It is currently estimated that 20% of all children and adults in our nation are struggling with some type of mental health issue at any given moment. Likely one out of every five people you see in almost any setting is dealing with mental health problems that may be affecting their ability to function.

 Mental health problems affect individuals of all different ethnicities, ages and genders. There are certain biological predispositions or negative life experiences that may increase the likelihood an individual develops a mental health disorder. However, these disorders develop within individuals from all walks of life regardless of income level, family structure, location, education level or political affiliation.

Knowing that mental health problems are occurring all around us helps reduce the stigma commonly associated with these diagnoses in the past. However, it is estimated that many individuals facing mental health concerns wait approximately eight to 10 years before seeking help. The lost time, experiences and productivity in these lives is staggering, considering approximately half of serious mental illness symptoms are observable by age 14, and the majority are observable by age 24. Not being able to function up to our full capacity during these formative years has an extremely negative impact on our ability to live up to our full potential later in life. Additionally, suicide is the third leading cause of death in individuals age 10 to 24, following only homicide and unintentional injury usually in the form of automobile accidents.

Seeking help is not always an easy option for individuals. Research suggests that having support from others is one of the leading factors in an individual’s choice to work on their symptoms. Supporting anyone in your life who struggles with a mental health problem will greatly enhance their ability to seek help and experience symptom relief. However, some individuals are often unaware of what mental health problems may look like in themselves or others. It has been suggested that in our society we have a tendency to downplay problems that are not easily definable or that we cannot attribute to an external source. As a result, individuals with mental health problems often feel alone and misunderstood, or are themselves unaware of their problems and simply think everybody endures their struggles the same way.

Observable symptoms of mental health problems can vary depending on diagnosis and age of the individual. However, there are many common symptoms. Chronic fatigue, concentration problems or an overt refusal to discuss oneself may suggest that an individual is struggling with their mental health. Sadness, withdrawal, inability to relax, excessive worrying, and changes in appetite are common symptoms as well. Engaging in impulsive acts that are potentially harmful or using drugs or alcohol to cope with life suggest that an individual is struggling with possibly more severe mental health concerns. Whether a given symptom is major or minor, it is likely affecting the individual’s ability to enjoy their life to the fullest. Being vocal and supportive regarding treating mental health concerns can often be the deciding factor for an individual to embark on a positive life changing journey.

By refusing to ignore warning signs of problematic mental health, we begin to remedy the problem. Assuming that an individual is addressing their mental health concerns by acting out in a negative way such as harming themselves is not a solution. The less we stand by and allow individuals to suffer with mental health problems the greater the likelihood that an individual may seek treatment and that their symptoms will decrease. Ignoring somebody struggling with poor mental health should no longer be considered an option and forwarding the message that change is realistically possible should always be at the forefront of our thoughts when dealing with individuals that are struggling with problems in life.

It is a false assumption that individuals struggling with poor mental health have brought it upon themselves or deserve to feel the way they do based on their previous actions or behaviors. Mental health problems are at times accompanied by symptoms that result in financial problems, legal problems, relationship problems, family problems, anger, and self afflicted injury. When we view these individuals as somebody struggling with a mental health problem, instead of as a problem themselves, we start the healing process. Simply hoping that people learn their lesson as a result of negative consequences is not a strategy to solve mental health problems. As a society we need to begin seeing individuals struggling with mental health problems as more than people who made poor choices in life. Refusing to view individuals with poor mental health as unable to be happy, despite the fact that we may feel they are given every option to feel happy, begins to acknowledge the problem.

Change never happens on its own. There was always in some way, shape, or form, a problem that required a solution. Problems can come in very large forms such as a life or death situation, or very small forms. Defined problems are the precursor to all change events. Not seeing a problem in a certain area will equate to never making a change. Once we define the problem, change is possible. Identifying, acknowledging and addressing mental health problems in individuals are how we improve the negative effects associated with mental health symptoms. Acknowledging mental health problems in yourself or others must occur before change can happen. Please, refuse to allow mental health problems to go unnoticed, unspoken or untreated.

Mental health services for children, teens, adults, couples and families are available at Therapeutic Services Agency, Inc. offices located in Pine City, Cambridge, North Branch, Lindstrom and Coon Rapids and in schools located in Pine and Chisago Counties. For more information please visit www.hoperealized.com or visit TSA’s Facebook page or call 320-629-7600 or 651-224-4114.

For crises mental health service contact the Crises Connection line at 1-800-523-3333, and for information about other providers in the community visit AdultMentalHealth.org.

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