Courtesy of The National Alliance on Mental Illness Brazos Valley
When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4 — we begin with prevention. When people are in the first stage of those diseases and are beginning to show signs or symptoms like a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms. We don’t ignore them. In fact, we develop a plan of action to reverse and sometimes stop the progression of the disease.
So why aren’t we doing the same for individuals who are dealing with a potentially serious mental illness?
When you or someone close to you starts to experience the early warning signs of mental illness, knowing the risk factors and symptoms will help to catch them early. Often, family and friends are the first to step in to support a person through these early stages. Experiencing symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious, or hearing voices should not be ignored or brushed aside in the hopes that they will go away. Like other diseases, we need to address these symptoms early, identify the underlying disease, and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. Mental health conditions should be addressed long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process — before Stage 4.
Many people do not seek treatment in the early stages of mental illness because they don’t recognize the symptoms. Up to 84 percent of the time between the first signs of mental illness and first treatment is spent not recognizing the symptoms.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness Brazos Valley is raising awareness of the important role mental health plays in our lives and is encouraging members of the community to learn more about their own mental health. One in four adults has a mental illness diagnosis. Almost half of all adults will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives.
Mental illnesses are not only common, they are treatable. There is a wide variety of treatment options for mental illnesses. In addition, NAMI-BV offers peer and family support through support groups. It often takes time for a person to find the right treatment or combination of treatments that works for them. When they do, the results can be truly amazing and life changing. NAMI offers classes free to the public to help people learn what they can do both to protect their mental health and to help people know the signs of mental illness.
It’s up to all of us to know the signs and take action so that mental illnesses can be caught early and treated, and we can live up to our full potential. We know that intervening effectively during the early stages of mental illness can save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illness.
NAMI is the largest grassroots mental health nonprofit working to improve the lives of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI members are individuals living with a mental illness, family members, friends, and many others who care. NAMI provides education and support groups, and engages in research and advocacy to help people get the help they need. Go to www.namibv.org or www.facebook.com/namibrazosvalley for more information.