The Pulse

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Mental Health Month

A mental illness is a disorder of the brain that results in a disruption in a person's thinking, feeling, moods, and ability to relate to others. Mental illness is distinct from the legal concept of insanity.

Mental health, mental hygiene, behavioral health, and mental wellness are all terms used to describe the state or absence of mental illness.

Edvard Munch's The Scream (1893), National Gallery, Oslo. The Scream, the famous painting commonly thought of as depicting the experience of mental illness.

Some psychiatrists attribute mental illness to organic/neurochemical causes that can be treated with psychiatric medication, psychotherapy, lifestyle adjustments and other supportive measures, but it is important to note that we really don't know what causes mental illness. The battle between "nature" and "nurture" goes on as it has for years. We still don't know enough about the working of the brain and the nature of mental illness to understand what might be inherited (a result of specific genes) and what is learned as a result of our unique environment.

Advocacy organizations have been trying to change the common perception of psychiatric disorders, which are frequently seen as signs of personal weakness and something to be ashamed of. Advocacy organizations instead likened psychiatric disorders to physical diseases like the measles.

Prevalence of and diagnosis of mental illness

According to the 2003 report of the U.S. President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, major mental illness, including clinical depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, when compared with all other diseases (such as cancer and heart disease), is the most common cause of disability in the United States. According to NAMI (the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill ( an American advocacy organization, 23% of North American adults will suffer from a clinically diagnosable mental illness in a given year, but less than half of them will suffer symptoms severe enough to disrupt their daily functioning. Approximately 9% to 13% of children under the age of 18 experience serious emotional disturbance with substantial functional impairment; 5% to 9% have serious emotional disturbance with extreme functional impairment due to a mental illness. Many of these young people will recover from their illnesses before reaching adulthood, and go on to lead normal lives uncomplicated by illness.

Coping With Stress

Stress is a natural part of life. You can feel physical stress when you have too much to do, or when you've had too little sleep, aren't eating properly or have been ill. Stress can also be emotional: you can feel it when you worry about money, your job or a loved one's illness, or when you experience a devastating life event, such as the death of a spouse or the loss of a job. When stress is not addressed, it can affect many parts of your life, including your productivity and performance on the job. In fact, workplace stress causes about 1 million U.S. employees to miss work each day.

The key to coping with stress is to determine your personal tolerance levels for stressful situations. You must learn to accept or change stressful or tense situations whenever possible. Some of the following suggestions may help immediately, but if your stress is constant, it may require more attention or even lifestyle changes.

  • Take one thing at a time. Pick one urgent task and work on it. When that's done, move on to the next, and so on.
  • Be realistic. If you're overwhelmed at home or at work, learn to say, “No!”
  • Don't try to be superman/superwoman. No one is perfect, so don't expect perfection from yourself.
  • Visualize. Use your imagination to see how you can manage a stressful situation at work or home more effectively.
  • Meditate. Five to 10 minutes of quiet reflection can bring some relief. If you're having a stressful day at work, close your door and meditate or go for a quick walk to clear your mind.
  • Exercise. Thirty minutes of physical activity per day helps both body and mind. If you have an hour lunch break at the office, use half of it for a walk or a jog. Make plans with a coworker to do this a few times a week.
  • Hobbies. Take a break and do something you enjoy.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Get adequate rest, eat right, exercise, limit your use of caffeine and alcohol, and balance work and play.
  • Share yourfeelings. Don't try to cope alone. Let friends and family provide support and guidance.
  • Be flexible! Whether you're at home or at work, arguing only increases stress. If you feel you're right, stand your ground, but do so calmly and rationally. Be prepared to make allowances for other people's opinions and to compromise.
  • Don't be overly critical. Remember, everyone is unique and has his or her own virtues and shortcomings.

You can ease stress by talking with friends or family. But, if that isn't enough, talk with your doctor, spiritual advisor or employee assistance professional (EAP). They may suggest that you see a mental health professional to help you manage your stress or suggest other resources. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness; it's a healthy thing to do. For more information, contact your local Mental Health Association or the National Mental Health Association at 800-969-NMHA(6642), or visit


What's Your Mental Health IQ?

