The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but for the estimated 1 in 5 Americans who are living with mental illness, this time of year can be especially difficult.
Many seasonal factors can aggravate symptoms: the weather is colder, the days are shorter, there are heightened social expectations and more opportunities for overconsumption, to name just a few. Unfortunately, many people suffer in silence.
“Most behavioral health issues go undiagnosed because of inadequate resources and lack of awareness. Less than half of all patients with mental illness receive treatment,” said Dr. Suresh Bhushan.
As the holidays wind down and you’re preparing to make changes in the new year, it’s important to evaluate your overall sense of well-being and seek help if you need it.
Common mental health problems
“The most common behavioral health problems, based on prevalence, are anxiety spectrum disorders, depressive disorders, bipolar disorders and schizophrenia spectrum disorders,” Bhushan said.
Anxiety is particularly pervasive — the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that about 18 percent of adults in the U.S. live with an anxiety disorder.
Symptoms are experienced differently and can be a moving target for many. Some patients have consistent symptoms on a daily basis, whereas others may differ day-to-day. For example, anxiety disorders can vary greatly, and often coincide with other disorder classifications, such as depression.
Common symptoms of anxiety include, but are not limited to:
- Excessive thoughts of fear and worry
- General/sudden sense of panic
- Chest pain, tightness and/or pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty concentrating
Diagnosing mental health issues
“Patients are usually referred by their primary care physician or by a counselor,” Bhushan said. The diagnostic process involves obtaining a thorough history from the patient, as well as from collateral sources such as the referring physician/therapist, and a mental status examination performed by the psychiatrist to assess the patient’s condition.
The body and mind connection
An important part of the diagnostic process is ruling out other potential causes that could be contributing to the problem. Many symptoms of mental illness are manifested in the body and, alternately, some physical diseases can cause symptoms that are typical in mental illness.
“The most common approach to treating behavioral health issues would be to first identify and treat any underlying medical conditions that may be mimicking psychiatric disorders,” Bhushan said. “For instance, severe anemia can cause anxiety, thyroid problems can cause depression, COPD and asthma can cause, or exacerbate, anxiety.”
Treating mental health issues
Just as the symptoms of mental illness are distinct to the individual, a successful treatment plan should also be customized for the specific patient. Addressing behavioral health problems is not a one-size-fits-all equation, but oftentimes people see the best results with a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
“The choice of treatment is based on a variety of factors ranging from age, sex, ethnicity, medication history, insight into the illness and support systems in the community,” Bhushan said.
Many treatment techniques used in psychotherapy aim to teach patients new ways of processing and reacting to particular stressors/triggers, with the goal of giving patients tools they can continue to use throughout their lives.
How to get help
Simply opening a dialogue about what you’re going through can be enough to begin the process. Reach out to a trusted family member or friend and explore other resources that may be available to you.
“Many employers offer employee-assistance programs that are confidential resources for staff,” Bhushan said. “And students should consider talking to a school counselor. These are good first steps, because they can provide informal supportive therapy and help the patient maintain stability and safety until they can receive professional assessment.”
A few resources in Las Vegas:
- Southern Hills Hospital RISE Behavioral Health Program treats people 50 and older for depression, anxiety, dementia, substance abuse and other behavioral health issues. Assessment is available by calling 702-916-6590.
- Southern Nevada Adult Mental Health Services, a state agency that provides care for indigent and uninsured patients.
- NAMI Southern Nevada is a local advocacy chapter that offers assistance, community-based support and educational resources for people with mental illness and their loved ones.
- VA health system, which serves military veterans.
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a toll-free, confidential resource that’s available 24/7 for anyone experiencing thoughts of suicide and self-harm. 1-800-273-8255
In the event of a psychiatric emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency immediately.