Mental Health Awareness Month puts the seriousness of mental health in the limelight. The United States marks this important occasion in May each year. With more than 19 million Americans suffering from depression each year, including more than two million people aged 65 and over, it is critical to highlight this disease, its symptoms and the help that is available, particularly during Mental Health Awareness Month.
Depression does not discriminate. It can affect anyone at any time, regardless of gender, age or race. There are a number of co-occurring sicknesses that can contribute to depression including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, arthritis and Parkinson’s Disease. Some people believe depression is just a normal part of the aging process, but this is definitely not the case. It is a serious illness that can lead to suicide. Older adults make up only 13 percent of America’s population, but 20 percent of all deaths attributed to suicide. In 2013, an estimated 10,189 residents aged 60 or over committed suicide. More than 80 percent of people diagnosed with depression are able to effectively manage their illness with therapy or medication or perhaps both. This shows the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month.
There are a number of warning signs for suicide, which are often promoted during Mental Health Awareness Month to demonstrate the seriousness of the illness. These can include feelings of hopelessness, isolation, loss of sense of purpose and loss of independence. Other signals may include prior suicide attempts, depression, sudden personality changes, giving away prized possessions, daring or risk-taking behavior, the recent death of a loved one, the misuse or abuse of medication or alcohol, and illnesses that significantly limit life expectancy or functioning.
As there are warning signs, there are preventative measures that can be taken and should be taken immediately. If someone vocalizes suicidal thoughts, this should always be taken very seriously and medical help should be sought immediately. If someone has an intent to act on a suicide plan, they should not be left unattended and emergency services should be called.
Mental Health Awareness Month is perfect for the sharing of personal stories from people who suffer from a mental illness in the hope this will help someone else experiencing a similar problem. For example, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has shared the stories of a number of veterans who suffer from a mental illness, hoping this may be the catalyst necessary for others to reach out for help. The first story published was that of Arthur, who served for his country during the Vietnam War. Returning from the war, Arthur had a difficult time re-adjusting to civilian life and did not talk about it. He fell into a dangerous cycle of drugs, anger and gambling before he finally sought medical assistance and subsequently was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Under treatment, he joined a Vietnam Veterans’ support group, which helped him to change his personal headlines for the better.
Trista is another person, who suffers a mental illness, and has shared her story. She experienced sexual trauma while serving in the Marines, Navy, and National Guard. She felt isolated while serving and had outbursts toward her husband later on. With her husband’s encouragement, Trista saw a psychologist, which helped her with her recovery. Therefore, with the help of Mental Health Awareness Month, the seriousness of a mental illness can be promoted and hopefully result in more people accessing medical assistance if need be.
Opinion by Rebecca Brown
The Daily Courier
Image: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Latoria Mckoy, North Carolina National Guard – Creativecommons Flickr License