Guest commentary: Mental Illnesses, discrimination, and support in Minnesota

Published 5:06 pm Friday, September 30, 2022

By Sue Abderholden

Executive Director of NAMI Minnesota

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) is October 3—8. It’s a time to raise awareness of mental illnesses, fight discrimination, and provide support to people whose lives have been impacted. This year it takes on significant importance because so many people are experiencing poor mental health due to the impact of the pandemic. Anxiety and depression have increased dramatically. We can see the angst in our community —  people with short tempers or who are easily frustrated.

Mental illnesses are common — one in five people are affected — so the time has come to talk openly about them so that people seek care early when it can be most effective. It’s also important to remember that it is a young person’s illness, with 50% emerging by age 14 and 75% by age 24.

Mental health, like health, is a continuum. There is good mental health, poor mental health, and then mental illnesses. While there are many things we can do to maintain good mental health, such as getting a good night’s sleep, staying connected to others, moving every day, and practicing mindfulness — it takes additional steps to address a mental illness.

The first step is identification. When we think about symptoms, we look at the length of time and intensity. People need to take the next step when they go on for several weeks and begin interfering with life. Symptoms include:

• Feeling sad

•Inability to concentrate

• Excessive worrying

• Changes in mood, stamina, sleeping patterns, eating habits

• Not finding pleasure in activities

• Withdrawing from friends and family

• Experiencing delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations

• Trouble coping with stress

• Overly emotional — bursting into tears, anger

• Headaches, stomach aches, racing heart

The second step is to reach out to your primary care physician or a mental health professional. You can find a mental health professional through your health insurance provider network or Fasttrackermn.org. Mental health centers around the state also provide sliding fee services.

The third step is to talk about it. Reach out to others if you need help with groceries, childcare, or cleaning your home. Having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. As with any health care issue, we sometimes need help, and it’s ok to ask for it. And if you know someone is struggling, reach in to them. Offer to help, take a walk with them, send get—well cards.

The good news is that recovery is possible — people do get better. The bad news is that our mental health system has never been built and we have increased needs and decreased access. NAMI Minnesota and others will continue to advocate at the legislature to increase funds for our mental health system so that treatment can be accessed when and where it is needed.

This MIAW week, take time to learn more about mental illnesses, mention the need for increased funding to people running for elected office, and reach out to someone you know that could use some support and help. NAMI Minnesota invites you to our FREE online class series for MIAW. Find the calendar on our website www.namimn.org.

Remember that if someone is suicidal or nearing a mental health crisis, call 988, where a trained counselor will answer your call 24/7.