October is Mental Health Awareness month. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA) mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thought, or behavior (or a combination of these things). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work, or family activities. According to the APA, in a given year nearly one in five (19 percent) United States adults experience some form of mental illness. Of that 19 percent, 4.1 percent has a serious mental illness. Mental illness can be a difficult topic, as those who suffer from a mental illness tend to not talk about their struggles. It is important to bring awareness to this subject so those who are having trouble can seek help.

It is not always clear when a problem with mood or thinking has become serious enough to be a mental illness. Sometimes symptoms are normal, for instance a depressed mood after the loss of a loved one. Depressive symptoms can also relate to a thyroid condition, so it is important that a full evaluation, including a physical examination, is done to rule out other causes.

There are different kinds of mental illness including but not limited to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety disorder, multiple personality disorder, substance abuse disorders, as well as eating disorders. The need for treatment of mental illness symptoms all depends on the severity of said symptoms. This includes how much distress they may cause or how much they affect your daily living. It is also important that the risks and benefits of different treatments are taken into consideration. Some mental illnesses can be treated with psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is the treatment of mental disorder by psychological rather than medical means. About seventy-five percent of those who use psychotherapy as a treatment process benefit from it. There are also, of course, medical means of treating a mental illness such as using antidepressants to help with certain illnesses.

Primary care physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health physicians can help individuals and families not only understand mental illness but also how to control or cope with their symptoms in order to improve their health, wellness, and daily functions. Sometimes a mental illness can be so debilitating that it may cause you not to be able to work. This is where Social Security Insurance or Social Security Disability comes into play. To qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (SSDI) you must have an impairment that prevents you from working for at least 12 months and you must have worked and paid into the Social Security program (payroll taxes or FICA) for at least five of the last ten years. If you or someone you know is in need of help with a mental illness, please reach out to your primary care physician to begin finding the best course of action.