October 2-8 is Mental Health Awareness Week

Released: 10/03/16

Bridgette Hensley, Psy.D., WMC's 2017 Provider of the Year.

Since 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime (www.nami.org), chances are you or someone you know has been affected by mental illness.

Anxiety and depression are often considered the “common colds” of mental health and affect male and females, children and adults. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental health problem. “Everyone experiences worry, fear, and anxiety occasionally, such as the distress one may feel when starting a new job, changing schools, or hearing of bad news,” says Bridgette Hensley, Psy.D., LP, Mayo Clinic Health System clinical psychologist at Winneshiek Medical Center. “Most of the time, this anxiety is situational and short lived. We manage it.”

But for people with an anxiety disorder, the worry and anxiety do not go away and tend to worsen over time. Symptoms might include unsuccessful attempts to control the worry, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, sudden attacks of intense fear, a feeling of being out of control, and excessive concerns about feeling embarrassed or humiliated in front of others, to name a few. Dr. Hensley adds, “At times, anxiety will co-present with the second most common mental health issue – depression.” Depression is a serious medical illness that can have debilitating mood, cognitive, and physical symptoms. “Both anxiety and depression can interfere with work, school, and relationships,” says Dr. Hensley. Symptoms of depression include: Persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness, feelings of hopelessness or pessimism, irritability, decreased energy or fatigue, appetite or weight changes, difficulty sleeping, early morning awakening, or oversleeping, feelings of guilt, aches or pains, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and even thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts. As the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death for those 15-24 years of age (www.suicidology.org), suicide is a national health crisis. Stigma, myths, and societal taboos keep people from asking loved ones and friends’ lifesaving questions and keep those suffering with mental illness and suicidal thoughts from seeking help. “Asking a straightforward question, such as “are you thinking about killing yourself” and then helping someone get help can save a life,” advises Dr. Hensley.

Most of us wouldn’t give a second thought to seeking medical help for a serious medical illness, such as diabetes or cancer. Just as these are biological illnesses, so are anxiety and depression. They can be treated but it takes courage to ask for help. Dr. Hensley encourages, “If you or someone you love struggle with anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, please seek help.” Reach out for an appointment with your primary care provider by calling 563-382-2911. Start the conversation. We promise to listen. Other sources of help include: 211, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, the Northeast Iowa Behavioral Health crises line at 1-800-400-8923 and in an emergency 911 or your local emergency department.

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