May is mental health awareness month | Editorial

Living with a mental illness can be a deeply private, painful experience. It is difficult to talk about or know how to get help. And for the family members of an ill person, the emotions range from sadness to anger to guilt.

Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition, and in 2013 President Obama proclaimed May as National Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a time to raise awareness and educate the public.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, “trying to tell the difference between what expected behaviors are and what might be the signs of a mental illness isn’t always easy.”

Here are some common signs:

• Excessive worrying or fear, feeling excessively sad or low

• Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning

• Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria

• Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger

• Avoiding friends and social activities, difficulties relating to other people

• Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired, changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite, changes in sex drive

• Difficulty perceiving reality, inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality

• Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs

• Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes

• An intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance (mostly in adolescents)

For more warning signs, go to

If you need help or know someone who is struggling, please reach out. Psychologist and suicide survivor Katie Hurley wrote in “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide” on Huffington Post that 50 to 75 percent of people who attempt suicide will tell someone about their intention.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. San Juan County provides mental health services through Compass Health. There is 24-hour crisis response as well as individual, family and group therapy services. State funding assures the availability of these services to all regardless of the ability to pay. Compass Health can be reached at 378-2669 and the crisis line is 1-800-584-3578.

It’s important to note that mental health problems are not limited to suicide. Those with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addictive behaviors can find solace – but they can’t do it alone.