John McMillin: Mental health issues affect many, do not discriminate

John McMillin • Updated Aug 1, 2017 at 6:00 PM

Were you aware that mental illness affects one in five adults and one in 10 children in America? This staggering statistic comes from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Furthermore, mental illness is a leading cause of disability, yet nearly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment, and racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. are even less likely to get help, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Most people don’t think that United Way has much do with mental health. However, with so many people suffering from some type of mental health issue, it’s actually unavoidable. In fact, one in 17 people live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In working with United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland, we receive phone calls and visits on a regular basis from individuals or families who are either trying to cope themselves or with a loved one who has some mental health issue. In many cases, the person is, at first, seemingly able to function in day-to-day life. However, after closer inspection, it becomes evident that they are not well enough to avoid behavior caused pitfalls, which lead to arrest, abuse situations, consistent inability to hold a job and even arrest.

Half of all mental health conditions begin at 14 years olf, while 75 percent of mental health conditions will develop by 24 years old. It’s easy for families to miss warning signs since normal personality and behavior changes of adolescence may mimic or mask symptoms of a mental health condition. The best bet is, if you have any suspicion of a mental health issue, to seek early engagement and support.

It’s further important to note that mental health conditions also do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. When trying to access treatment, these communities have to contend with language barriers, varying qualities of life, a lower chance of health care coverage or providers and societal stigmas. 

As a result, minorities are less likely to receive treatment for their mental illness, have less access to mental health services and often receive a poorer quality of mental health care.

Should you or someone you know suffer and need help, the first step is to reach out to a professional, certified mental health counselor or an organization like the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There are many tools that can improve lives while on the way to wellness such as medication, therapy, social support and education.

Once you take the steps to work with a treatment team, it is possible to develop a complete and integrated recover plan that may include support groups, counseling, medications and other education. Remember, there is hope and there are strategies that will work for you or your loved one.

John McMillin is president of United Way of Wilson County and the Upper Cumberland. Email him at [email protected]

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