Mental Health Awareness Month
May 2022

Every year, millions of Americans experience the reality of living with a mental illness. Mental health awareness is essential for increasing well-being and reducing the stigma associated with mental health disorders.1 If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, it is increasingly important to understand what mental health is, common mental illnesses, signs, and symptoms of mental health disorders, risk factors, and available treatment options.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health refers to an individual’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Additionally, the state of someone’s mental health impacts their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It also determines how someone deals with stress, interacts with others and makes decisions.2

Mental health is equally as important as physical health, and certain mental health issues may even increase the risk of problems with physical health. For example, depression can increase the risk of long-lasting health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. The presence of chronic conditions can also increase the risk of mental illness.2

Treating mental health disorders is an essential aspect of mental health. Mental illnesses can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, geography, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, or sexual orientation.3

Additionally, the impacts of mental illness can be temporary or long-lasting. An individual may also experience more than one mental health disorder at a time. For example, someone may have a substance use disorder and experience depression simultaneously. 4

Mental Health Statistics

  • Over 50% of individuals will have a mental illness diagnosis at some point in their life 2
  • 1 out of 5 Americans experience a mental health disorder each year 2
  • 1 out of 5 children have had a severe mental illness at some point in their life 2
  • 1 out of 25 Americans have a severe mental health disorder, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression 2
  • In 2020, 25.8% of females and 15.8% of females had a mental illness 5
  • In 2020, 30.6% of young adults aged 18-25, 25.3% of adults aged 26-49, and 14.5% of adults aged 50 and older had a mental health disorder 5
  • 50% of lifetime mental illnesses begin by age 14, and 75% by age 24 6

Common Mental Illnesses

The most common classes of mental illness include neurodevelopmental disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar and related disorders, depressive disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive and related disorders, trauma-related disorders, dissociative disorders, somatic symptom and related disorders, eating disorders, impulse control disorders, addictive disorders, neurocognitive disorders, and personality disorders 7,8

Neurodevelopmental Disorders

Neurodevelopmental disorders usually develop in infancy or childhood, before grade school. Examples of this kind of disorder include autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning disorders.7

Anxiety Disorders

Individuals who have anxiety disorders feel fear and dread in response to or in anticipation of certain situations. They may engage in behavior that will allow them to avoid situations that cause anxiety. 7 They also exhibit physical signs of anxiety or panic, including a rapid heartbeat or sweating.8

Someone is only diagnosed with an anxiety disorder if their responses are not appropriate for a given situation, they cannot control their response, or if their anxiety interferes with daily functioning. 8

Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias. 8

Bipolar and Related Disorders

Individuals with bipolar disorder or a related disorder alternate between episodes of depression, extreme sadness, and mania, characterized by periods of increased activity, energy, and excitement.7

Schizophrenia Spectrum and Other Psychotic Disorders

Individuals with psychotic disorders exhibit abnormal thinking, perception, and awareness. 8  The most common symptoms of psychotic disorders include hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking and speech. 7 A hallucination is an experience of images or sounds that are not real. Delusions are false beliefs accepted as true, even when there is evidence that these views are incorrect. Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder are examples of psychotic disorders.8

Personality Disorders

People with personality disorders exhibit extreme and rigid ways of thinking, functioning, and behaving. These unhealthy patterns often create problems for the individual in work, school, and social relationships. They often interfere with the person’s ability to function normally. 8 Examples of personality disorders include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizoid personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder. 8

Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders

These disorders are characterized by repetitive thoughts or obsessions and repetitive actions in response to those thoughts. 7

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) includes persistent thoughts and fears that create compulsions to carry out specific rituals and routines. For example, someone with OCD might have an irrational fear of germs (obsession) and, as a result, constantly wash their hands (compulsion). 8

Other examples of these disorders include hoarding disorder and hair-pulling disorder (trichotillomania). 7

Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders

Trauma- and stressor-related disorders are characterized by an inability to cope or challenges coping during or after a traumatic or stressful life event. Examples of these disorders include acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 7

Dissociative Disorders

Individuals with dissociative disorders have a disrupted or distorted sense of self. Examples of dissociative disorders include dissociative identity disorder and dissociative amnesia. 7

