May is Mental Health Month 2012

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More than 50 years ago, Mental Health America started the tradition of celebrating “May is Mental Health Month” to raise awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for all. For 2012, Mental Health America is addressing mental health conditions and mental wellness through two themes.

Mental health month

Do More for 1 in 4

Do More for 1 in 4 is a call to action for Americans to help the one-in-four American adults in their lives who are living with a diagnosable mental health condition. While mental health and substance conditions are common, they are extremely treatable and individuals go on to recover and lead full and productive lives.

Many people living with a mental health condition–as high as 50 percent–never seek or receive help due to shame, lack of information, cost or lack of health insurance coverage. Many people may be hesitant to ask for help or don’t know where to find it. But there are many community and national resources that can help people find support and treatment. [Download the Do More For 1in4 Toolkit from Mental Health America]

Does your 1 in 4 have AD/HD?

Although the condition is most often associated with children, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can continue into adulthood for many people. Indeed, there are some adults who don’t know that they have the disorder. Adults who are living with the condition, and especially those who are undiagnosed and untreated, may experience a number of problems, some of which stem directly from the disorder and others that are the result of associated adjustment patterns.

The symptoms of ADHD can be constant or variable and situational. Some people with ADHD can concentrate if they are interested or excited. Others have difficulty concentrating under any circumstances. Some people eagerly seek stimulation, while others avoid it. Some people become hostile, ill-behaved and, later, antisocial; others may become fierce people-pleasers. Some people are outgoing, and others, withdrawn.

Symptoms of an adult with ADHD may include distractibility, chronic lateness, chronic boredom, anxiety, depression and mood swings. Some tips that adults with ADHD have found useful include using internal structure like date books, lists, notes to oneself, color coding, routines, reminders and files; choosing “good addictions,” for example, select exercise or other healthy activities for a regular structured “blow-out” time; becoming educated and an educator–read books, talk to professionals, talk to other adults who have ADHD, and let people who matter know about personal strengths and weaknesses related to ADHD.

Does Your 1 in 4 Have an Anxiety Disorder?

Most people experience feelings of anxiety before an important event such as a big exam, business presentation or first date. Anxiety disorders, however, are illnesses that cause people to feel frightened, distressed and uneasy for no apparent reason. Left untreated, these disorders can dramatically reduce productivity and significantly diminish an individual’s quality of life.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses in America; more than 40 million people are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), phobia and generalized anxiety disorder.

  • Panic disorder is characterized by panic attacks, which are sudden feelings of extreme fear that strike repeatedly without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by repeated, intrusive and unwanted thoughts or rituals that seem impossible to control.
  • Persistent symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occur after experiencing a traumatic event such as war, rape, child abuse, natural disasters, or being taken hostage. Nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, and feeling angry, irritable, distracted and being easily startled are common.
  • Phobia is an extreme, disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger; the fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause people to limit their lives.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday routine life events and activities, lasting at least six months; almost always anticipating the worst even though there is little reason to expect it. Generalized anxiety disorder is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headache, or nausea.

Treatments, largely developed through studies conducted by research institutions, are extremely effective and often combine medication or specific types of psychotherapy.

Does Your 1 in 4 Have Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is an illness involving one or more episodes of great excitement and depression. The illness causes a person’s mood to swing from excessively “high” and/or irritable to sad and hopeless, with periods of a normal mood in between.

Bipolar disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and continues throughout life. It is often not recognized as an illness and people who have it may suffer needlessly for years. Bipolar disorder can be extremely distressing and disruptive for those who have this disease, their spouses, family mem- bers, friends and employers. Although there is no known cure, bipolar disorder is treatable, and recovery is possible. Individuals with bipolar disorder have successful relationships and meaningful jobs. The combi- nation of medications and psychotherapy helps the vast majority of people return to productive, fulfilling lives.

Bipolar disorder is often difficult to recognize and diagnose. It causes a person to have a high level of energy, unrealistically expansive thoughts or ideas, and impulsive or reckless behavior. These symptoms may feel good to a person, which may lead to denial that there is a problem.

Though there is no cure, treatment of bipolar disorder is critical for recovery. A combination of medica- tion, professional help and support from family, friends and peers help individuals with bipolar disorder stabilize their emotions and behavior. It is suggested that those with bipolar disorder receive guidance, education and support from a mental health professional to help deal with personal relationships, main- tain a healthy self-image and ensure compliance with his or her treatment.

Does Your 1 in 4 Have Depression?

Clinical depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, and affects more than 19 million Americans each year. This includes major depressive disorder, manic depression and dysthymia, a milder, longer-lasting form of depression.

Unfortunately, although about 70 percent of people with depression have a full remission of the disorder with effective treatment, fewer than half of those suffering from the illness seek treatment. Too many people resist treatment because they believe depression isn’t serious, that they can treat it themselves or that it is a personal weakness rather than a serious medical illness.

Symptoms of clinical depression include  persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood, sleeping too much or too little, waking in the middle of the night or early morning, restlessness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering or making decisions, fatigue or loss of energy, feeling guilty or worthless, thoughts of suicide or death.

Clinical depression is very treatable, with more than 80% of those who seek treatment showing improvement [1]. The most commonly used treatments are antidepressant medication, psychotherapy or a combination of the two.

Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds

The second theme, Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds, focuses on the devastating impact of traumatic events on physical, emotional, and mental well-being, and how therapeutic techniques based in neuroscience can mitigate these effects and create dramatic changes in people’s lives. It centers around asking the person-based question: “What happened to you?” [Download the Healing Trauma’s Invisible Wounds Toolkit from Mental Health America]

A traumatic event–which threatens our lives, our safety or our personal integrity–can profoundly affect a person. Most people think that “trauma” refers to physical trauma that occurs as a result of a car accident or assault, but it’s much more than that. Trauma includes interpersonal violence such as abuse and bullying; social violence such as war and terrorism; natural disasters and accidents; serving in combat; stressors such as poverty and humiliation; and childhood trauma, which includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and difficult family relationships.

Trauma takes a huge toll on lives and health. It is the leading cause of the death of children in the U.S. The effect of trauma on productive life years lost exceeds that of any other disease. The economic cost of 50 million injuries in the year 2000, alone, was $406 billion. This includes estimates of $80 billion in medical care costs, and $326 billion in productivity losses. And the predicted cost to the health care system from interpersonal violence and abuse ranges between $333 billion and $750 billion annually, or nearly 17 to 37.5 percent of total health care expenditures.

When children or adults respond to traumas with fear, horror and/or helplessness, the extreme stress is toxic to their brains and bodies, and overwhelms their ability to cope. While many people who experience a traumatic event are able to move on with their lives without lasting negative effects, others may have more difficulty managing their responses to trauma.

Unresolved trauma can manifest in many ways, including anxiety disorders, panic attacks, flashbacks, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, addictions, self-injury and a variety of physical symptoms. Trauma increases health-risk behaviors such as overeating, smoking, alcohol abuse, and risky sex. Trauma survivors can also become perpetrators themselves. Unaddressed trauma can also significantly increase the risk of mental and substance use disorders, suicide, chronic physical ailments, as well as premature death.

The good news is that the invisible wounds caused by traumatic experiences can heal. With the proper treatment, support and self-care, recovery is possible for everyone.


  1. National Institute of Mental Health, D/ART Campaign, “Depression: What Every Woman Should Know,” (1995). Pub No. 95-3871.
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.