May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, roughly one in five people in the U.S. are affected by mental health disorders. Unfortunately, some people do not seek treatment due to embarrassment or shame.
Although some progress has been made, there is still more that can be done to change misconceptions about mental health issues. Mental health awareness month is a time to help get rid of the stigma and change the perception of mental illness.
As a healthcare traveler, you will likely encounter patients that have mental health issues. Having a better understanding of mental illness may help you be more compassionate and work more effectively with your patients. It may also help you recognize mental health issues that may be affecting you or your loved ones.
Signs of Mental Illness
There are many forms of mental illness that can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Common types of mental illness include depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Mental health issues may cause changes in personality, mood, and habits. Symptoms may vary depending on the illness but can include:
- Confused thinking
- Thoughts of suicide
- Prolonged sadness
- Inability to cope with daily activities
- Social withdrawal
- Excessive fears, worry, and anxiety
- Frequent outbursts of angry
- Feeling disconnected from oneself
- Sleep or appetite changes
Mental Health Issues Common to Healthcare Workers
Mental health issues are not unique to certain professions. Healthcare workers may be especially prone to certain mental health problems including:
Post-traumatic stress: Healthcare workers often deal with life and death situations, which can be stressful. Studies indicate that nurses have symptoms of post-traumatic stress at much higher levels than the general population.
Anxiety: Healthcare professionals may deal with difficult patients, emergency situations and deal with a lot of pressure every day. It’s not uncommon for medical workers that provide direct patient care to develop anxiety due to the pressure of the job.
Depression: Working in the medical field is not always uplifting. In some cases, it is upsetting. Healthcare workers may deal with death and dying on a regular basis. They also see situations that are tragic and heartbreaking. Without an outlet to deal with their emotions, depression can develop.
What Can You Do?
As a healthcare professional, there are things you can do to foster awareness of mental health issues.
- Tell your story. If you have had a struggle with mental illness, don’t be afraid to share your experience. It may help someone else.
- Find out if your healthcare facility has information on mental health screening. If it does, pass information along when it’s appropriate.
- Turn off your cell phone and computer and connect with others. Ask people how they are doing and really listen. Be a supportive friend, neighbor, and co-worker.
- Be honest with yourself. If you develop signs of a mental health problem, help is available. Don’t be afraid to be seen as “weak” if you need help.
- Find out what mental health resources are in your community in case you or someone you know needs them.
- Educate yourself on government mental health legislation and get involved in the issues you support.
Join in on curing the stigma around mental health by showing your support and sharing images that can be found here.