According to a recent study by Mental Health America, Pennsylvania ranks ninth in the nation in mental health. The rankings, which moved the state up from 15th place, are based on both access to mental health care and instances of mental illness. Locally, credit is given partially to the state’s efforts to educate residents about what constitutes mental illness and to reduce the stigma surrounding it.
The fact that mental health professionals and healthcare providers are working to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to get the help they need is great news, but that’s only half the battle. That same study indicates that many people with mental illness, mild or severe, are not seeking care. In order to make real progress, that has to change.
According to local organizations like Let’s Talk, Lancaster, individuals must pledge to be vigilant in looking out for the five signs of emotional suffering in themselves and others. The Campaign to Change Direction defines the five signs you should be looking for in friends, family members, and colleagues:
● Personality Change – Look for sudden or gradual changes in a person’s behavior that seems out of line with their values.
● Agitation – Person may seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, or moody and may have the inability to control his or her temper.
● Withdrawal – Look for changes in social behavior leading to isolation.
● Poor Self-Care – Be aware of changes in levels of personal care, both mental and physical. Person may engage in behavior that puts his or her health or well-being at risk.
● Hopelessness – Person may feel overcome or overwhelmed by their circumstances. He or she will likely be unable to see a path out of the despair.
By learning to identify these feelings and behaviors, we can help ourselves and others identify mental health issues caused by underlying illnesses like depression, anxiety, and addiction and pursue treatment options. Regardless of how severe symptoms appear, the first step in any treatment should be a visit to a licensed medical professional. Based on the symptoms, a general practitioner or mental health specialist can provide a diagnosis and connect a patient to the proper resources.
Depending on the severity of the illness and other factors, like whether a person has health insurance, the post-diagnosis treatment path for those struggling with one of these issues can look very different. Most of the time it will include some form of clinical treatment, from counseling to medication to in-patient rehabilitation.
In addition to the traditional forms of treatment, there are also many alternative ways to care for your emotional well-being. Taking a vacation, spending time outdoors, getting a hobby, and engaging in physical activity are all proven to reduce stress and make you healthier. When practiced regularly, they can even help treat and prevent depression and anxiety. These activities are also beneficial to those in addiction recovery.
This is where residents of Pennsylvania are at even more of an advantage. The state is teeming with opportunities to get away for a weekend, immerse oneself in nature, and focus on physical and emotional well-being. You can visit one of many retreats for a long weekend, rent a boat and explore Lake Eerie, or take up a hobby like fishing. And if you’re looking to spend time with other folks who are living with mental illness, local chapters of the Mental Health Association provide continuing, community-based care and boast full calendars of these enriching activities.
Overall, Pennsylvania is a phenomenal place to live for people with mental illness. In order for Pennsylvanians to continue taking steps forward in fight against depression, anxiety, and addiction, mental health must achieve priority status in the mind of every resident. It is only then that we will see the marked improvements in both access to care and prevalence of illness our state needs to reach the top of the list.