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Mental Fitness: Just as Important as Exercise

Mental Health
Author name: Lee Health

mental health picture

A December Gallup poll reports that we’re feeling lousy about our mental health. Thirty-one percent of Americans defined their mental health or well-being as “excellent,” the poll reported. That’s the lowest figure since 54 percent in 2004.

Well, who wouldn’t feel a bit down in the dumps after a year in which Hurricane Ian ripped through our lives, the opioid crisis deepened, economic concerns swelled, the pandemic kept on, and other natural disasters?

Mental health experts like Dawn Belamarich, System Director for Behavioral Health, Lee Physician Group, say experiencing a natural disaster like Hurricane Ian and “feeling the effects of a year like 2022 can have a gradual impact on mental health. Individuals deal with traumatic events in unique ways, and it is vital that we become comfortable admitting when we are struggling and seek help, as needed.”

Mental health disorders are all around us and can affect anyone. And since mental health disorders are medical problems – just like cancer or diabetes – available treatments have been studied, improved, and deliver consistent results. These treatments vary by individual, and it is always best to seek the help of a professional when designing a treatment approach that can work for you.

Quick facts

The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that:

  • 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year
  • 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
  • 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
  • 50 percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75 percent by age 24
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 10-14

What is mental health?

Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, Dawn notes. The quality of our mental health helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. As with cancer, diabetes and heart disease, mental illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological.

“Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events,” Dawn says. “Mental illness can certainly be caused by a reaction to an environmental stressor like Hurricane Ian. Genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, trauma and abuse, and family history of mental illness can cause mental illness. With proper care and treatment, many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder.”

Mental illness can affect our physical bodies, too

As part of our overall health, mental and physical health are equally important components. Dawn cites depression, for example, as a mood disorder that’s more than just feeling down or having a bad day. If a person has a lower-than-normal mood that lasts for a long time and begins to interfere with their normal, every functioning, the person may be depressed.

“When we have a mental illness, we can experience distress and problems functioning at work, home, and social situations,” Dawn says. “Over time, an untreated mental illness like depression can increase the risk of physical health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Any type of mental illness can impact the immune system in different ways and increase physical illness.”

The major types of mental illness include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychotic disorders, including schizophrenia
  • Trauma
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance-use disorders

Warning signs and symptoms

The symptoms of mental illness can vary because each mental health condition has its own symptoms. But there are common signs of mental illness, which can include:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Pulling away from people and usual activities
  • Having low or no energy
  • Feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless
  • Smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories, you can't get out of your head
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming yourself or others
  • Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school

Source: U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Mental.health.gov

It’s okay to not be okay

Dawn says, “Just remember – it’s okay to not be okay.’ This makes you human, not weak. Early treatment can help reduce the long-term impact of mental health conditions in your life.”

(Learn here how to reduce the stigma of mental illness)

If you or someone you know has a mental health problem, there are ways to get help. Studies show that most people with mental health problems get better, and many recover completely.

Talk with your primary care practitioner

Your primary care practitioner can be an important resource, providing initial mental health screenings and referrals to mental health specialists. 

If you have an appointment with them, consider discussing your concerns. Go here for tips on how to bring up your mental health concerns and ask for help.

In a mental health crisis? Get immediate help

  • Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, or go to the nearest emergency room.
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
    • Call or text 988; Llame al 988 (para ayuda en espaƱol)
      Use Lifeline Chat here on the web (English only)
      The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. 
  • Veterans Crisis Line
    • Connect here to use Veterans Crisis Chat on the web 
      The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans and those who support them, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare.
  • Trans Lifeline
    • Call 1-877-565-8860
    • Provides peer support for the trans community. Run by and for trans individuals, the lifeline goes beyond direct services to include advocacy to combat oppressive systems.
  • The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline
    • Call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS before, during, and after pregnancy. Provides free support in English and Spanish. Sponsored by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.
  • Disaster Distress Helpline
    • Call or text 1-800-985-5990. This helpline provides counseling, coping tips, and referrals to local crisis centers for individuals experiencing emotional distress related to natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, and even the COVID-19 pandemic. Offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
    • The helpline is a free, multilingual, and confidential service. If you need support, call or text the number above to connect with a trained crisis counselor.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

We see you: Lee Health Behavioral Health Services

Lee Health Behavioral Health Services strives to address the diverse mental health needs of our community by providing psychiatric services and mental health resources. These include outpatient services for people 18 and older suffering from a variety of psychiatric disorders.

Services include new client evaluation, medication management, and psychotherapeutic evaluation and management.

For a consultation or to schedule an appointment with a Lee Health behavioral health expert, call 239-343-9180.