Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. A new national report reveals that 45.9 million American adults aged 18 or older, or 20 percent of this age group, experienced mental illness, but the illness disproportionately targets African Americans.
• Research suggests that blacks are diagnosed with schizophrenia five times more frequently than any other group.
• 50% of African Americans who suffer from the “blues” or depression do not seek help.
• More black men die from heart attacks associated with stress than any other ethnic group in the United States.
• Poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are 4 times more likely to report psychological distress.
• African Americans are 30% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites.
• Non-Hispanic Whites are more than twice as likely to receive antidepressant prescription treatments as are Non-Hispanic Blacks.
• The death rate from suicide for African American men was five times that for African American women, in 2005.
• However, the suicide rate for African Americans is generally lower than that of the Non-Hispanic White population.
• A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233%, as compared to 120% of Non-Hispanic White.
There’s no specific identifiable cause of mental illness. Mental illnesses, in general, are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:
• Inherited traits
• Biological factors
• Life experiences
• Brain chemistry
Mental illness signs and symptoms can include:
• Feeling sad or down
• Confused thinking
• Excessive fears or worries
• Withdrawal from friends and activities
• Problems sleeping
• Detachment from reality (delusions) or hallucinations
• Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Significant changes in eating habits
• Sex drive changes
• Excessive anger, hostility or violence
• Suicidal thinking
Exams and Tests
Your doctor will try to rule out any physical problems that could be causing your symptoms, pinpoint a diagnosis and check for any related complications.
These steps may include:
• Physical exam
• Psychological exam
• Laboratory tests
Medications treat the symptoms of mental disorders. They cannot cure the disorder, but they make people feel better so they can function.
Medications work differently for different people. Some people get great results from medications and only need them for a short time. For example, a person with depression may feel much better after taking a medication for a few months, and may never need it again. People with disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, or people who have long-term or severe depression or anxiety may need to take medication for a much longer time.
Some people get side effects from medications and other people don’t. Doses can be small or large, depending on the medication and the person. Factors that can affect how medications work in people include:
• Type of mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia
• Age, sex, and body size
• Physical illnesses
• Habits like smoking and drinking
• Liver and kidney function
• Other medications and herbal/vitamin supplements
• Whether medications are taken as prescribed.
Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy,” is a way to treat people with a mental disorder by helping them understand their illness. It teaches people strategies and gives them tools to deal with stress and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. Psychotherapy helps patients manage their symptoms better and function at their best in everyday life.
Sometimes psychotherapy alone may be the best treatment for a person, depending on the illness and its severity. Other times, psychotherapy is combined with medications. Therapists work with an individual or families to devise an appropriate treatment plan.
Complications linked to mental illness include:
• Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
• Family conflicts
• Relationship difficulties
• Social isolation
• Substance abuse
• Missed work or school, or other problems related to work or school
• Heart disease and other medical conditions
When to Contact a Medical Professional
If you have any signs or symptoms of a mental illness, see your doctor, mental health provider or other health professional.
There’s no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you do have a mental illness, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help keep your symptoms under control.