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For 70 years, the month of May has been recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month by Mental Health America as a way to give individuals the opportunity to start a conversation about the importance of mental health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mental health involves a person’s emotional, physical and social wellbeing and affects how a person is feeling, acting and even thinking.

In the United States, 1 in every 5 adults experience a mental illness while about 1 in 25, or 10 million adults, are living with a serious mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports.

There are about 200 classified types of mental illness. However, anxiety disorders, ADHD, disruptive behavioral disorders, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, PTSD, psychotic disorders and substance abuse disorders are some of the more common ones, the CDC said.

 

Knowing the warning signs

While every mental illness is different, there are some common warning signs, said Efrem McKnight, president and pastor at The Agape Center in Seguin.

“In general, if you see somebody being very seclusive, being by themselves or spending time away from people, maybe there is something going on,” he said. “As human beings, we’re not meant to just be quiet. We’re not meant to just be secluded. Alcoholics are going to be intoxicated most of the time while people with depression show signs of always being sad for even the smallest things.”

Other common signs include  excessive worrying and fear; confused thinking; extreme mood swings; difficulty understanding or relating to others; low energy; changes in eating habits and the inability to carry out activities in their daily lives, the NAMI site said.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Learning all you can about mental health is an important first step,” the NAMI site said. “Reach out to your health insurance, primary care doctor or state/country mental health authority for more resources.”

Within Guadalupe County, there are several resources that can assist someone trying to cope with mental health issues, including NAMI Guadalupe County, The Agape Center and the Guadalupe Valley Christian Counseling Center.

“I offer free classes for people that are dealing with a loved one that has a mental health issue. I also offer a support group with people living with a mental health condition,” said Barbara Vinson, president of the NAMI Guadalupe County chapter. “I’m partnering with Bluebonnet Trails Community Services to offer classes for people living with a mental health condition to have a support group and to have another class to learn about their mental health issue.”

NAMI Guadalupe County also helps family and friends of military service members and veterans who are experiencing combat stress, PTSD and adjusting back into civilian life.

McKnight and his team at The Agape Center, 3422 W. U.S. Highway 90, focus on helping those who are dealing with alcohol and substance abuse, anxiety and depression and counseling through faith-based programs.

“We were one of the first counseling centers at Sutherland Springs. Our main focus is helping individuals with addiction, whether it’s alcohol or drugs,” McKnight said. “We have an IOP, which is an intensive outpatient. It’s a 36-hour program. We get people from all walks of life coming in.”

Over at the Guadalupe Valley Christian Counseling Center, 314 N. Austin St., Suite 111, the center’s executive director Dr. Nicholas Wilkens and his team utilize tools from the psychotherapeutic field to help people “achieve optimal mental, emotional and spiritual health.”

“We offer individual, couple, family and play therapy for people of all ages. I’ve put together a staff here that are experts in all of these areas,” Wilkens said. “I’ve been here doing this for 16 years and I am very proud of what I’ve been able to put together as far as our staff goes. I think what we have here in Seguin is far superior to most towns, even big cities. The work we do is through the churches, grant funders and United Way, so people don’t have to worry about the cost.”

 

Breaking the stigma

 

With the broad spectrum of conditions known today, there is still a rather large stigma surrounding mental health, Vinson said.

“There is a stigma around mental health because people don’t recognize it as a disease like diabetes,” she said. “If you get sick with diabetes or your husband has a heart attack, people run over with a casserole. And if you say, ‘My son or daughter or husband is living with a mental disorder.’ They go, ‘What? Oh, I’m so sorry’ and walk away. They don’t realize it’s a biological brain disorder.”

Most often people who are dealing with a mental health condition experience rejection and bullying, which ultimately can lead to a longer or more difficult recovery, and sometimes suicide. For people between the ages of 15 and 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death, NAMI said.

Mental health is something that most people easily tend to brush off, McKnight said.

“With depression and anxiety — it’s really easy if someone is going through an anxiety attack — if you don’t know what they’re going through it’s easy to just say, ‘just calm down,’” he said. “That’s going to traumatize them even more. People just think it’ll go away by taking a shower or going to sleep, but it doesn’t; it’s a trauma. It’s a trauma they’ve acquired in their life.”

While more people are more open about talking about mental health in today’s society, there is still work that needs to be done, Wilkens said.

“I think California and New York are a lot more open to mental health. Everyone has a therapist, but in the in-between states it’s scary admitting there’s something wrong here,” Wilkens said. “Denial can be a great thing when you’re grieving to keep you from (being) paralyzed, but not if you deny all the needs for either wanting to sleep all day or drinking too much or (being) riddled with anxiety.”

Still, more individuals are stepping up to talk about their conditions, Wilkens said.

“I call it the 800-pound phone call when somebody calls me or the center and they say, ‘I can’t handle this. I need help,’” Wilkens said. “I totally honor and respect that and those people are usually among the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

 

Supporting loved ones

 

Most often it’s also important for loved ones to figure out ways they can help those trying to cope with their mental health.

“If I had a brother, who is really, really struggling and doesn’t want to get the help, I would go to counseling myself for him and learn how I can deal with him and be most helpful,” Wilkens said. “Hopefully the counselor can invite him into that session as well. I also think everything happens in a relationship. If the family is super depressed or a member of the family is drinking too much, they may be very adamant about seeing anybody and I think the more adamant they are, that is telling us how much they really need to see somebody.”

 

Self-care

 

Along with seeking professional help, Vinson said it’s also important for individuals to remember their own self-care. She suggested some specific things a person suffering from a mental health condition should do.

“Someone with a mental health issue in addition to their meds needs to exercise, meditate or do yoga,” Vinson said. “Those should be a part of their everyday routine while having a schedule and getting plenty of sleep.”

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Month theme is 4Mind4Body to show people ways in which they can incorporate animals, humor, spirituality and recreation into their lives for a boost of general wellness.

“Self-care is so important, whether you are going through a divorce or addiction. If you can’t go outside, there’s self-meditation,” McKnight said. “You can do that or exercise at the gym or go to the park. Anything that is going to help you get away from your mental state.”

Valerie Bustamante is a staff writer for the Seguin Gazette. You can e-mail her at valerie.bustamante@seguingazette.com .

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