Do you know that 50% of mental illness begins by the age of 14, and alarmingly, 75% begins by 24?
Just like physical health, we all have mental health, and they are intricately connected. The emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as that of their physical health. This is because their mind’s health is just as important as that of their body and can affect their ability to participate in healthy behaviors. Having good mental health at a young age can help them develop resilience to cope and make healthy choices as they grow into adulthood.
As a Clinical Pharmacist, I have worked in direct patient care in various settings. I have provided disease state management education to many patients with many chronic conditions. I was particularly touched by a 21-year-old young lady who came in for a Medication Therapy Management (MTM) session at the Medication Management clinic I worked at. She was full of life and had grand plans for her future. She came with a bag full of 26 prescriptions, including many narcotic pain medications, antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, some over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, etc. I used motivational interviewing technique to ask her open-ended questions and listened to her story. She complained of how she had no friends in schools, how other students constantly made fun of her, how much she continued to gain weight, and how lonely she felt most of the time. Within 3 months of effective treatment and discontinuation of unnecessary and duplicate medications, she had a better quality of life, and we were happy with her transformation. Clinical interventions for safer alternative meds were made with her physicians to change potential medications causing her to gain excess weight as well as recommending safer non-opioid pain meds. She responded well to treatment and had greatly improved.
I noticed some medication non-adherence behaviors when she stopped coming to pick up her refills. My pharmacy technicians left her several messages to come in for her refills. She finally came, and she looked awful. As I asked her more questions about what was going on in her life, I discovered she had stopped taking all her antipsychotic medications and had fallen deep into depression. She cried at one point, stating she was feeling very lonely at school, and said she was constantly being stigmatized everywhere she went. I called her psychiatric doctor and her primary care physician right away and got her an immediate appointment. I also gave her a follow-up call the next day to ensure all went well.
Unfortunately, we received a call a week later that she took a large overdose and did not make it. It was heartbreaking to hear the sad news of how she went from being fully alive to dead at such a young age.
Do you know someone who suffers from mental illness? 3 out of 4 people with mental illness feel stigmatized. This problem is compounded in our society by a lack of awareness and lack of proper health access. The truth is, mental health is a real medical condition that affects our mood, thoughts, and behaviors. Some examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety, mania, conduct disorder, borderline personality disorder, learning disability problems, trauma, stressor-related disorders, eating disorders, substance and addictive behaviors, just to mention a few….
Patients with mental health problems can start to manifest symptoms, they can act strangely, they can be socially isolated, they can have constant anger issues, they can abuse drug substances, they can neglect their physical health, and they can become so frustrated that they engage in high-risk behaviors by hurting themselves. Imagine a world where we all do our part to make it a better place by contacting those who suffer from mental illness. What if we can all show concern and ask if they need help? What if we can encourage and support these patients by listening to their problems? What if we engage in early recognition of symptoms and offer proper intervention? What if we have screening mechanisms in place in our schools and workplaces to quickly refer these patients to mental health professionals to talk about their thoughts, feelings, symptoms behavior patterns and triggers? What if we can refer them to the appropriate community-based rehab centers to support mental health patients who cannot look after themselves? What if we can advocate for mental health support for those who are isolated physically, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic?
Studies have shown that people who exercise have fewer days of poor mental health. Regular exercise can help boost your confidence and endorphin levels when you feel sad. Exercise can help manage symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety. Walking, swimming, and jogging can all help. Eating a well-balanced diet, having a sense of belonging in your family, school, and in your community, having the strength to cope and the ability to solve problems, making healthy choices including regular sleep hygiene habits, adopting a positive attitude including stress management, meditation, and other relaxation methods, keeping a journal of your thoughts and record of your symptoms or triggers, having an emotional support system and professional help with talking therapy, medications to improve symptoms, and psychiatric counseling are all essential strategies.
If you are suffering from mental illness and are feeling lonely or stigmatized, understand that you are not alone. You are part of the family of God. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Speak up when you need help, lean on your loved ones for support and live a life of gratitude.
If you know someone with a mental health illness and recognize any of these symptoms of mental illness, just offer a listening ear. Sometimes, all a person wants is a hand to hold or a shoulder to lean on. You don’t have to play doctor, give advice or spend a dime. Every new day allows you to show kindness to someone, don’t waste that chance. Let someone sees God in you. You may well be their only hope that day. Remember, you are your brother’s keeper. Tragically, many people struggle alone in silence and commit suicide when it could well have been prevented. 8 million people die each year from mental illness based on the prevalence of mental illness globally. If you know someone in crisis now, seek immediate assistance by calling 911 or 24- Hour Crisis Center (1-800-273-TALK).
Let’s refrain from passing judgement and show compassion. I urge you all to become an advocate for better health care, for hope, and for change for the millions of people suffering from mental illness. Let’s all do our part to reach out more, listen more, and learn more about mental health.
Dr. Christina Wachuku, PharmD, BCACP
Dr. Christina Wachuku is the Founder/Owner of MediFixx Health, LLC. She’s a Board-Certified Functional Medicine Pharmacist and places a strong emphasis on Medication Therapy Management services as the ultimate preventive healthcare practice.
- Merikangas KR, He JP, Burstein M, Swanson SA, Avenevoli S, Cui L, Benjet C, Georgiades K, Swendsen J. Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2010 Oct;49(10):980-9. PMID: 20855043
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (HHS Publication No. PEP20-07-01-001). Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt29393/2019NSDUHFFRPDFWHTML/2019NSDUHFFR1PDFW090120.pdf.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration & Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, and National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health; 1999.
- Ghandour RM, Sherman LJ, Vladutiu CJ, Ali MM, Lynch SE, Bitsko RH, Blumberg SJ. Prevalence and treatment of depression, anxiety, and conduct problems in U.S. children. The Journal of Pediatrics, 2018. Published online before print October 12, 2018