Photo by Dan Meyers

Everyone has stress and difficult emotions on occasion, and this is completely normal. Mental illness, however, is any condition that makes it difficult to function in daily life. It can affect relationships or job performance, and is caused by any number of complex interactions within the human brain. Mental illness can range from anxiety to mood disorders like depression, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, eating disorders, or addictive behaviors.

Studies have shown the economic costs of untreated mood and anxiety disorders among moms exceeds $14 billion dollars through the first five years of a child’s life alone, and fewer adults experiencing psychological distress are being treated by a mental health professional. Of those reporting foregoing mental health care, 13% said they could not afford the cost of care, 12% reported that their insurance would not cover it, 10% indicated that fear or embarrassment kept them from seeking care, and 8% reported that they did not know where to get care.

The United States is facing a growing

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Photo by Dan Meyers

For over 25 years, the first full week of October has been Mental Illness Awareness Week. World Mental Health Day falls on October 10. This year, our blog has observed Mental Health Month in May, Minority Mental Health Month in July, and Suicide Prevention Month/Week/Day in September. We continue to discuss mental health because it is crucial to public health.

Twenty percent of the population — as many as 65.9 million Americans live with some kind of mental health condition, with nearly 5% living with a serious mental illness that substantially limits their life activities. Those living with mental illness fight stigma while trying to survive under intense  internal duress. Awareness is important so that resources are made available to those who need them and the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses can be reduced.

Everyone has stress and difficult emotions on occasion, and this is completely normal. Mental illness, however,

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Photo by Ahmed Hasan

We have written a lot about mental health this year. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States. Each year over 45,000 people in America kill themselves — a rate that has increased 41% since 1999. Mental health conditions are often seen as the cause of suicide, but 54% of those who commit suicide do not have a known mental illness. 

Suicide is rarely caused by a single factor, and is also affected by personal relationships, substance use, physical health, and stress from jobs, money, legal issues, and/or housing. In addition to September being Suicide Prevention Month, the week surrounding World Suicide Prevention Day is National Suicide Prevention Week. Awareness is important to end the stigma of suicidal feelings and help more people access life-saving help in dark times.

Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, but it is important to know they are not permanent. Having suicidal thoughts is not a sign of weakness or failure, but is a symptom of profound distress. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can be very damaging and dangerous, and should be considered a psychiatric emergency. 

Other

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It is the time of year when people of all ages are returning to classrooms. They will be exposed to new experiences and ideas but also higher risk of exposure to viruses/illness and stress. Here are some tips for students of all ages to ensure a healthy and successful time in school:

  • Vaccinations are the best course for preventing illness. In addition to the vaccines recommended by your doctor, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual flu vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age.
  • Sleep is essential to keep children (and adults) focused throughout the day. Adults need about eight hours of sleep, while young children often need more. It’s important to set a bedtime that ensures everyone gets enough sleep and to keep a consistent schedule.
  • To avoid getting sick and to prevent children from bringing germs home, it’s important to teach children to wash their hands after using the restroom or before eating.
  • A healthy diet can help children grow and learn more effectively, as well as keep everyone’s immune systems primed to fight off illness. Avoid junk food and soft drinks, and consider packing children’s lunches with healthy snacks.
  • Going back to school is stressful for both parents and students of all ages; for some children, it may be a new sensation. Help manage stress by talking to children (or encouraging adult students to talk to someone) about anything bothering them and take care not to overload anyone’s schedule. Schoolwork is important, but it is essential for mental health to relax, play, and spend time with family.
    • A significant new stress for students and teachers returning to school is the atmosphere of fear that has emerged in the wake of mass shootings at schools and other venues throughout the United States. Simulated active shooter drills have been shown to contribute to trauma rather than relieve fears, and policies of harsher discipline and armed school staff increase the likelihood that people are exposed to violence
    • It is imperative that children feel they can trust the adults in their lives and be connected as a community. An authoritative approach of structure, oversight, consequences, and support can help children learn responsibility for their behavior and how to reconnect with others; as opposed to an authoritarian environment of punishment, control, and containment which hardens a school instead of making it a better place with less violence and fewer problems.
    Student backpacks should never weigh more than 10-20% of a student’s body weight, and should be adjusted properly to the bottom of the pack so it sits at their waist.  Encourage students to use both shoulder straps; slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and hurt their back. If your student has a

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