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Mental Illness Awareness Week: Break the Stigma and Get the Help You Deserve

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Every year, millions of Americans live with mental health disorders. In fact, according to the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), in the United States one in every five adults and one in six youth between 6 and 17 years old experience some type of mental illness each year. Despite these 43.8 million American adults who suffer annually, there still exists stigmas, misinformation, and barriers to receiving effective treatment. In efforts to break these stigmas, educate, and make getting treatment easier, there are national observances for mental illness. 

The week of October 3, is National Mental Illness Awareness Week and October 10 is World Mental Health Day. Both of these days, aim to break stigmas, educate, and raise awareness about mental illness and how to get treatment. World Mental Health Day began in 1992 as an initiative by the World Federation for Mental Health. Each year has a theme with 2021’s theme being “Mental Health in an Unequal World”.  This year’s theme focuses on the economic inequalities in the world and how that impacts mental health problems. 

Mental Health Disorders in the United States 

When it comes to mental health disorders in the U.S., some are more prevalent than others. NAMI reports the following when it comes to mental illness diagnosis:

  • 18.1% or about 42 million American adults have an anxiety disorder
  • 6.9% or about 16 million American adults have major depression
  • 2.6% or 6.1 million have bipolar disorder
  • 1.1% or 2.4 million have schizophrenia

In addition to these statistics, about 10.2 million American adults have co-occurring disorders. A co-occurring disorder or comorbidity is the coexistence of both a mental health disorder, like anxiety and a substance abuse disorder, like alcohol addiction. Co-occurring disorders can sometimes also refer to the presence of a mental health disorder and an intellectual disorder. 

It’s important—and part of the aim of these awareness days—for anyone with a mental health disorder or co-occurring disorder to realize you aren’t alone. Not only are there millions of others suffering from mental illness, but there are also millions who have found the right treatment program and have gotten their illness under control. One of the problems with mental health treatment is that not everyone has access to the right mental health treatment. In fact, the problem is so great it prompted the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day. 

The World Federation for Mental Health stated the following on their website in regards to this year’s theme, 

This theme, chosen for 2021, will highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries unable to access mental health services at all, and access in high-income countries is not much better.”

Mental Illness and Getting Treatment 

One of the reasons for this ongoing and serious problem is that the amount invested in establishing and expanding mental health services is minimal. And research shows that this impacts not only access to mental health services but also the delivery of these services. Data indicates that it can take 15 years for an individual to finally receive the proper care for a mental illness. For many, that is simply too long. Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death in people between 10 and 34 years old. It’s imperative that access to high-quality mental health care be expanded and the stigmas surrounding mental illness are broken. 

NAMI reports the following when it comes to mental illness and treatment in America:

  • 60% of adults with a mental health disorder didn’t receive treatment in the prior year
  • 50% of youth didn’t with mental illness didn’t get treatment in the previous year
  • Blacks and Hispanic Americans received mental health treatment at half the rate of whites
  • Asian Americans received mental health treatment at one third the rate of whites 

It’s vital to spread awareness, start the conversation, and help those in need find the resources they need to get help. In addition to World Mental Health Day, Mental Illness Awareness Week also aims to do this. 

Mental Illness Awareness Week, as mentioned, is the week of October 3. During this week, NAMI and supporters in the mental health field, come together to help raise awareness, fight discrimination, and provide support for those in need. The 2021 theme is “Together for Mental Health”. NAMI’s website states, 

“We will focus on the importance of advocating for better care for people with serious mental illness (SMI). Each day throughout the week, we will be raising the voices of people with lived experience to talk about SMI and the need for improved crisis response and mental health care.”

A serious mental illness or SMI is defined as an emotional, mental, or behavioral disorder resulting in serious functional impairment which interferes with or seriously limits one or more life activities. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that it is rare to have an SMI and only about 5% of the U.S. adult population is impacted. SMIs include:

  • Schizophrenia disorder
  • Severe bipolar disorder
  • Severe major depression

And while SMIs don’t impact as many people as other mental health disorders, the effects of these mental health disorders are usually severe. Many living with an SMI, don’t get the treatment they need. This can lead to more problems including:

  • Decreased functioning
  • Progression of the mental health disorder
  • Development of other mental health disorders
  • Development of substance use disorders

Co-occurring Disorders: What You Need to Know

Often, someone with an SMI or any type of mental health disorder will begin to self-medicate to ease the uncomfortable symptoms. This reliance on a substance can lead to dependence and eventually addiction. For example, someone with severe major depression may turn to alcohol in an attempt to feel better. However, while alcohol may initially relieve some symptoms, in the long run, it can exacerbate depression. Alcohol is a depressant and usually makes the individual consuming it experience some form of depression. For the person who is already depressed, this can further complicate the issues. 

In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, someone with a mental health disorder is more likely to also have a substance use disorder than those individuals who don’t have a mental health disorder. This is also more common amongst those undergoing medication-assisted treatment (MAT). 

Mental health disorders commonly found in MAT patients: 

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Conduct disorders

SAMHSA also reports that individuals with mental health disorders commonly become dependent on the following substances: 

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Tobacco
  • Prescription drugs
  • Stimulants
  • Hallucinogens

No matter what combination occurs or which occurs most frequently, one thing is certain, anyone who has a co-occurring disorder should seek treatment for both as soon as possible. Generally speaking, these co-occurring disorders can negatively impact each other. One making the other worse and vice versa. In addition, many mental health disorders including substance use disorder (SUD) is a progressive illness that only gets worse with time. 

Treatment for Mental Health Illness and Co-occurring Disorders 

Research indicates that getting treatment for co-occurring disorders at the same time is vital for recovery from both. Many times people want to know which came first out of their mental health issues. As mental health disorders are complex and often overlapping, this can be difficult to determine. However, with the right treatment program, individuals can not only learn more about their specific disorders, what caused them, how they got worse, and what increased their risks, they can also learn new coping skills. 

One of the first steps in getting the right treatment for mental health disorders is proper screening and evaluation. When it comes to co-occurring disorders, integrated treatment is highly recommended. Integrated treatment provides evidence-based treatment for both or all disorders. This means when a person is being treated for a substance use disorder, this treatment is also coordinated with the treatment of their mental health issue, for example, an anxiety disorder. 

Finding a treatment facility that is well-versed and successful in treating co-occurring disorders is essential. According to SAMHSA, individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders are more likely to be hospitalized than those with either a mental health disorder or substance use disorder. For this reason, as well as the fact that one can make the other worse, it’s essential to get treatment sooner than later. 

For many, the stigmas associated with mental health disorders can stop them from reaching out. However, evidence-based treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical-behavior therapy (DBT) have been proven time and time again to help individuals recover. 

Futures Recovery Healthcare is one of the leading addiction treatment centers for co-occurring disorders. Not only does Futures have professionals trained in treating those with co-occurring disorders, but Futures also has a mental health program designed for those with mental health disorders without an accompanying substance use disorder. 

Remember, there are millions of Americans and people across the globe living with mental health disorders—you are not alone! To learn more about how we treat mental health disorders, substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders contact us online or call 866-804-2098.

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