Adjusting Frames of Mind

Time to take stock of your emotional well-being with Mental Health Week

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

More people commit suicide in the United States than die in traffic accidents each year.

In 2007, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death for all age groups, with more than 34,000 lives taken – nearly twice the national homicide rate – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For those doing the math, that’s one suicide every 15 minutes, or about 94 needless deaths that occur every day.

Perhaps most troubling, many, if not all, of these deaths could have been prevented with appropriate interventions involving medication, time, support and professional therapy or counseling. Common mental illnesses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD), panic disorder and borderline personality disorder.

To make matters worse, each of these illnesses carry a stigma in our society that physical illness does not, causing many to feel ashamed or somehow responsible for their condition. But just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas or multiple sclerosis acts as an autoimmune disease beyond the control of the patient, mental illness is just that – an illness afflicting the brain with far-reaching emotional and often times physical consequences.

It’s important to note that mental illness cannot be overcome through will power and is not reflective of a person’s level of intelligence or “character.” Mental illness can strike individuals of any race, religion or socioeconomic status and is prevalent throughout the nation. In fact, it’s projected that by the year 2020, major depressive illness will be the leading cause of disability in the world for women and children. (Major depressive disorder occurs when a person has five or more symptoms of depression – including feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or pessimism -- for at least 2 weeks. These feelings generally interrupt sleeping and eating patterns.)

Of course, mental illness is a broad category and encompasses many forms, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) – a type of anxiety disorder that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event involving the threat of injury or death – to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a distressing and obsessive preoccupation with perceived flaws in one’s physical appearance. What these seemingly disparate illnesses have in common are deadly consequences. Suicides of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan –many of whom likely suffered from PTSD – accounted for more deaths than combat last year, and, with a suicidal ideation rate of almost 80 percent, BDD is considered a major risk factor for suicide.

The good news is recovery is possible. Treatments range from medications to psychotherapyto transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technique which delivers magnetic field pulses – similar to those administered during an MRI imaging scan – to a region of the brain associated with depression, the left prefrontal cortex.

Today kicks off Mental Health Week. Will you reach out to someone you know who is suffering, or ask for help if depression, anxiety, OCD or some other mental illness has taken claim of your life? Help is out there. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

If you or someone you know wold like to get help from a mental health professional, call or click 1-800-therapist.

By Kyle Smith

Review Date: 
November 4, 2010