Mental Illness is a Surmountable Obstacle

~ Guest post by Jackie Cortez

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illness. And while treatment is available, it’s often underutilized.

For many people, mental illness can be something that troubles them periodically in life but never something that incapacitates them. For others, mental illness can be completely debilitating. What’s important is recognizing mental illness and treating it with the best approach for people so they may live healthy, productive lives.

Inner turmoil

While there are social stigmas attached to mental illness, it is the self-stigma that can be the most dangerous to a person’s overall well-being. A person with a mental illness may feel ostracized from his peers and turn to outward or inward destructive behaviors to cope. These may materialize as bursts of aggression, depression, or isolation or as reckless actions including sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse and drug abuse. A mental illness makes it difficult to see past the negative aspects of today to the bright and beautiful possibilities of tomorrow. It is estimated that more than 90% of suicides are committed by persons with a diagnosable mental disorder. Approximately half of these individuals will struggle with drug or alcohol abuse before their death.

Physical self-care

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, you should take extra care to take care of yourself. Stress takes a toll on the body and can cause headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, upset stomach, and fatigue. These symptoms’ impact can be lessened through protecting your physical health. It is easier to maintain good mental health habits when your body – your foundation – is strong.

It is important to exercise daily. This may be done individually or in a group setting as exercise provides the body with natural stress relief hormones. Maintaining a balanced diet devoid of processed foods, including sugars, additionally goes a long way toward whole-person health. Sleep is essential and most adults require between seven and nine hours each night; a brief 30 minute nap in the early afternoon can also offer a person with a mental health disorder a bit of a boost. Most importantly, drugs and alcohol should be avoided completely as, despite common belief, these substances actually exacerbate stress and depression.

A mental illness will not go away overnight. However, many people find they are less affected when they practice these good mental health habits:

Avoid guilt

Negative emotions happen and it is important not to dwell on them or pass judgment. Understand that it is how you react to these emotions that matters. Recognize them but don’t get caught up in the moment.

Pay attention to the positive

Even in your deepest, darkest hour, positive things are going to happen in your day. It could be as small as a glimpse of the mountains or fresh ocean breeze. When they happen, pause and enjoy. It may help to keep a journal and write down one good thing that happens each day. You can go back and read about your happy days when you’re feeling sad or stressed to remind yourself that not everything in life is bad.

Find strength in numbers

There are virtually countless support groups in every city in every state for people struggling with mental illness. You can perform a quick online search for groups in your area. Know that you cannot solve things on your own and there are people out there who, like you, are dealing with invisible and taboo issues. Spending time with others will not only help you get things off your chest but will keep you connected to the world around you.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health issue, such as depression or drug abuse, get help. Always remember there is no shame in asking for assistance from others, be they medical professionals, family, or friends. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to look at the world with a fresh set of eyes.

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~ Jackie Cortez works with The Prevention Coalition to identify and highlight resources on every aspect of substance abuse, ranging from prevention to addiction treatment. Her mission is to use her writings to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

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Is Drug Addiction a Mental Illness?

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I’ll get right to the point: YES, drug addiction is a mental illness. Let me explain the two main facets of drug addiction. First, there is the physical aspect of it – the physical craving for the drug because of the person’s chemical dependency upon the drug. In the case of alcohol, one will find that once they take a drink they will not be able to control the amount of alcohol they consume thereafter no matter how hard they try.

Second, there is the mental aspect of it, which is the obsession of when, how, how often and how much of the drug one can get. The addict’s thoughts are consumed with obtaining and retaining access to their drug of choice. It is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder in my opinion, and it is lethal. It is not a moral shortcoming. It is not a choice. It is not a sin. It is not a lack of discipline or will-power. It is a mental illness!

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug addiction qualifies as a mental illness because “addiction changes the brain in fundamental ways, changing the person’s normal hierarchy of needs and desires and substituting of new priorities connected with procuring and using the drug.”

While the addict may have crossed the line into non-choice when it comes to using his drug, he does always have the choice of whether or not to get treatment for his illness/addiction, just like one who has bipolar or schizophrenia can choose to get help for his illness or not.

However, as in the case with many mental illnesses, sometimes a primary symptom is that which tells the person that they don’t have the illness. This symptom is called denial, and unfortunately, it can delay treatment long past what is appropriate or safe for the individual.

Resources:

National Institute on Drug Abuse
Alcoholics Anonymous
Al-Anon
Narcotics Anonymous
Am I Alcoholic? Quiz
Am I Drug Addicted? Quiz
Self Test for Teens