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(From left to right) A photo of a woman with spina bifida; a young man with Costello Syndrome; a man who was blind; & a woman with a hidden disability

10 Things You Need to Know about Mental Health

Disability Connection Newsletter
May 2015
  1. May is Mental Health Month, making this a good time to check up on yourself and gauge your overall mental health. There are many different types of mental health conditionsand it’s important to learn the warning signs of each to start the path to better mental health. Many organizations are working to prevent the stigma associated with these conditions so that more people are comfortable speaking about their experiences and seeking treatment. B4Stage4 encourages individuals to get informedget screened and get helpThe Campaign to Change Direction is a coalition of concerned citizens and nonprofit and private sector leaders working together to “change the story” in America about mental health, mental illness and wellness. Know that you are not alone by listening to the National Alliance for Mental Illness’s (NAMI) In Our Own Voice stories of others’ recoveries or submit your own story.
  2. Fighting Stigma. At the 2013 National Conference on Mental Health, President Obama urged that, “There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love. We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment; we’ve got to get rid of that stigma.”Many people living with a mental health condition unfortunately experience stigma and misunderstanding. In fact, a nationwide survey found that only 25 percent of adults with mental health symptoms believed that people are sympathetic towards those with mental illness. Some people mistakenly believe that mental illness always leads to violent and unpredictable behavior. Based on fear, misunderstanding or a lack of information about mental illness, stigma may cause people to delay treatment or to experience discrimination in employment, housing and other areas of their lives. If you feel like you’re dealing with stigma, know that there are many ways to cope. Remember you are not alone, keep hope, seek treatment and surround yourself with supportive people.
  3. Children and Youth. Young people’s mental health is just as important as their physical health as they grow and age. Youth are more affected by mental health issues and millions of American children live with depression, mood and anxiety disorders and other mental health issues. It’s not unusual for youth to experience phases of anxiety, for example, but it may be time to seek help if symptoms continue. Parents and guardians need to know the signs of a mental health condition. For kids and teens, there are many resources and supports to help them deal with mental health issues and other challenges they might be facing. From feeling anxious and fighting depression, to coping with cutting and having thoughts of suicide, youth need support in order to recover. The OK2TALK online forum offers an opportunity for them to share what’s on their mind. Good mental health, supportive adults and good friends are critical to thinking clearly, developing socially and learning new skills. More youth-focused help is available onMentalHealth.gov.
  4. Keeping Sharp While Aging. As people age, their brains change and communicate differently. As these naturalchanges occur, people may notice differences in their ability to learn new tasks or recall information. If all this is upsetting, don’t worry – learn the difference between being forgetful and experiencing more serious memory loss. Aging does make people more susceptible to conditions such as dementia, including Alzheimer’s. There are signs and symptoms to keep an eye on if you or an older adult you know seems to experience more than simple memory decline. As you age, follow seven steps to preventing memory loss and mix up your routine with these ideas on working your brainKeep healthythrough regular exercise, a good diet, intellectually stimulating activities and close social ties. Read What’s Your Aging IQ? or take an online interactive quiz to learn about normal aging and how to get the most out of older age.   
  5. Treating and Coping with Depression. It’s estimated thatmore than 20 million people in the United States have depression. Depression is not just feeling down or sad for a few days – it is a serious medical illness with a broad spectrum of symptoms that persist and interfere with everyday life. These symptoms may include feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities and changes in weight. TheNational Institute of Mental Health outlines what depression is, types of depression and how it can become visible. If you think you may have depression, you may want to use an online depression screening tool. To get a proper diagnosis andtreatment, you should make an appointment to see a health care provider such as a general physician or a licensed therapist. As part of your treatment, you can also seek outsupport groups and use self-care techniques like proper diet, rest and exercise.
  6. Managing PTSD. Almost eight percent of Americans will experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lives. PTSD can be difficult to manage, but with proper treatment and care, recovery is possible. There are many effective ways to treat PTSD, including cognitive therapy, group therapy and medication. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to helping veterans coping with PTSD with online resources for managing and recovering from this complex condition that can be used by non-veterans as well. Along with professional help, self-care techniquessuch as rest, exercising, limiting TV and even using a PTSD mobile app are just some of the ways individuals can lessen their symptoms and improve their mental health. PTSD affects not just those living with it but their loved ones, too. Friends and family can help by understanding the disorder andsupporting the loved one through their recovery. Veterans and their families in need of immediate help should call theVeterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.  
  7. Services and Supports. One in four Americans is diagnosed with a mental health condition in any given year. There are a variety of supports and services available for people living with mental illness. If you think you need help, call SAMHSA’s Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727) to get general information on mental health. Find atreatment services center, call the suicide prevention lifelineand learn more about other programs and services for mental health conditions. You may want to consult a professional for help assessing, diagnosing and treating a suspected mental health condition. Beyond a professional’s course of treatment, which may include therapy, medication or both, you may want to consider finding a support group. Groups like these bring together people with similar issues and help build a social circle of peers who understand what each is going through and provide valuable connections.
  8. Fitness and Mental Health. New medical and mental health research continues to uncover the effect of exercise on mental health. Mental health practitioners often prescribe exercise as part of their treatment plans. Among the benefits of regular exercise are reduced stress, improved mood and and better sleep. Consider which physical activities you enjoy doing – perhaps walking, swimming or an exercise class – anddevelop an exercise plan. Be sure to start slowly and work your way to a higher level of fitness. Perhaps you’ll want tobring along a friend the next time you work out. The federal guidelines for physical activity can help you get started and understand your goals. Track your exercise, diet, weight goals and more with the Supertracker. Older Americans can find great exercise routines and plans that enhance endurance,strengthbalance and flexibility at Go4LifeCalculate your physical activity, set goals, and get moving!
  9. Employment and Mental HealthPeople living with mental illness come from all walks of life and work in all types of jobs. Employment can provide a sense of purpose, opportunities to learn and connections with others, all of which can aid in recovery. Since those who work spend more time doing it than ever – at least a third of the day – both employees and employers must understand how to accommodate mental health issues in the workplace. Employees can find a balanceto manage stress and other symptoms at work and at home. In addition, there are accommodations to help workers with mental health conditions stay productive on the job. Both theAffordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity Act protect your rights to health insurance that covers treatment for mental and behavioral health services. Employers can take a number of steps to support an employee with a mental illness and foster a psychologically healthy workplace.
  10. Caring for Someone with a Mental Health Condition. When you love someone with a mental health condition, coping with a diagnosis and understanding their experience is not always easy. Symptoms can be hard to understand and treatment may be time-consuming and difficult to navigate. Caregivers play an important role in the recovery process; fortunately there is support for managing stress and other needs of family and friends of people receiving mental health services. Thestress of being a caregiver can take a toll in many ways, so caregivers should make taking of care themselves a priority. NAMI offers the free NAMI Family-to-Family program for family, significant others and friends of people living with mental illness. The National 211 Program referral line connects people with important community services that include mental health services and support groups. If you or your loved one is in the military, there are resources availablefor caregivers, including the Give An Hour program, which offers free mental health services to U.S. military personnel and their families.
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Read past issues of the Disability Connection newsletter.

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