May is Mental Health Awareness Month
This May we want to take some time to talk about mental health. It’s been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic started. The pandemic created many challenges, anxieties, and disappointments. If you’ve been struggling, you aren’t alone. Nearly half of teens and kids in the U.S. have shown some symptoms of mental illness during this year.1
Talking about mental health in military families can be complicated.
Pressure to Hide
There is still a lot of fear about how mental health affects military careers. You might have heard that a diagnosis could end your parent’s career. You might have a parent who sees a civilian for treatment, so their command doesn’t find out. Maybe you’ve seen a family member struggle, but they want to handle it on their own.
Some people connected to the military talk negatively about people with mental illness. You might have even heard that younger generations aren’t “tough enough.”
That kind of pressure around mental health can affect everyone in a military-connected family. It can create a culture of not talking about mental health. Or it can make it seem like having a mental health diagnosis is really bad.
Hearing these doubts can make you feel alone if you’re struggling.
What we Know
Mental health disorders are one of the most common forms of illness. In fact, 47 percent of people in the United States will have a mental health disorder sometime in their lifetime.2 That’s nearly half of all people in the country!
Sometimes mental health disorders are triggered by life events. For example, the pandemic may have caused new worries. Symptoms can go away with treatment or life changes.
It’s important to take mental health seriously early in life. Research has shown that half of mental health disorders start by the age of 14.3 Like other health conditions, it helps to get treatment early. Unfortunately, most people wait an average of 10 years to get treatment.2 That’s a long time to be struggling alone. Think of how many events, goals, and relationships could be affected in 10 years.
Make it a Routine
It’s important to monitor mental health similar to physical health. Have you ever had a physical exam for school or sports? Or been taken to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning?
Doctors recommend that mental health be treated similarly with routine check-ins. Most people experience mental health symptoms before they develop a full disorder.4 Check-ins can help address problems before they get worse.
In the military, for example, the Navy SEALs have regular check-ins for their mental health. Many receive counseling to help prevent the development of a disorder. Counseling can also help create resilience, the ability to adapt to stress and challenges. It’s all part of a good health plan.
Where to Start
Later this month, we’ll be talking about signs of anxiety and depression. We’ll also go over some helpful tools to improve mental health.
A serious symptom of mental illness is thinking about or attempting suicide. If you have thoughts about hurting yourself or suicide, seek help immediately.
- Call 911
- Call a suicide hotline. In the United States, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
- Reach out to a trusted adult [https://militarykidsconnect.health.mil/Feelings/How-to-Talk-to-an-Adult]
- Find resources at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/
1. Racine, N., Cooke, J. E., Eirich, R., Korczak, D. J., McArthur, B., & Madigan, S. (2020). Child and adolescent mental illness during COVID-19: A rapid review. Psychiatry research, 292, 113307. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113307
2. Kessler RC, Angermeyer M, Anthony JC, et al. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of mental disorders in the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Survey Initiative. World Psychiatry 2007; 6: 168–76
3. World Health Organization. (2020, September, 28). Adolescent mental health. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health
4. Colizzi, M., Lasalvia, A., & Ruggeri, M. (2020). Prevention and early intervention in youth mental health: is it time for a multidisciplinary and trans-diagnostic model for care?. International journal of mental health systems, 14, 23. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13033-020-00356-9