Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series of articles published to recognize Mental Health Awareness Month in May.
“I just had my 39th birthday which I think is important because I never thought I would make it to 30.”
So says Jane*. She is one of the one in five adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5% — who experiences mental illness in a given year. Her story began at age 12. She began experiencing hallucinations that continue to this day. Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24.
The good news is the National Alliance on Mental Illness has created 10 Warning Signs of Mental Illness. (https://bit.ly/2RPbTwy)
These warning signs apply to all stages of life whether teenagers, adults or the elderly. For the purposes of this article, our expert is Dr. Laura Stith, Chief Clinical Officer at Child Focus. Stith speaks from her experience from working with children, teens, and their families.
“Many parents are in the position of trying to figure out if their child is having normal teenage mood swings or if it is something more serious,” explains Stith. “The NAMI warning signs are specific and this is important.”
Here are three of the NAMI Warning signs:
1. Feeling very sad, withdrawn or unmotivated for more than two weeks. “All teenagers feel blue from time to time. But the specific of two weeks gives parents a very clear target to keep in mind,” in Stith’s experience with youth.
2. Making plans or trying to harm or kill oneself. “Recognizing this warning sign could mean the difference between life and death,” Stith emphasizes. “We cannot dismiss it by thinking that the person is being dramatic and/or attention seeking.” Stith emphasizes that it is absolutely essential that this person not be left alone (even for a minute) and that they be connected immediately with a professional. Suicide hotlines such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) and the national Crisis Text Line (Text HOPE to 741741) are available 24/7. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10–34.
3. Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships According to Stith, the key measure here is that the mood swings cause relationship issues, not just that a teen seems up and down. Stith says, “Parents should pay close attention if their son or daughter is suddenly not friends with people who have been their friends for a long time or if there is a sudden rift in relationships with relatives.”
NAMI has a program called Ending the Silence (ETS). ETS is a program that educates middle and high school students, staff, and parents about the warning signs of mental illness and suicide. The ETS for Students presentation is a 50-minute presentation that includes information about warnings signs, videos created by high school students, and information about how to get help. Contact NAMI for more details.
Information is the key. “Today, families simply do not know what to do when a loved one starts exhibiting these symptoms. They do not understand that there are practical, tangible warning signs that can empower them to aid us in the assessment process,” says Cheryl Williams, Clinical/Operations Supervisor of the Georgetown Talbert House. “Families will feel less powerless during this process if they document when their loved one starts exhibiting these symptoms. For us, as service providers, we can get their loved one the help they need sooner.”
Through NAMI, Jane was able to find help to manage her mental illness. Today, she participates and leads a support group related to her specific mental illness. Jane loves reading autobiographies about other people. She loves playing clarinet in the community band, and playing piano at her church. Today, Jane still lives with her mental illness but she knows she is not alone. “Through the support group I lead, I see other people in recovery, Jane says, “We support each other. We find strength in sharing experiences. That’s what NAMI is all about.”
We will continue to discuss the seven remaining warning signs in future columns. Together let’s end the silence.
To find out more, contact NAMI Of Logan and Champaign counties, Pete Floyd, president at 937-750-1702 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* (Name has been changed to protect anonymity.)
Danei Edelen is the Founder for the NAMI Brown County Ohio affiliate, the fastest NAMI Ohio affiliate established in NAMI Ohio history. She is on the Marketing and Communications Advisory Committee (MAC) for NAMI. Danei is also Mental Health columnist for the Brown County Press, the News Democrat, and The Clermont Sun. She educates high school and college students, police officers and businesses about mental health. She is a blogger for the Challenge the Storm, the Mighty, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and NAMI Ohio. Danei has 20 years of marketing experience working for technology companies like NCR, Oracle, and Amdocs. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications from Malone University and a Market Research Certificate from Northern Kentucky University. She can be contacted at (513) 436-0010 or email@example.com.