Nearly 1 in 5 Americans had a diagnosable mental health condition in the last year and many others are at risk.  In the US, the likelihood of experiencing some mental health condition over the course of a lifetime is above 50%.  For almost 20 years, stress-related issues in the workplace have been on the rise. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that more than 8 out of 10 Americans sought services from a Primary Care physician in 2012.  And according to a Harvard Medical School report, more than 70% of those visits were related to psychosocial issues, including anxiety and depression.  That makes issues relating to mental health – psychological, behavioral and physical – one of the leading reasons for seeing a physician.

Despite the prevalence, too few seek help. 6 out of 10 individuals that need help for a mental health condition will never get it.  The reasons range from embarrassment or the fear of being stigmatized, to financial pressures or worry that an employer or coworker might find out.  The most common reason however, is a simple misunderstanding of what mental illness is and thinking that they don’t need help.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines mental illness as, “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.”  They go on to say that mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

This includes conditions like major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (problems regulating emotions and thoughts, or impulsive and reckless behavior).

These definitions do little to help improve the situation.  Very few people would admit to having a borderline personality disorder, yet nearly everyone admits to either having or having known someone who struggles relating well to others or maintaining good relationships.  77% of Americans admit to experiencing stress levels high enough to interrupt sleep, interfere with their thinking, and cause physical health issues.  Both of these examples fit the symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

More to the point, both of these examples disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, and ability to relate to others – the definition of mental illness.  Anyone who has struggled in a relationship, has lost someone they love, or lost a job; anyone that is using alcohol or other substances to cope with the troubles of the day, knows how much these and other events like them affect our feelings, mood and the ability to relate to others.

Where we go wrong is thinking that our stress, depressed mood, anger, interpersonal conflicts, drinking and other addictive behaviors, all the things that interfere with feeling happy, are “normal” and not severe enough to seek help.  Because of our misunderstanding of what mental illness is, we continue to suffer.  We think that our mood and emotions are something you just “get over,” so we turn to drinking, missing work, over or under eating, over or under sleeping, and we ruin potentially loving relationships rather than seek help.

one-halfMore than half of the population of the US will experience a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetime.  It may take more time for some folks before their coping skills start to wear down.  But under the right circumstances, anyone can become distracted to the point where it affects how they relate to others.  This behavior will begin to negatively impact their daily functioning.

The misconception is that those who are strong don’t ask for help.  But as the Director of the US Army Suicide Prevention Program said, “Resilience and seeking assistance is a sign of strength.”  Sometimes it takes greater strength to ask for help.

If you’d like to learn more about this subject, our Capital EAP counselor would welcome your call.