I am passionate about mental health for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, I love being able to help people with mental illness through the process of getting back to who they were before their illness took over. I love seeing people walk out the door of our hospital on the road to recovery.

Mental illness and suicide have frequented the news lately, yet unfortunately, it is still not talked about openly and honestly in many families and communities. This can create a variety of misconceptions and even increase the stigma surrounding mental illness. These misconceptions and stigmas associated with mental illness can be harmful, and cause people to not seek treatment for fear of being judged or labeled.

Mental illness includes a range of conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, addictive behaviors or bipolar disorder, to name a few.

Myths about mental illness

It only affects certain people. Mental illness does not discriminate and it is prevalent among all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

It’s not a real illness. People may think mental illness is a sign of weakness or that it is not a real illness. Mental illness is as real as any illness and is extremely prevalent right now in the United States. Approximately one in five Americans has a diagnosable mental illness.

It’s not life-threatening. If not treated, certain mental illnesses can be life-threatening, with suicide being one of the leading causes of death for children and adults aged 10 to 34.

It requires life-long medication. Some people take medication for short-term help, some stick to a consistent regimen over the course of their lives and some people even opt for no medication at all, choosing a form of psychotherapy to manage their symptoms. Physicians outline all treatment options with their patients to ensure that they are getting the care that they need and feel comfortable with their treatment plan.

There’s nothing you can do to alleviate symptoms. Just like any other illness, lifestyle modifications can be beneficial in helping mental illness. Exercise, a balanced diet and a healthy amount of natural sunlight are some ways that can help, particularly with depression.

Symptoms of mental illness

The symptoms of mental illness vary depending on the type of illness. If you have any of these symptoms, please have a conversation with your doctor:

• Alcohol or drug abuse

• Anxiety

• Difficulty concentrating

• Excessive fears

• Extreme mood changes

• Feelings of hopelessness, extreme guilt and/or worthlessness

• Loss of appetite

• Loss of interest in loved ones, work or hobbies

• Low energy/fatigue

• Low self-esteem

• Paranoia or hallucinations

• Persistent feelings of sadness

• Physical symptoms, such as headaches, digestive issues or pain, that don’t respond to treatment and aren’t explained by other conditions

• Sex drive changes

• Sleeping too much or not enough

• Social isolation

• Thoughts of suicide

• Significant weight loss or gain

• Violent or hostile behavior

How to discuss mental health with your doctor

Mental illness can be challenging to talk about. It might not be as easy as discussing a headache or broken toe. The truth is, though, your physician will welcome you coming in and discussing any mental health concerns with them. Your overall health starts with your mental health, and your provider will want to be a part of ensuring that you are healthy overall, not just physically.

You can sit down with your provider and bring up your fears first. Let them know you have made the appointment with them; however, you are feeling afraid or uncomfortable to discuss why. Your provider has the experience of treating a wide variety of patients’ diagnoses and has certainly dealt with patients feeling uncomfortable discussing depression or other issues. They may already cue into what has brought you to the appointment or may ask you a few other questions.

Sometimes writing down what you want to discuss with your provider before an appointment can help and may relieve a bit of anxiety associated with the appointment.

How to discuss mental illness with loved ones

It can be difficult for family members to know how to help or how to intervene with someone suffering from mental illness. Education can be key, meaning the more your family understands and has a knowledge base surrounding the illness, the more they may be inclined and comfortable providing their support.

Sometimes bringing family to appointments or providing them with reading materials on the condition can be helpful. Involving them in your care can help them not only have a clearer understanding of what is happening with you and what your treatment plan is, but it can make them feel like they are part of your care and treatment plan as well.

Without meaning to, people can become disconnected from a loved one with a mental illness because they do not know what to do or say. If you have a loved one with a mental illness, being present can help them tremendously. Family and friends who frequently call or stop by to check in with their loved one can show that they care and are there for them if needed.

If you think you may have signs of mental illness, please contact your primary care doctor. If you don’t have one, visit www.pardeehospital.org to find one near you. With the right treatment and support, you can feel better and regain your quality of life.