According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) statistics on mental health awareness, one in five US adults experience symptoms of a mental illness during their lifetime. 19% of all adults experience symptoms of anxiety disorders, eight percent experience those of depression, and four percent experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or dual diagnosis mental illness and substance abuse.
These afflictions are commonly discussed and depicted in popular media. But what about rarer illnesses like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder? For each of these disorders, at least one percent of all US adults go through them each year, but there is much less discussion surrounding these than more common disorders like anxiety or depression.
Mental Health Awareness: Less Common Mental Illnesses
Up to 27% of the population of the United States are likely to face symptoms of clinical depression or anxiety disorders during their lifetime. These conditions can be genetic, they can develop from experiences that people go through in their lives, or they can be a combination of both. Regardless of the cause, they often interfere directly with daily life. This leads to an overrepresentation of these issues compared to other mental health disorders, like schizophrenia, that have large genetic components.
To help spread mental health awareness, it’s important to look at less publicized issues. Besides clinical depression and anxiety, disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder also affect many Americans.
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects an individual’s ability to reason, think clearly, and make conclusions. It is also a degenerative disorder that causes hallucinations, delusions, cognitive issues, and disorganized thinking. Like depression, schizophrenia is also fairly common, as it affects up to one percent of US adults yearly.
Someone with schizophrenia frequently experiences intrusive, uncomfortable thoughts that seem real in the moment and cause unusual or irrational behavior. They can also experience sights, sounds, or other sensations that don’t actually happen, usually in line with the intrusive thoughts they have.
For example, they might become paranoid that somebody is following them and think that they’re seeing the same person everywhere. Or they might become convinced of another irrational delusion and see evidence for this belief that isn’t visible to you. The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but it’s believed to be linked to excess levels of dopamine and glutamate in the brain.
Schizophrenia usually develops in the late teens or early 20s. Unsurprisingly, it can lead to severe changes in behavior and mood. Genetic factors play a strong role in whether or not somebody develops schizophrenia. In fact, having a close relative with schizophrenia makes an individual up to six times more likely to develop this disorder themselves.
Almost three percent of adults in the US are diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This mood disorder is characterized by severe mood swings between excited “manic” phases and lethargic “depressive” phases. In some cases, bipolar disorder can involve frequent switching between those two extremes. But more commonly, there are occasional periods of cycling between one and the other with months or years of normal behavior in between.
People with bipolar disorder don’t simply have good days and bad days. Rather, their brain alternates between extremely hyperactive, and extremely depressive periods. It’s not just about feeling good or bad on a given day. In fact, particularly severe episodes can even develop into hallucinations or delusions.
Bipolar disorder often causes difficulty maintaining personal and professional relationships, as rapid mood swings make individuals seem unstable, but with medication and/or psychiatric treatment, bipolar disorder can be perfectly manageable.
Raising mental health awareness helps inform people of the effects that mental health disorders can have on individuals. This also makes people aware of how they may affect the actions of people who struggle with these issues. People with bipolar disorders may often experience episodes where they act emotionally, but this is not a personal failing. And most importantly, a bad day with bipolar disorder does not mean that there will not be good days in the future.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder is a disorder affecting emotional regulation and stability, which 1.4% of Americans are diagnosed with– the majority of which are women. People with personality disorders go through wild mood swings when confronted with emotional challenges, and often have difficulty maintaining personal relationships.
Borderline personality disorder affects self-image and perceptions of others with whom we have relationships, resulting in extreme variations between affectionate and aggressive behavior. This is often driven by a desire to avoid abandonment by others, or impulsive behaviors that make the individual with BPD feel more comfortable and assured.
Someone with BPD might switch rapidly between being affectionate or abusive towards a loved one, or alternate between periods of anger and periods of shame or guilt. It’s harder for those with BPD to maintain a calm emotional state, and they may respond in unhealthy ways to emotional stress, such as turning to drug abuse or self-harm to feel “normal” again.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, better known as OCD, is a mental disorder that involves irrational, intense compulsions to do certain actions. These actions can be anything from repetitive body movements to complex rituals. Regardless of the action, it serves to make the person with OCD feel more calm and centered.
1.2% of adults in the US live with OCD. Many people experience intruding thoughts or compulsions, but OCD is defined by having these feelings for more than an hour each day, or to the point that they interfere with the functions of daily life.
These compulsions can be anything from simple movements, to intrusive thoughts about others, to sudden outbursts of noise and activity in response to certain stimuli. Besides these compulsions, another component of OCD is obsessions: intrusive, irrational thoughts or impulses that repeatedly occur. For mental health awareness, it’s important to understand that OCD is a lot more complex than someone being detail-oriented.
The exact causes of OCD are unknown, but researchers believe it may be related to the mechanisms of serotonin, a crucial mood-regulating chemical, in the brain. Raising mental health awareness means informing people that unique, individual actions may be a sign of mental disorders, and normalizing these actions so that everybody involved can feel comfortable and calm.
How Mental Health Awareness Affects Us All
With one in five adults in the US experiencing mental illness, it’s likely that somebody you know is likely experiencing symptoms of one of these mental disorders. Many mental disorders in the US go unreported due to a cultural stigma against reporting mental illness. Cases that are particularly mild may go undiscovered across an individual’s entire life, provided that they can work around the difficulties that their symptoms cause.
Untreated mental illnesses are likely the cause behind a large percentage of the difficulties that homeless and LGBTQ+ individuals face, because of their lack of access to a reliable mental health care. Many people suffer from mental illness without ever realizing it because they rationalize their symptoms as something that everybody suffers from, despite the harm it causes to the relationships in their life.
Raising mental health awareness means raising awareness of the afflictions that we and our loved ones deal with every day, and making the world a little bit easier for them to exist in. If you or somebody you know may be struggling from mental illness, seek out help today.
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