Take this short true/false quiz and have some fun challenging your knowledge of mental health topics... The answers may surprise you!

  1. T/F Regular exercise can greatly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety disorders.
  2. T/F Treatment success rates for disorders such as depression surpass those for other medical conditions like heart disease.
  3. T/F People who have schizophrenia don't usually recover from the disorder.
  4. T/F Work-related stress can double a person's risk of dying from heart disease.
  5. T/F The number of hours a person works causes more stress at work than the office environment.
  6. T/F Workplace stress causes about 1 million U.S. employees to miss work each day.
  7. T/F Depression is a normal part of aging.
  8. T/F People who have mental disorders are more dangerous than people in the general population.
  9. T/F About every two hours, a young person kills himself or herself.
  10. T/F One in five Americans experiences a mental health disorder in any given year, but only one-third seek care due to the stigma and misperceptions surrounding mental disorders and their treatment.

Answers below. Mental Health IQ Answer Key

  1. True! In fact, a recent study showed that about 60 percent of people with such disorders significantly reduced their symptoms with regular exercise.
  2. True! In fact, the treatment success rate for depression is more than 80 percent, whereas the rate for heart disease is 45-50 percent.
  3. This common myth is actually false. Up to twothirds of people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia actually recover significantly— and some completely— from t he disorder.
  4. This sad fact is true.
  5. This is false.A recent study shows that job environment has a far greater impact on stress at the office than the number of hours workers put in. A positive work environment can go a long way to relieve stress and increase productivity.
  6. True.
  7. False. Depression is not a normal part of the aging process that we need to “grin and bear.” Older people who have symptoms of depression should address the issue with their physician.
  8. False! This common distortion gets perpetuated by the rare incidents that make the headlines. Statistics show, however, that people who have mental disorders are no more likely to be dangerous than people without such disorders.
  9. Sadly, this is true.Three million teenagers have either considered or attempted suicide in the past year—but only one-fifth of kids who need mental health services actually receive them.
  10. This is true. Unfortunately, people often let shame or a belief that they can “handle it on their own” keep him or her from getting care. The truth is, mental illnesses are real, common and treatable. No one should let stigma stand in the way of getting care that can lead to a happier, healthier, more productive life. For more information, contact your local Mental Health Association or the National Mental Health Association at 800-969-NMHA(6642), or visit

MAY  2005

National Mental Health Month

2005 Mental Health Month Messages

  • Mental health and physical health go hand in hand.
  • Caring for your mind, as well as your body, is good for your overall health and key to your success at home, at work and at school.
  • Mental health problems are real, common and treatable.
  • Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety disorders, are as treatable as many physical illnesses.

Fast Facts About Mental Health In the Workplace

  • One in four people report they've missed work as a result of work-related stress.
  • Workplace environments have a greater effect on employee stress levels than the number of hours employees work.
  • Seventy-five percent of visits to doctors' offices concern stress-related ailments.
  • Chronic stress can double a person's risk of having a heart attack.
  • Stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide.

In Diverse Communities

  • African Americans and Latinos are up to three times more likely than whites to say that people of color are less likely to receive adequate health care. Only one in five whites agree with this assumption, however. One-third of all Latinos (32.7 percent) lack health insurance coverage, a far higher proportion than any other ethnic group. Ninety percent of African American youths who enter the mental health system live in poverty. Children and Families
  • Five to 9 percent of children in the United States have a serious emotional disturbance.
  • About 13 percent of children between 9 and 17 years old have an anxiety disorder.
  • About 4.1 percent of school-age children have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
  • Only about 21 percent of children in the United States who need mental health services actually receive them.

Among Older Adults

  • About 11 percent of adults over age 55 have an anxiety disorder.
  • Although 4.4 percent of older adults have a mood disorder such as depression, up to 20 percent have significant symptoms of depression.
  • Chronic stress can cause premature aging.
  • Older adults who are caregivers to spouses or other relatives may be at an increased risk for developing heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and some cancers due to longterm stress.