The images evoked by the phrase “mental health” are too often based on false stereotypes and misconceptions. One of four people suffers from mental illness, but it is not apparent or obvious. Most are certainly not homeless or disabled by a severe psychosis that requires in patient treatment. Minding Your Mind is fielding programs to dispel false images. We do not stigmatize a child who has severe asthma or juvenile diabetes. He or she is given sympathy, understanding, treatment and support. We should view someone with a mental health disorder in the same context; as someone who has a physical ailment that can be treated successfully given today’s range of therapies. An individual with a mental health disorder is normal, just like the individual who suffers from diabetes or asthma.
Given the onset of mental illness during adolescent years, MYM has created an aggressive outreach program focused on middle and high school students. Facts support the value and urgency of changing the way people think and deal with mental health issues in our school communities. Consider these statistics:
These facts underscore the correlation between impaired mental health and self-destructive behavior among our youth.
The data from numerous studies clearly reveal that untreated mental disorders have considerable costs to adolescents, their families and our society in general. Risky, self-injurious behaviors as well as difficulty in maintaining healthy peer and familial relationships are outcomes that can be prevented.
When the early signs are recognized and treated, the likelihood that a young person will engage in risky behavior or develop a severe or chronic mental illness is much less likely. Early intervention efforts are effective in contributing to the overall mental well-being of children by reducing delinquency, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and school failure.
A key to encouraging treatment is to end the suffering in silence that has a root cause — stigma. By engaging in open discussions to dispel misconceptions, more people will seek treatment. This will ultimately yield a broad range of benefits to families as well as our society.
It is very important to clarify what “mental health” means. For our purposes, we follow the guidelines outlined by the Surgeon General.
Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General notes that mental health and mental illness are not mutually exclusive categories but are points on a continuum ranging from positive mental health through mental health problems to mental illnesses. The report defines these constructs as follows:
Mental health—a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity.
Mental health problems—signs and symptoms of insufficient intensity or duration to meet the criteria for any mental disorder. Mental health problems may warrant active efforts in health promotion, prevention, and treatment.
Mental illnesses—all diagnosable mental disorders, health conditions characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.ii
People can and do recover from mental disorders.
For information on specific disorders and behavior:
i Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention September 7, 2007 / 56(35);905-908.
ii Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services (2007). Promotion and Prevention in Mental Health: Strengthening Parenting and enhancing Child Resilience, DHHS Publication No. CMHS-SVP-0175. Rockville, MD