Taking Care of Your Mental Health
What is Mental Health?
Mentally healthy people have a positive self-image and can relate
successfully to others most of the time. They are able to handle lifeís everyday
challenges and changes as well as its traumas and transitions-loss of loved
ones, marriage difficulties, school problems, the challenge of retirement.
Persons who are mentally healthy may experience such occasional problems as a
brief depression, especially after a significant loss. However, persons
experiencing mental illness do not display the characteristics of a mentally
healthy person, e.g., the ability to handle the loss of a loved one.
Experiencing depression on a constant and sustained basis is a sign that help is
Unlike the short-term difficulties people may experience occasionally in
life, severe and persistent mental illnesses are diseases of the brain that have
psychological, biological and sometimes situational causes. Just like physical
illnesses, they range from mild to severe. Fortunately, most mental illnesses
are treatable and they have become much better understood in the last 20 - 30
years. Help ranges from counseling to medication to support groups and other
types of supports.
Recognizing and Addressing Problems
Mental health issues affect people of all ages, races, cultures and economic
conditions. There is nothing to be ashamed of if you are experiencing a mental
illness or have a friend or family member who is ill. You are not alone. Experts
estimate that one in six people in the U.S. experiences a form of mental
The first step in dealing with mental illness is to acknowledge and identify
the problems the person is experiencing.
A mental health professional should evaluate a person who is experiencing one or
more of the following symptoms as soon as possible:
Marked personality change.
Inability to cope with problems and daily activities.
Strange or grandiose ideas.
Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns.
Extreme highs and lows.
Abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Excessive anger, hostility or violent behavior.
A person who is thinking or talking about suicide or homicide should seek
About 20 percent of children suffer from diagnosable mental, emotional or
behavioral disorders. About five to nine percent of children ages 6 - 18 suffer
from a serious emotional disturbance.
The following symptoms are flags that potential serious problems may exist:
The child seems overwhelmed and troubled by his or her feelings and
unable to cope with them.
The child seems constantly preoccupied, worried, anxious and intense.
The child has fears or phobias that are unreasonable or interfere with
The childís school performance declines and doesnít pick up again.
The child has sleep difficulties, such as refusing to be separated from
one or both parents at bedtime, inability to sleep, sleeping too much,
nightmares and night terrors.
The child begins to act in a provocatively sexual manner.
Some symptoms or reactions are so serious that a pediatrician or a
psychiatrist should be consulted immediately:
The child talks about suicide. Children donít talk idly about suicide
to get attention. Once they have begun to talk about it, they also may have
begun to plan a way to do it.
The child appears to be accident-prone. In younger children, a succession
of accidents can become the equivalent of suicide attempts.
The child mutilates himself or herself in some way-cutting or scarring,
pulling out hair, or biting fingernails until nail beds bleed.
The child is using alcohol or drugs.
Types of Mental Illness
There are three types of major mental illness: major depression, bipolar
disorder (manic depression) and schizophrenia. A mental health professional
usually can determine whether a person has one of these illnesses, or is
experiencing difficulties for other reasons.
Major depression is characterized by a depressed mood that can range from
feelings of dullness or apathy to total despair. Anxiety, crying, difficulty in
concentrating, low self-esteem and thoughts of suicide may occur. Changes in
body functioning also are common: sleep disturbances, eating problems, energy
loss or agitation.
The most typical and obvious symptom, however, is a loss of interest in
people, events, activities and things that the person formerly enjoyed. In major
depression, the symptoms interfere with, or can actually prevent, the person
from leading his or her usual life.
Major depression can occur at any age. It has been diagnosed in all age
groups, from infants to the elderly. About one in four women and one in ten men
will report experiencing it during their lifetime.
Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)
Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mania alternating with episodes
of depression. During the manic episode, the individual experiences rapid,
unpredictable emotional changes; he or she may be both euphoric and irritable.
Energy level is high and the person can get by on very little sleep.
They may speak very rapidly as their thoughts race from one idea to another,
and they are easily distracted. They may have grandiose ideas or delusions, and
they often show uncharacteristically poor judgment-spending money wildly or
engaging in indiscreet sexual activity, for example.
Bipolar disorder occurs with equal frequency in men and women, and it
generally strikes before the age of 35. This disorder occurs less frequently
than major depression, affecting about one in 100 people.
People who have depressive disorders (major depression or bipolar disorder)
typically respond well to treatment. In fact, medications and psychological
treatments, alone or in combination, can help 80 percent of those with these
disorders. With adequate treatment, future episodes may be prevented or reduced
Schizophrenic disorders are chronic, severe and disabling brain diseases.
Approximately one person out of every one hundred develops a schizophrenic
disorder during their lifetime - more than two million Americans experience a
schizophrenic disorder in a given year. Although schizophrenic disorders affect
men and women with equal frequency, the disorders often appear earlier in men,
usually in the late teens or early twenties, than in women, who are generally
affected in the twenties to early thirties.
Treatment, typically a combination of medication and other therapies, can
relieve many symptoms of schizophrenia. An estimated one in five persons
There are other disorders that may cause serious distress, such as anxiety
disorders, eating disorders and adjustment disorders. For anyone experiencing
either a brief episode of mental or emotional distress or an actual mental
illness, recovery begins by acknowledging there is a problem and by reaching
out for help.
Where to Seek Help
Whether you are experiencing difficulty in coping with an immediate short-term
emotional difficulty or experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, help is
available. These are some resources available to you.
Health insurance. Most health care plans now require people to
designate a primary care physician. Many initial health consultations are
obtained through the primary care physician, who can make referrals to
specialized care, including mental health professionals. However, some
health care plans do not require members to go through their primary care
physicians to get referrals to mental health care. Check with your health
Local mental health authority (provider of publicly funded mental
health services). If you do not know the name of your local mental health
authority, contact the Office of Consumer Services/Rights Protection
(CS/RP) at the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation (TDMHMR)
at 1-800-252-8154. CS/RP staff can help people get into their local mental
Sources for this brochure include The National Alliance for the Mentally
Ill (NAMI), Mental Health Net Institute and the American Psychiatric
"Taking Care of Your Mental Health" is a collaborative effort of the Office
of Communications, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, and the Public
Information Office, Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.
Last updated 01/11/2005 09:47:00