The Citizen’s Research Council of Michigan reported that of the more than 1.3 million Michigan residents in need of mental health care, less than 50% of adults and less than 40% of children receive care.
The barriers to accessing treatment are complex. In addition to the difficult shortage of medical professionals in Michigan, because mental health issues often cloud perceptions and diminish the ability to energize and act, the person with mental health issues must often depend on others to access care. Although there are educational programs on the signs of mental health problems, too few people have access to them.
We continue to hear tragedies in the news of people acting on distorted thoughts and feelings, carrying out suicides, filicides and shootings – resulting in tragic heartache for many. Like any disease, mental health problems have a beginning and are less complex to treat at first. Because mental health issues can impact many aspects of a person’s life – work, school, family, friends, legal and general health – outcomes for severe and mild mental health issues are much better and cause far less disruption when conditions are tackled early.
Raising awareness of common signs that you or someone you care about may have a mental health issue is the first step to getting help.
Changes in daily habits like sleeping and eating are classic symptoms of mental health issues that cut across all age groups. Insomnia, nightmares, or waking up early enough to interfere with daily functioning is reason to speak with a medical professional. According to The Sleep Foundation, 75% of people with depression and 90% of people with traumatic stress disorder experience difficulty sleeping. Too little or too much sleep can quickly impact work, school, and relationship functioning.
Changes in eating habits resulting in weight gain or loss could indicate a medical condition or maladaptive response to stress. Preoccupation with eating or not eating can be an indication of the development of a more serious eating disorder and have serious physical and mental health consequences over time. Adolescence is a particularly vulnerable period for the development of anxiety and permanent obsessions around food, which has a negative impact on self-esteem and general health. Decreased appetite and loss of interest in food are common symptoms of depression in older people, according to International Psychogeriatrics.
Thoughts of hurting yourself or others
Without exception, if you or someone you know has thoughts of harming yourself or others, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by dialing 9-8-8 for support. free and confidential 24/7 counseling for people in mental distress.
Mood swings, extreme emotions
Mood and expression of emotions normally change throughout the day. We can feel good, bad, cry and laugh in a matter of hours without worry. When mood changes drastically for seemingly no identified reason, highs feel too high or last too long, lows limit normal activity, fears are exaggerated, or anger or anxiety increase at the slightest disturbance, it’s time to talk to a professional.
Changes in social habits – withdrawing from activities or avoiding being with others in a way that was previously enjoyed, is an observable indicator of a mental health problem warranting assessment. Much attention has been paid to social isolation and its impact on mental health since the start of the pandemic. 66% of adults reported increased anxiety due to COVID-19 social distancing practices (AARP); increase in emergency department visits by adolescents reporting suicidal thoughts is linked to social distancing from COVID-19.
Generally, young and old people behave predictably in similar situations. Noticing changes in behavior can be key to early recognition of a mental health issue – when the punctual person shows up late repeatedly, the very responsible person doesn’t attend to daily activities, the light drinker regularly has a few more , the well-groomed, well-groomed person begins to show off unkempt or dirty, or the mile-a-minute chatterbox is now silent. Behavioral changes can be a sign of difficulty coping with stress, depression, or something more serious. The well-behaved child who suddenly begins to have angry outbursts or who refuses to listen or cooperate may be dealing with something he doesn’t know how to describe. It warrants seeking professional assistance to understand the cause.
Physical symptoms of stress
Expression of emotions through physical symptoms is common in children and adults – muscle tension, headaches, stomach pain and gastrointestinal upset – are common and, when unresolved, can result in the creation or aggravation of chronic medical conditions. Consult a healthcare professional to determine the cause and recommended treatment.
Everyone better pay more attention to their mental health, whether your situation is life-threatening or preventing you from enjoying life to its fullest or reaching your potential. Increasing individual awareness of yourself and others around you can save lives and prevent the complexities of untreated mental health issues.
Note: Hegira Health, Inc., is a leading provider of behavioral health care services with clinics in the Western Wayne and Downriver communities. Mental Health First Aid and Suicide Prevention Question, Persuasion and Guidance (QPR) trainings are offered free of charge to community groups. For more information, visit www.hegirahealth.org.
About the Author, Carol Zuniga, MS, LLP, CEO of Hegira Health, Inc. is a licensed psychologist with over 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry