May is mental health awareness month

May is mental health awareness month – so how aware is the general population about mental health issues?

According to a recent survey in the US, 85 percent of Americans say that taking care of their mental health is as important as doing the same for their physical health. That is an encouraging number, but most also admit to knowing little about how to put their understanding into practice.

In my experience here in Canada, I find this statement holds true in our own communities as well. Our often overly busy lives combined with all the unrest happening around the world combine to make us aware of the delicate nature of our own mental health.

We also regularly hear of friends or family who are taking stress leave from jobs or are suffering from depression or anxiety, while other conditions are getting more air time in the media and on popular talk shows like Oprah and Dr. Phil.

Finally, it seems the general population is starting to seriously understand that mental health is just as important as physical health and that it can be affected by just as many factors.

In spite of this improved understanding, most mental illness still goes undiagnosed and untreated and a lot of people seem unsure of how to begin when they feel they may be experiencing a mental health problem.

Fear of stigma is a major part of this reticence. Many people don’t want to ask their doctor for assistance because they don’t want to have a label attached to their lives. But a lack of knowledge is equally to blame. In this study, only 24 percent of those surveyed said they know a great deal about treatments that exist for mental illness.

All of this is somewhat discouraging considering that effective treatments are available for most psychiatric illnesses. For example, the rate of success in treating depression is estimated to be between 70 and 80 percent, which is significantly better than the rate for some other chronic illnesses like heart disease.

If you think you may be experiencing a mental health issue, the first step is usually to talk to your family doctor about it. In many cases, this should be followed up by a referral to a psychiatrist – who is a medical doctor trained specifically to deal with mental health.

A visit to a psychiatrist can help to ensure you have been diagnosed correctly and set up with appropriate treatment for your condition. Follow up care is also important.

Treating a mental illness will involve more than a simple prescription for medication without any further discussion or appointments. It is important for your healthcare provider to meet with you over the course of your treatment to ensure it is effective.

I encourage everyone to continue learning more about their own mental health and the resources that are available in our community.


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