SALT LAKE CITY — May became known as Mental Health Awareness Month by Mental Health America in 1949 to raise awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for all, especially the 54 million Americans with mental disorders.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Some of the serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.
"Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income," said Rebecca Glather, NAMI executive director of the Salt Lake City office. "Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character, or poor upbringing; and they are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.
"NAMI is a grassroots peer run organization, which means we’re individuals and families who have experienced mental illness ourselves or have a loved one who has experienced mental illness," Glather continued. "Because of that lived experience, we can share the things we’ve learned with others. NAMI has support groups and education classes taught by trained facilitators."
One of NAMI’s flagship classes is Family-to-Family, which defines mental illness, their symptoms and treatments, coping and communications skills, and laws for interacting with providers.
"The classes are taught by individuals who have navigated the systems and lived with loved ones who have dealt with psychosis or major depression, for instance, and can speak to family members in a unique way," said Glather. "Each individual is different. Some individuals need therapy and medication, while homeopathic remedies work for others. Some individuals have a seasonal effective element to their disorder and need the right light, while others with stress anxiety have to make sure their lifestyle doesn’t impede their health. Whatever an individual’s treatment looks like, those who receive treatment for a lot of these illnesses often return to whatever they want to do."
Mental illness often strikes individuals in their younger years. "Fifty percent of individuals who end up with a mental illness will have symptoms by the age of 14," said Glather. "Seventy-five percent will experience their first symptoms by the age of 24. We know that it hits people in the developing years. One of the impacts is it occurs when an individual is starting to plan a career or study in college. Because of the interruption, it can often mean an individual never gets a chance to say what a full and productive life would be for them. So they determine where they are at any particular point and determine what is meaningful in life to them."
To be mentally, healthy people can find a balance in their lives by spending time each day talking with God in personal meditation, said Kathryn Larson, a member of the Diocesan Commission for People with Disabilities and a member of Saint Helen Parish in Roosevelt. "Some people pray before getting out of bed, outdoors in nature, or attend daily Mass," she said.
For situational stress or depression, Larson suggests backing out of a situation emotionally for a moment to gather oneself. "Sometimes just stepping away for some deep breathing exercises will often relax an individual so he or she can continue in the situation. "It is also important to have hobbies and exercise for relaxation," Larson said.