May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and organizations across the nations will be drawing attentions to the various-and often-surprising- way mental illness affects people's lives.
Mental Illness is 'Normal'
People with mental health issues have long felt that they are different from others. Indeed, discussions of mental illness tend to speak about “people with mental illness” as if they are a foreign group few of us ever encounter. The reality is that mental illness is so common—so common, in fact, that a recent study claims that it’s a life unmarred by mental illness that’s the real anomaly.
According to the study, which followed people ages 11-38 and tracked their mental health, a mere 17% avoided mental illness. Forty-one percent had a mental health condition that lasted for many years. Forty-two percent had a short-lived mental illness. This suggests that, sooner or later, mental illness becomes an issue for most people. Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse were the most common diagnoses in the study.
Gender Can Affect Mental Health Diagnoses
Many of us have heard that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism, but the overwhelming majority of those children are boys. A new study suggests this may be because providers fail to recognize the signs of autism in girls. The reason? Gender-based empathy conditioning.
People with autism often appear to lack empathy or recognize social cues. According to the study, however, girls on the spectrum show outward signs of empathy. Researchers believe this is because gender conditioning to master social skills is much stronger in girls. So girls with autism may appear to understand social cues even when they don’t.
Mental and Physical Health are Inseparable
Media portrayals often talk about mental and physical health, or discuss how one supports the other. This isn’t anything new. Philosophers, scientists, and laypeople of all varieties have been separating the mind from the body for generations.
Research increasingly points to the link between the two. For example, some studies suggest that chronic inflammation may cause depression. Others have found that mental illness can affect physical health, or lead to symptoms of chronic pain. The role of exercise in fighting mental illness is well documented. People taking some chemotherapy drugs may be more vulnerable to depression, even when researchers control for the already depressing effects of having cancer. And a new study just linked consuming low-fat, rather than whole-fat, dairy to a lowered risk of depression.
The invisible line between the mind and body is imaginary. Our thoughts reside in the brain, and the brain lives in the body. It’s affected by what we eat, how we spend our time, and our overall health.
The goals of better understanding mental health diagnoses and improving societal empathy should not be limited to the month of May, but it's certainly a good time to refocus our efforts.
For information or assistance, contact:
Psychological Counseling Services
Vasche Library Suite 185, (209) 667-3381