Somatic Symptom and Related Disorders

Somatic symptoms and related disorders include symptoms that can cause significant emotional stress and functioning challenges. Individuals with these disorders may have another medical condition responsible for their symptoms, but their reaction to them is abnormal. 7

Examples of these disorders include somatic symptom disorder, illness anxiety disorder, and factitious disorder. 7

Eating Disorders

Someone with an eating disorder exhibits extreme emotions, thoughts, and behaviors related to weight and food. The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. 8

Impulse Control and Conduct Disorders

Impulse control and conduct disorders include problems with self-control, emotionally and behaviorally. 8

Impulse control disorders involve an inability to resist urges to engage in behaviors that could be harmful to the self or others. Some examples of these disorders include pyromania (fire-starting), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling.

Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders

Addictive disorders involve excessive alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and drug use. They can also include gambling disorders. 7

Alcohol and drugs are both addictive substances. Individuals with addiction disorders may prioritize the substance they are addicted to over responsibilities, relationships, and once enjoyable activities. 8

Neurocognitive Disorders

Individuals with neurocognitive disorders experience challenges related to thinking and reasoning. These disorders are acquired rather than developed and include delirium and disorders due to conditions or diseases like traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer’s disease. 7

Personality Disorders

Personality disorders are characterized by patterns of emotional instability and unhealthy behaviors that create problems in daily life and meaningful relationships. Examples of personality disorders include borderline, antisocial, and narcissistic personality disorders. 7

Suicidal Ideations

Suicidal ideation includes the thought of ending one’s own life. These thoughts may or may not include a suicide plan. Suicidal ideations can occur due to living with an untreated mental health disorder. 9

Warning Signs and Symptoms

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of the following signs or symptoms, it is important to speak with a mental health professional right away for a specific diagnosis and treatment based on that diagnosis. 10

A mental health disorder’s warning signs and symptoms may differ in adults, young adults, and adolescents than in older children and preadolescents, and younger children. 10

Adults, Young Adults, and Adolescents

Adults, young adults, and adolescents with a mental illness may experience: 10

Adults, Young Adults, and AdolescentsOlder Children and Preadolescents

Older children and preadolescents with a mental illness may experience: 10

Younger Children

Younger children with a mental illness may experience: 10

Risk Factors

Certain factors may increase someone’s risk of developing a mental health disorder. These risk factors include: 4

Treatment

There are several treatment methods available for mental health disorders. Treatment will depend on the type of mental illness, its severity, and the best approach for each individual. 7 The treatment option that works best may differ from one person to another, include a combination of multiple methods, and change throughout an individual’s lifetime. 11

A mental health professional can offer a diagnosis and recommend the best treatment option for each individual. Different treatment methods include self-help, medication, and psychotherapy. 11 A team approach may also be beneficial in some cases, especially when the mental illness is severe. 7

Self-Help Practices

Individuals who experience mental health challenges can often benefit from making healthy changes to their lifestyle in addition to other treatment methods. These beneficial changes can include things like: 11

People who have mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression, may benefit from engaging in techniques that promote relaxation, including deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness practices. 11

Additionally, an essential aspect of recovery from a mental illness is cultivating a strong support network. This network may include individuals from self-help groups, close friends, and family members.  11

Medication

Some individuals with mental health disorders take medications prescribed by a doctor as a form of treatment. While medications won’t cure a mental health disorder, they can improve symptoms and make it possible for individuals to engage socially and carry out a regular routine while improving their mental health. 11 They can also make other methods, like psychotherapy, more effective. 7

Some medications work by increasing the body’s absorption of feel-good chemicals, like serotonin, from the brain. Other medications can either boost overall levels of these chemicals or prevent them from destructing.11 Commonly used prescription psychiatric medications include: 7

Residential Treatment Programs

It may be helpful for individuals with more severe mental health issues to seek care from a psychiatric hospital. This type of treatment is especially recommended for individuals who cannot properly care for themselves or might be at immediate risk of harming themselves or others.7

These options can include 12-hour inpatient care, partial or day hospitalization, residential treatment, a supportive place to live while receiving treatment, or intensive outpatient treatment.  7

Sources