HealthWise By Krikor Jansezian

Making Mental Wellness A Priority

November 5th, 2013 – The holiday season is around the corner, and although this is thought of as a happy time, for many people it can be a time of high stress and anxiety. As the holidays approach, it’s important to remember that taking care of your overall health includes taking care of your mental wellness.

Almost everyone will experience a time of mental unhealthiness in their lives whether through mental illness or a stressful event, such as a move, divorce or death in the family.

One of the common myths about mental illness is that it only affects certain populations, but mental illnesses can affect anyone regardless of age, race, income or religion. In fact, 1 in 4 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.

While mental health conditions are highly treatable, getting access to the right care can be difficult. For many people it’s a lack of knowledge of the resources available right in their own community – but lack of knowledge isn’t the only barrier to mental health care.

Even when resources are available, access to care is restricted by the stigma associated with mental illness. People with mental illness are often portrayed as “crazy,” “dangerous” or even a “villain.” The fact remains that mental illness can affect anyone and with the right help you can get better.

According to a 2013 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 60 percent of adults, and almost one-half of youth ages 8 to 15, with a mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year. Research also shows that when people do seek treatment they are more likely to seek help from their primary physician rather than a mental health professional.

With about 1 in 17 – almost 13.6 million Americans – living with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder, mental health services are vital to our community’s well-being.

One of the best ways to keep our community healthy is to break the stigma and support our family, friends, neighbors and colleagues by encouraging them to speak up and seek help from a mental health professional as soon as they begin experiencing unhealthy behaviors or thoughts.

Long Beach has numerous mental health programs and support services tailored to help different populations like older adults, veterans, new moms and moms-to-be and youth and teens.

If you’re experiencing ongoing stress, anxiety or depression, treatment doesn’t have to mean hospitalization. One of the most accessible forms of mental health care is meeting with a therapist or a psychiatrist (physician) in an outpatient setting.

The outpatient setting is similar to visiting your doctor’s office. It is a safe and private place for people who may be experiencing mild or moderate symptoms of mental health conditions and who have symptoms that are manageable with less care. In this setting, people can schedule appointments for evaluations and therapy sessions.

One form of common treatment in outpatient care is psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy, which helps people not only understand their illness, but provides them with strategies and coping skills to reduce stress and address unhealthy behaviors or thoughts. These coping skills can be valuable in times of high stress, like the holidays.

Psychotherapy can be as simple as individual therapy, talking one on one with a licensed professional, or therapy involving a support system, such as group therapy, family therapy or couples therapy, all facilitated by a licensed psychotherapy professional.

The unique aspect of mental health care is that it’s individualized to meet the needs and goal of each person. As you meet with a psychiatrist, psychologist, nurse or the entire team, together you will develop your goals and determine the steps necessary to meet them.

Stress, anxiety, depression and even grief that go unaddressed can lead to more serious health problems, which makes seeking help for mental illnesses that much more important. Research has shown that individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.

Caring for your mental wellness is just as important to your long-term health as eating right and exercising. As we head into the holidays and a new year, remember to make mental health a priority, not just for you, but for your community.

(Krikor Jansezian, Ph.D., is the administrator of Community Hospital Long Beach.)