Screening for mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and bipolar, just might give someone the insight they’ve needed to believe that what they’re experiencing is beyond their control. It may also save someone’s life from death by suicide.
One in four Americans or nearly 60 million people are affected by mental illness every year. So why is it so hard for a person with mental illness to admit it and/or seek the help they need?
Because of the stigma, misinformation and shame that surrounds mental illness. Much of society does not understand it for what it is – a brain changer – a brain disease, and instead think of it as something a person can “just get over” as if they have the flu or a cold. But it’s not the flu or a cold or even cancer or heart disease. It’s a brain disease.
You see – by its simplest definition – a disease is something that changes cells in a negative way. When you change a body organ’s cells, you change the organ’s health and function. Breast cancer, for example, changes cells in the breast, colon cancer changes cells in the colon. Mental illness changes cells in the brain which is the organ that controls everything a person thinks, feels, says and does via neurons in the brain talking to one another and to and from neurons in other parts of the body via the central nervous system. Because mental illness is a brain changer – a brain disease – it is the changed brain function that makes a person with mental illness feel and behave differently than someone without it. Check out the 3-D Active SPECT comparisons below to “see” what anxiety and depression do in the brain – talk about elevated brain activity!
Just like other cell changers – cancer, diabetes, addiction – the causes of mental illness are varied as are its treatments.
For example, causes of cell changers in the brain include genetics. In the case of mental illness, this could mean a person has a genetic code for higher or lower levels of important neurotransmitters and/or receptors – serotonin or dopamine, as examples. Because the brain controls everything we think feel say and do via brain cells talking to one another and to and from cells throughout the body via the central nervous system, differences in neurotransmitter or receptor levels will change brain function. [Check out "Here's to Neural Networks and Neurotransmitters: Keys to Brain (and Therefore Emotional/Physical) Health!"] As for what can be done, given it’s genetic – one might consider medications that will boost and/or “do” what isn’t being done by one’s own neurotransmitter / receptor levels.
Other cell changers in the brain include head injury, such as that incurred in a sports head injury or an IED explosion or plowing into a tree, head-first, while sledding down a snow hill (see image at right). It also includes the brain’s neural network circuitry changes in response to trauma, such as emotional, physical, verbal or sexual abuse. And it can include neural network circuity changes associated with repeated activation of the brain’s brain’s fight-or-flight stress response system caused by stress.
The way one person’s brain reacts to the trauma as compared to another person’s brain under similar trauma is also a function of other individual variables.
As for what can be done about trauma in the case of mental illness (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD) related to the trauma – one option is cognitive behavioral therapy – helping the person re-wire how they react / respond to trauma triggering cues.
Another brain changer is alcohol or drug misuse. When consumed in quantities beyond the body’s ability to timely metabolize (rid the body of), the excess travels to the brain via the bloodstream and there changes brain function. You can learn more at this post, “Alcohol | Drug Abuse and Addiction – Diagnosing with the Help of SPECT.” As for what can be done in the case of the person using drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate” the emotional symptoms of their mental illness (because drugs and alcohol work on the dopamine neural networks, it makes a person feel good – at least initially) – one should reduce alcohol consumption to fall within low risk limits if one is NOT an alcoholic or reduce prescription drug use to amounts prescribed by a doctor for that particular patient if one is NOT a drug addict. If a person is an alcoholic or drug addict, they must abstain from using their substance entirely. Check out “Prescription Drugs – What’s the Big Deal?” and “Alcoholism is a Disease and It’s Not Alcohol Abuse.”
Screening for Mental Illnesses – Depression | Anxiety | PTSD | Bipolar
As all of this demonstrates, brain changers, such as mental illness, can be complicated, but they can be treated. The first thing to do is understand what it is you have and for that, I share Mental Health America’s online, anonymous screening tool for depression, anxiety, bipolar and PTSD. It’s call the M3 Screen and is a 30 question online screening test and is considered “one of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition.”
You don’t have to enter any of your personal information online to complete the screen. When you click on the highlighted link in the paragraph above, you can find a short video clip in the right column that explains this screen and its value. Something else to think about – if you are the loved one or close friend of a person about whom you’re concerned, you may wish to consider completing this screen based on your observations as a starting point from which to talk over your concerns with your loved one or close friend.
Please know, this is a screen – it is NOT a diagnosis, but it can help you decide that you need help, and it can help you in your conversations with your doctor, as well.
Help for Mental Illness
If you decide you do need help and don’t have a clue where to turn, consider these resources:
- SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Mental Health Treatment Facility Locator.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) | Mental Health Support, Education & Advocacy
- Bring Change 2 Mind – Videos, Facts and Stories From / About People with Mental Illness
- Chipur – founded and produced by Bill White, MFT, articles and help for those experiencing depression, anxiety, bipolar (mania)
And for a few last related posts, consider reading:
- Why is There Depression if We Can Control Our Thoughts
- Depression | What to Do When You’ve Tried Everything
- Bipolar Disorder | Dr. Fred Von Gunten Shares His Experiences and Successes
- PTSD Awareness Month
- Effective Dual Diagnosis (having both a mental illness and substance abuse problem/addiction) Treatment | Relapse Prevention
Reach out – there is help. Always know you can call the SAMHSA help line 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This help line can be used by individuals and family members facing substance abuse and mental health issues. Don’t go it alone. Please call.