By Melissa Riddle Chalos
Given all the advances of modern medicine, greater access to education, and all the benefits of living in the digital age, it’s hard to believe that centuries of confusion still exist in the public’s mind when it comes to mental health and mental health disorders. Maybe it’s because we’re afraid to really talk about our mental health due to the unfair stigma still attached to mental illness.
Even today, in 2021, “there is no country, society or culture where people with mental illness have the same societal value as people without a mental illness,” according to a study that appeared on PubMed, originally published in the EMBO Reports Journal.
Those struggling with mental illness are viewed through a cultural lens: non-Western and Third World countries often, for example, apply religious, supernatural, or mythical explanations for mental issues among its people. While here in the U.S., society holds more empathy for those struggling with depression but perpetuates a negative perception of those who struggle with drug addiction, alcoholism, and schizophrenia, as if these are fully self-controllable behaviors and choices, without any mental health issue involved.
In short, we may be the most advanced culture on Earth, but we still can’t seem to wrap our minds around the fact that mental illness is not a defect that makes someone less valuable than others.
Many people deal with more than one mental disorder at a given time, as depressive illnesses often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse.
The Importance of Mental Health
Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a medical problem, just like heart disease or diabetes, according to experts at the American Psychiatric Association. So how can we better understand mental health? It might help to look at this generic term as one of the legs of a stool that is overall health and wellbeing.
Mental health, like physical health, is a basic human necessity.
When a person’s physical health is in jeopardy, medical treatment is necessary and sought without reservation. If a bone is fractured, you get a medical professional to help fix it. People of faith who experience a crisis and need spiritual guidance often seek the counsel of a spiritual advisor. It should be the same for mental health. When a person is struggling with emotional distress or thought processes and behaviors that interrupt their ability to function socially, at work, or within family relationships, these are mental health issues that deserve the same level of diagnosis and treatment.
Mental illness is categorized in two ways:
All Mental Illness:
AMI refers to a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that can vary in impact, ranging from mild to moderate to severe.
Serious Mental Illness:
SMI refers to a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder that results in significant functional impairment, interfering with or limiting one or more major life activities.
Just How Mentally Unhealthy Are We?
It’s important to understand that mental illness is as common as a cold or the flu. In fact, according to data from the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):
- 51.5 million adults 18 or older in the United States struggle with AMI (any mental illness), representing 20.6% of all U.S. adults.
- The prevalence of AMI is higher among females (24.5%) than males (16.3%).
- Young adults 18-25 had the highest prevalence of AMI (29.4%).
Comparatively, on any given day in the U.S. anywhere from 5-20% of the population experiences the flu. And when the flu interrupts a person’s ability to function, no one thinks twice about heading to the doctor or pharmacy to get what they need to feel better and get back to their lives.
When it comes to serious mental illness (SMI):
- 13.1 million adults 18 or older in the United States struggle with SMI (serious mental illness), representing 5.2% of all U.S. adults.
- The prevalence of SMI was higher among females (6.5%) than males (3.9%).
- Young adults 18-25 years old had the highest prevalence of SMI (8.6%).
Mental health disorders including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder account for some of the top causes of disability in the U.S.
- 9.5% of American adults suffer some type of depressive illness each year.
- 18% of 18- to 54-year-olds experience some type of anxiety disorder in a given year.
- Anxiety disorders can include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).
- 1.1% of Americans (or 2.6 million adults) are affected by schizophrenia.
Many people deal with more than one mental disorder at a given time, as depressive illnesses often co-occur with anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Undoubtedly, this is one of the complexities of mental illness that keeps people from seeking treatment. After all, struggling with depression is difficult enough; in conjunction with an anxiety disorder or drug addiction or other issues it can feel like too high a mountain to climb. But that is exactly why seeking mental health treatment is important. You don’t have to figure it out on your own.
Those struggling with mental illness are viewed through a cultural lens: non-Western and Third World countries often, for example, apply religious, supernatural, or mythical explanations for mental issues among its people.
Caring for Your Mental Health
Caring for your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. Most of us will need some kind of mental health assistance at some point in our lives. The only question is whether you’ll take control of it or allow it to take control of you. There is no shame in getting help when you’re hurting. It’s part of being human.