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May is Mental Health Month: Addressing Mental Health #B4Stage4

Unbeknownst to many, the month of May is known for more than just Cinco de Mayo or Memorial Day. May is Mental Health Month, recognized nationally by advocates, patients and healthcare providers alike.

Although the month is nearly over, addressing mental health before Stage 4 — this year’s theme for Mental Health Month — calls attention to the importance addressing mental health symptoms early, identifying potential underlying diseases and planning an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health that exceeds this month’s 31 calendar days.

Mental health conditions should be treated long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process — before Stage 4, or advanced stage mental illness. When we think about cancer, heart disease or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4 — we begin with prevention. So why don’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness?

This Mental Health Month, it is important for everyone to learn the signs, ask for help if needed, address symptoms early and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. One of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is to take a mental health screening.

Mental Health America (MHA) has online screening tools for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder via its website. MHA’s goal is to get every American screened and aware of their mental health, so they can address it #B4Stage4.

MHA has also developed a series of fact sheets that highlight the critical importance of addressing mental health early, recognizing the risk factors and signs of mental illness and how and where to get help when needed.

When feelings and emotions get overwhelming, it’s hard to know what to do. Sometimes, these early symptoms might not ever become serious. Like a cough, they often go away on their own, and are nothing to fear. But sometimes, they are a sign of something more severe and shouldn’t be ignored. Taking a screening is the first step to protect your mental health, and addressing mental illness before Stage 4.

Research shows that by ignoring symptoms, we lose 10 years in which we could intervene in order to change people’s lives for the better. During most of these years, most people still have supports that allow them to succeed — home, family, friends, school and work. Intervening effectively during early stages of mental illness can save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses.

Prevention, early identification and intervention, and integrated services work. When you address symptoms before Stage 4, people can often recover quickly, and live full and productive lives.

For more information on May is Mental Health Month, visit Mental Health America’s website at www.mentalhealthamerica.net.

Labahn is a Licensed Independent Social Worker.