Mental Illness Awareness

The first week of October is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Mental illnesses include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, addiction disorders and impulse control disorders. Mental Health America estimates that one in five adults in the United States will experience a diagnosable mental health disorder in a given year. Despite these statistics, there tends to be a stigma associated with mental illness. Some people perceive mental illness as a weakness or character flaw; however, these disorders are caused by actual changes in brain chemistry or function.

It is important to understand that mental illnesses affect people of all ages, including children and the elderly. Mental health disorders are real, common and treatable. According to a recent study, approximately 15 to 20 percent of older adults in the United States have experienced depression, one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States.

Depression can be easily missed because people tend to think that someone with depression is exceptionally sad. This may be true, however, there are many other signs and symptoms of depression and everyone experiences depression differently.

Symptoms of depression may include one or more of the following:

  • Sadness and feelings of despair
  • Unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or socialization
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Lack of motivation or energy
  • Sleep problems – difficulty falling or staying asleep, oversleeping, daytime sleepiness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing or being a burden
  • Slowed movement or speech
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Fixation on death, thoughts of suicide
  • Memory problems
  • Neglecting personal care (skipping meals, forgetting medications, personal hygiene)

Depression can impact one’s physical health and ability to function. It has been shown that mild depression lowers immunity and may compromise a person’s ability to fight infections and cancers, according to the American Psychological Association. In addition, depression is a major risk factor for suicide.

If you think you or someone you know is depressed or living with another mental health disorder and needs assistance, there are many places to turn for help. You can talk to your primary care physician, or reach out to the Mental Health Association of Erie County. If you are in crisis, call the Crisis Services hotline at 716.834.3131 or 911 for a life-threatening emergency.