By Theresa Nguyen, LCSW, Strategic Policy Analyst, Mental Health America
When we feel a nagging pain in our chest or see a strange mole on our skin, we’re usually comfortable asking our doctor to run tests to identify potential health problems. If we have a hard time getting out of bed, feel unnaturally agitated, or just feel like “something’s not right,” we often don’t know what’s going on or who to turn to.
Many who suffer with mental illness suffer in silence. We often suffer for months or years before seeking help. We don’t know how to make sense of what we feel. We don’t know how to tell our families or friends. Most don’t know what treatment is, or where and how to get help. Unfortunately hospitalization is often the first mental health intervention for many suffering from mental illness. As a clinician, I have had many families tell me, “We didn’t realize what was going on, but looking back it’s so clear now. We wish we could have gotten help earlier.”
Theresa Nguyen, LCSW, Strategic Policy Analyst, Mental Health America
With cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we usually don’t wait years to provide treatment. We have strong public health campaigns that promote education, early screening and treatment; but screening and treatment is just as essential for mental health. Identifying mental health problems early saves lives.
Healthcare professionals try to intervene for physical illnesses before they can reach stage 4, and we should have the same approach for mental illness. Treating mental illness before it reaches “stage 4” keeps people in school, helps them get and keep jobs, helps them stay connected to their family and friends, and ultimately helps people feel better. In other words, with early screening and treatment, what we’re really offering is life.
If the mental health community is serious about helping people and families in the fight against mental illness, we must promote education, early screening and treatment. Since Mental Health America launched MHAScreening.org in April 2014, over 120,000 screens have been taken by people across the US and internationally. People are looking for help and when they don’t know where to turn, many start on the internet. Online screening tools provide a private way to identify potential mental health problems, to learn more about what treatments are available, and even reach out to get help for the first time. Of those who screened and reported moderately severe to severe mental health problems, around 60% had never been diagnosed. Since diagnosis is often the first step in treatment, a majority of those who screened and need help may not be getting help. The earlier we can reach populations at risk for mental health disorders with our screening tools, the earlier they can receive the treatment they need.
Mental Health America (MHA) is proud to partner with AstraZeneca to act B4Stage4. At MHA, we believe in prevention for all, early identification and intervention for those at risk, integrated health and behavioral health treatment for those who need it, and recovery as a goal. Screening is an integral part of prevention, early identification and intervention.
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week 2014. Join Mental Health America, AstraZeneca, and our other partners and affiliates in promoting early intervention for mental illness through MHAScreening.org and#B4Stage4. As a community, we must work together to shift the conversations around mental health and help people obtain hopeful and meaningful lives.