By Sander Koyfman, M.D.
Did you know that one in every 25 adults in America lives with a serious mental illness and half of those begin experiencing symptoms by age 14? Mental illness cuts across all ages, races and socio-economic groups but many who experience symptoms or signs do not get the help they need.
We frequently think of mental health and substance use issues affecting some but sparing others. Reality is often simpler and more complicated. Though access to care, diagnosis and exposure to trauma may differ across socioeconomic layers — resulting problems impact all of us in essentially same ways.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 60 percent of those with mental illness received no treatment in the previous year, and only 4.1 million of people dealing with substance use problems receive treatment every year. The statistics are startling and point to the fact that there is a real need to improve treatment rates for all Americans.
It is not uncommon to experience feelings of depression, anxiety, fear or exhaustion — especially when taking care of others or dealing with immediate stress. Impact of trauma and sleep problems on our daily resilience cannot be understated. When these problems become overwhelming — affecting your daily routine, making it impossible to function, rest and recover — talk to your loved ones and your doctor. Your physician is your partner in health. Don’t hesitate to let them know what you are dealing with. Remember, you are not alone.
Schedule annual wellness visits, even when you are not sick to keep your doctor involved and aware of your health. Just as you would talk to your doctor about pain in your arm, or problems with vision, you should share any feelings you are experiencing.
Here are some red flags to keep in mind for yourself or someone close to you. Don’t hesitate get help right away:
• Thoughts or plans of suicide (or of hurting himself or herself)
• Inability to eat or sleep
• Lacks interest in usual activities for many days
• Unable to find pleasure in things they’ve enjoyed in the past
• Emotions that interfere with daily activities and last more than a few days
• Trouble breathing
• Sweating more than usual
• New or unusual symptoms that cause concern
In addition to seeking help when you need it from a doctor or other medical professional, it is important to remain physically active and eat well to maintain a healthy state of mind. Just like not putting the right kind of gas in a car, there is mounting evidence that even your brain can be damaged if you fuel it with too much processed foods or refined sugars.
Most importantly – paying attention to how you feel is just as important as following your blood pressure or weight. Keep in touch with your doctor, friends, family and social networks –this can be an important way to maintain a social safety net to catch you if you fall.
Sander Koyfman is a board-certified psychiatrist who serves as the medical director for behavioral health at Wellcare Health Plans, Inc. He graduated from New York University and the State of New York Downstate Medical Center College of Medicine and completed his psychiatric training at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.