Mental Health Awareness Month: Get help for mental illness |

Mental Health Awareness Month: Get help for mental illness

Diana Hankins
For the Tribune

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a time to remember that mental health is part of overall health.

Mental health affects thought processes, relationships, productivity and the ability to adapt to changes in circumstances or cope with adversity. Mental illnesses are biologically based brain diseases.

One in four adults experience mental health problems in any given year. Those problems can contribute to onset of more serious long-term conditions. One in 17 adults lives with mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Approximately one-half of chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by age 24. Unfortunately, long delays — sometimes decades — often occur between the time symptoms first appear and when people get help.

Early identification and treatment can make a big difference for successful management of a condition.

For example, major depression is a mood disorder that is more serious than “feeling blue.’’ Be alert to any combinations of the following symptoms: Depressed mood (sadness); poor concentration; insomnia; fatigue; disturbance of appetite; feelings of guilt; and thoughts of suicide.

Bipolar disorder involves cycles of both depression and mania. It is different from the “ups and downs” that most people experience, involving dramatic shifts in mood, energy and ability to think clearly. Symptoms also are not the same in everyone; some people may experience intense “highs,” while others primarily experience depression. Mania involves combinations of the following symptoms: Euphoria; surges of energy; reduced need for sleep; grandiosity; talkativeness; extreme irritability; agitation; pleasure-seeking; and increased risk-taking behavior.

Schizophrenia is a different type of mental illness, but can include features of mood disorders. It affects a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to other people. Untreated, it also may include psychosis–a loss of contact with reality. Symptoms include: Difficulty with memory; difficulty in organizing thoughts; lack of content in speech; emotional flatness; inability to start or follow through with activities; inability to experience pleasure; delusions; and hallucinations.

Mental Health Awareness Month is a time to learn. Knowledge creates less stigma. One resource is the National Alliance on Mental Illness which offers information through its website

Locally, NAMI South Lake Tahoe meets the second Tuesday of each month at the library at 6 p.m. The meeting is a support group welcoming family and friends of those suffering from mental illness. For more information contact or call 530-577-4740.

Anyone who experiences symptoms of mental illness should see a doctor for a focused discussion about mental health concerns and assessment of potentially related physical conditions. The next step may be referral to mental health specialist.

In South Lake Tahoe, El Dorado County Mental Health Clinic can be reached at 530-536-7970. Barton Community Health Center also can evaluate and refer to a psychiatrist. Dr. Sonia Rupp specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry, she can be reached at 775-589-8946 in Stateline. Also in Stateline, Tracy Protell specializes in child and adolescents, she can be reached at 775-589-8946.

During Mental Health Awareness Month, please talk about what you learn with family, friends and others. Help end the silence and stigma around mental illness that discourages people from getting help. This is a month to make a difference in our communities.

Diana Hankins is a member of NAMI-SLT.

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