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See past the stigma of mental illness

An outstretched hand in front of a sunrise (photo) appears to hold a brain (illustration).

Oct. 12, 2019—Do you know someone who struggles with a mental illness? It doesn't always show. A loved one, a co-worker—even the person you see in the mirror—could have a serious illness, like depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or an eating disorder, and you might not know it.

It pays to be aware

Learning the warning signs of mental illness can be a crucial step toward helping someone else or yourself. It's important to remember: There are different types of mental illness, each with its own specific signs. But common symptoms of mental illness in general may include:

  • Having excessive worries or fears.
  • Feeling unusually sad or low.
  • Having trouble concentrating, learning or thinking.
  • Having extreme mood swings, including high feelings (euphoria) on some days.
  • Feeling irritable or angry a lot.
  • Avoiding friends or social activities.
  • Having trouble understanding or relating to others.
  • Having changes in sleep habits, sex drive or eating (such as eating too little or too much).
  • Having low energy.
  • Having delusions or hallucinations.
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Having ongoing unexplained aches and pains.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by daily activities, problems or stress.
  • Thinking about suicide.
  • Having intense fear of weight gain or concerns with personal appearance.

A common, often-silent struggle

Unfortunately, all too many people who may have a mental illness don't talk about their symptoms. One reason? There's still a great deal of stigma around mental health conditions.

And that's dangerous, experts say, because baseless fear and shame keep many people from seeking the help they may need. They may think they're alone. But in fact, each year as many as 1 in 5 Americans has a mental health condition, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports.

Here are a few more key facts about mental illness in the U.S., courtesy of NAMI:

  • More than 7% of adults have at least one bout with major depression every year.
  • Nearly 3% of adults are living with bipolar disorder.
  • Almost 1% of adults have schizophrenia.
  • About 19% percent of adults experience an anxiety disorder in a given year.

How to get help

If you're worried that you or someone you know has a mental health condition, help is available. With a proper diagnosis and treatment, many people with a mental illness can begin to feel better.

To get help, you can start with your primary care doctor. He or she may refer you to a mental health professional for an evaluation. If you're worried about someone else's mental health, you may want to contact a state or county mental health authority. They may have information and resources for helping your loved one.

If you or someone you love could be suicidal, take it seriously. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 and talk to a trained crisis worker. They are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or call 911 to get immediate help if you think someone's life could be at risk.

Visit our Mental Health topic center to learn even more.

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