Mental health professionals and advocates annually celebrate May as Mental Health Month to promote messages of health, healing, and hope. For 2015, the Mental Health Month theme is “B4Stage4”, and here’s why: mental health concerns are no different than physical health ones. Most importantly, they should be identified and treated the same way – long before they reach Stage 4. This year’s theme brings attention to the importance of addressing mental health symptoms early, identifying the underlying “disease” (or diagnosis), and developing an appropriate course of action.
We don’t wait years to treat cancer, diabetes or heart disease; we start before Stage 4, and we begin with prevention. Individuals who are at risk for certain illnesses are screened early, and are given advice about things they can do to lessen their risk. People who begin to show symptoms that can be early stages of a physical illness, like a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, are immediately treated to address those symptoms. Symptoms like these shouldn’t be ignored, but should lead to a plan of action to reverse the symptoms and hopefully stop the progression of the disease.
Many people experiencing early stages of mental illness don’t seek treatment; often because they and/or their families don’t recognize these symptoms, or they believe it’s a passing phase or not anything serious. They may not understand that mental illness is a brain disease, is common (about 1 in 4 Americans will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime), and is treatable. There are many treatment options and it may take time to find the treatment that works best for an individual. But when treatment works, the results can be life changing.
When feelings and emotions become overwhelming, it’s hard to know what to do. Like a cough, these symptoms may never get serious or go away on their own, but they might be a sign of something more severe. To determine if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition, there are screening tools available, both online and through healthcare agencies. In addition, your primary care provider is often the best place to discuss symptoms or concerns; if that’s not possible or comfortable, talk with a family member or friend who can be a support to help you.
Research has demonstrated that just as with physical health, ignoring mental health symptoms can lead to a loss of up to 10 years in which intervention could change lives for the better. During those 10 years, many still have supports, allowing them to function at home, school, and work, and with friends and family but progress in the illness. Intervening effectively during the early stages of mental illness can dramatically improve, and possibly save, people’s lives.Mental health plays an important role in our lives. It’s up to us to know the signs and take action so that physical and mental illnesses are caught early and treated. Be aware of your overall health and get screened B4Stage4.
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