareness

I attended high school just as the calendar was turning from the 1970s to the 80s.  Big-teased hair, mullets, baggy tops, leggings, high-waisted jeans, leg warmers, spandex, headbands, and big boxy shoulder pads were all the rage.  Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Prince, and Michael Jackson dominated the air waves and MTV was just starting to make its impact.  Like many teens, my life revolved around relationships, school, music, and fashion.  My adolescent self-absorption blinded me to the trials and troubles of some of my classmates.  Despite living in a small town, I was often unaware of mental health issues that were tearing apart families and producing grief and angst beyond imagination.  Even when a young man a year younger than I committed suicide, it was barely mentioned at school.  There were whispers in the hallway and a few of his friends made attempts to honor his memory, however, there was no counseling, formal talks, or education regarding mental health.  Fast forward to 2017 and I can thankfully say times have changed.  May is now officially Mental Health Awareness month.  Suicide task forces operate throughout the region and people are considerably more conscious of mental health issues.  There is, however, a long way to go to improving the mental health of our society as the following numbers attest. 


According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.  And mental illness affects all ages with approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiencing a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%. The CDC defines mental illness as “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.” Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population.  It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease.  In addition, 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experience an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias and among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.


These numbers are often associated with other societal issues.  For example, an estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders. Furthermore, approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.  Many of these conditions, however, are left untreated. According to NAMI, only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.  Despite the availability of effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.  It is not unusual for mental illness to start during the teen years.  Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24.
The consequences of lack of treatment are tremendous.  Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.  Moreover, mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.  And tragically, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–2421 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.  More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition and each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.


There is no quick fix or one-size fits all approach to mental health.  It is complex and intertwined with many variables including genetics, family history, trauma, adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, equitable jobs and wages, quality education, and access to quality health care.  As always, the first step is awareness and education.  There's no easy test to differentiate typical behaviors from mental illness.


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;

3) Learn more about mental illness, symptoms, and treatment. 


For more information, connect with the National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov or the National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.NAMI.org.
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 lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.