While society has made strides in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness, there is still a considerable amount of misinformation regarding its impact. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost 20 percent of American adults experience some form of mental health concern every year, and four percent of the population suffers to the extent that it interrupts their normal daily activities. For teens, the impact is even more alarming, and a full 90 percent of teen suicides stem from an inadequately treated mental illness.

Even though it’s become more socially acceptable to seek treatment for mental health concerns, only about 50 percent of people with a mental illness will get help. Sadly, untreated mental illness has a significant negative impact on many patients. Though every person will experience their mental illness differently, many sufferers face similar challenges.

  • Difficulty finding and keeping a job
  • Frequent hospitalization
  • Higher drop-out rates for students
  • Feelings of isolation
  • Negative stereotypes leading to discrimination, shame and guilt
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling responsible for their illness
  • Difficulty accessing ongoing care and support
  • Feeling like family and friends would be better off without them
  • High risk of suicide

When dealing with a mental illness, it’s important to realize this isn’t a personal flaw and that this family of medical conditions has physical causes. The sooner that attitudes adjust regarding mental health concerns, the better the treatment outcomes will be for both patients and society. If you have a mental illness, your brain isn’t processing and responding to certain neurochemicals correctly, and modern medicine can help give you the edge you need. Most people who seek treatment for mental illnesses go on to live full and healthy lives, so there every reason to be hopeful.

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Depression

As one of the most common mental illnesses, depression impacts millions of Americans. People with depression often feel apathetic, withdrawn and irritable. It’s common to lose interest in your normal activities, have difficulty sleeping or lose your appetite. In the most severe cases, this despair leads to suicidal ideation. Depression can be cause by constant chemical imbalance, or it can be affected by your environment. Some people, for example, have depressive episodes during the winter when there is less sunlight, and it’s common for women to experience postpartum depression after giving birth.

When treating depression, expect to work with both your regular doctor and a mental health professional. Most patients respond to a combination of antidepressant medications and therapy. Don’t be alarmed if finding the right plan for you takes some time. Different medications work for different people, so expect some trial and error as you find the one that’s right for you.

Anxiety

It is normal to occasionally feel anxious about changes or major events in your life. However, if just going about your regular business invokes anxiety, then you may have a mental illness. Symptoms of anxiety vary and can range from experiencing general worry all the time to having panic attacks or extreme phobias. Anxiety can cause you to feel tense, dizzy, unable to breathe and panicky. You may find it hard to sleep or feel nauseous. People who are diagnosed with anxiety often also have symptoms of depression.

Treating anxiety follows a very similar protocol to depression. Many patients respond to the same antidepressant drugs, and doctors also prescribe medications specifically targeting anxiety such as Xanax which often gives noticeable relief for panic attacks. Therapy is also a cornerstone treatment, and methods such as cognitive behavioral therapy can help you identify triggers and gradually expose yourself to anxiety-inducing situations until they are no longer a concern.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

This condition is characterized by an excess focus on specific thought patterns or actions that interfere with your normal daily activities. Patients can have both obsessions or compulsions or suffer from just one component of this mental health disorder. Obsessive behaviors may include unreasonable fears, extreme neatness, self-harm or uncontrollable thoughts and attachments. People with compulsions engage in activities that are illogical and extreme such as constantly checking door or window locks, cleaning, hand washing, or adhering to a strict routine. It’s important to understand that OCD is a disease of extremes. Most people have habits and preferences, but if you find yourself stuck in a pattern where you feel like there is no flexibility, you might want to ask your doctor to explore the possibility that you have an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

If you are diagnosed with OCD, it is probably something that you will have to deal with for your entire life. However, the impact can be minimized with proper treatment. Therapists use a type of cognitive behavioral therapy known as exposure and response prevention to treat OCD patients. ERP therapy introduces you to items and situations in a slow and controlled manner, and your therapist will help you reprogram your brain to reduce obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. There are also medications that are effective for people with OCD, and antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft may provide you with additional relief.

Bipolar Disorder

Commonly referred to as manic depression, bipolar disorder has two components, with both manic energy and deep depression evident in patients. These extreme mood swings are cyclical and can last for extended periods of time. During manic episodes, you may find yourself unable to make logical decisions, feel euphoric, spend money without thinking about the consequences or be unable to sleep. Deep depressive episodes may bring extreme opposites such as the inability to get out of bed, hopelessness or deep shame. In most cases, there are more periods of depression than manic episodes with bipolar disorder.

The primary goal of treating bipolar disorder is stabilizing your moods so you can live a normal, functional life. In almost every instance, medication is needed to provide relief for this condition. The biggest risk for bipolar patients is their own belief that they are cured which leads to discontinuing medication, so never adjust or go off a bipolar medication without your doctor’s supervision. Once you have found a medication that works for you, it’s a good idea to continue working with a psychiatrist, therapist or support group in a long-term care plan.

Schizophrenia

The main challenge facing patients with schizophrenia is their inability to separate delusions from reality – it is a disease that alters perception. People who deal with this illness may hear voices or have interactions with people or things that don’t exist. It is also common to experience paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, confusion, or depression associated with schizophrenia.

While schizophrenia is an extreme mental illness, you should expect to live a normal life with a treatment plan in place. It’s important to work with a competent psychiatrist to find the right mix of medication, therapy and support for your case. While medications will help reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia, regular therapy can help you manage your relationships and the everyday challenges of living with this mental illness. Like bipolar disorder, the biggest risk for patients with schizophrenia is their perceptions. Even if you are feeling better, don’t attempt to manage your care or make medical decisions without your doctor’s support.

Finding out that you have a mental illness can be overwhelming and scary, but there are support systems in place. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor and get the help you need. While neglecting a mental health concern can be fatal, every mental illness is highly treatable, and therapy and medication are the keys to managing these diseases.