With World Mental Health Day fast approaching (October 10th), now is a good time to reiterate the importance of mental health care, as well as the importance of recognizing the warning signs of mental illness – not just within yourself, but in those around you who may be having their own mental health struggles.
According to the World Health Organization, as many as half of all mental illnesses begin in individuals as young as age 14. Adolescence is a time of both fun and opportunity, but it’s also a time for both physical and emotional changes – many of which can take some adjusting to. These can be everything from changes to the body (i.e. puberty), to friendships, or even issues in the home. Whatever the case may be, any type of major change can often cause feelings of panic, therefore resulting in changes in behaviour as well as personality. If these changes are not addressed and managed as early as possible, this can lead a teenager to turn to things like illicit drug use, alcohol, and other impulsive behaviours. Furthermore, the risk of developing a mental illness, such as depression, also increases. In fact, depression is the third-leading disease in the younger generation today, with suicide being the second-leading cause of death in individuals as young as 15 years of age, all the way up to age 29. In order to help children and adolescents get through the challenges that they may face in today’s world, it’s important to build their mental resilience. This will not only benefit their mental health and overall health in the short-term, but it will also prepare them for the long-term as well and will be a lesson that they can carry with them well into their adulthood. But in order to prevent mental illness and teach our children how to openly talk about mental health and any abnormal feelings they might be experiencing, that first begins with having a better understanding of how mental illness works, as well as knowing the early warning signs. If your child seems to be withdrawing or isolating themselves from their friends, family, or is not partaking in activities they once enjoyed, then this is a strong indicator that they may be struggling with something. While it isn’t always easy for adolescents to open up and discuss their mental health, it is something that should be strongly encouraged. Schools will also often have counsellors on hand and sometimes having that extra support can be beneficial for both the children as well as the parents. Of course, children and adolescents are not the only ones who struggle with their mental health. When it comes to mental illness, it does not discriminate and can affect people of all ages, including adults.
There are more than 200 different classifications of mental illness that can affect both children and adults, with the most common being anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Mental illness can be the result of traumatic events, stressful situations (i.e. being overworked), the breakdown of relationships (such as divorce); mental illness can also be genetic, or it can be the result of the environment or biochemical imbalances. In addition, once can develop a mental illness, such as depression, if they are experiencing certain health conditions, such as a chronic disease or cancer. Adults struggling with mental illness can experience social withdrawal, sudden bouts of anger or sadness (or prolonged sadness or irritability), excessive fears, confused thinking, delusions, hallucinations, unexplained physical ailments, substance use, as well as suicidal thoughts.
If you’re struggling with any of these feelings, it’s important to realize that you should never feel ashamed for wanting to reach out for help. One of the biggest reasons why individuals suffering from mental illness don’t reach out for help is due to the stigma that is, unfortunately, attached to so many of these diseases, and the fear of being judged by others. Ending that stigma is something that entities like the World Health Organization and Canadian Mental Health Association are working passionately and tirelessly on every single day, by way of informative tools, workshops, and other educational programs, as well as through social media.
Whether it’s you who is struggling with your own mental health or someone you know, it’s essential to have a good support system. This support can come from friends, family members, or a family physician. A family physician is actually a great starting point, as he or she will be able to refer you to the right places – such as to a psychologist or psychiatrist, as well as will be able to provide you with a list of different resources, such as support groups, that you could benefit from.
If you are (or know someone who is) in immediate danger, such as having thoughts of suicide, you should always have that addressed right away – either by calling 911 or going to your local emergency room.