Wiggs: Cultivating mental health awareness in Arizona

One in five adults — over 40 million — in the U.S. experience a mental illness each year, with depression and anxiety among the most common mental disorders.

Christine Wiggs

In Arizona the number of people who are experiencing persistent and likely severe mental health issues has increased 5 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Mental health issues are as common as the flu and are just as important as our physical health. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona through its Mobilize AZ for mental health initiative is dedicated to promoting positive mental health and removing the stigma associated with mental illnesses.

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month in May, and beyond, we’re opening the conversation about mental health misconceptions to spread awareness.

Debunking common mental health misconceptions

Depression, anxiety, and suicide touch every age group and occur throughout Arizona’s communities.

While there are a lot of misconceptions about depression, anxiety, and suicide, knowing the facts gives people the power to take care of their mental health.

Depression

Depression is a serious illness that involves the brain’s chemistry.

In some form or another, depression affects more than 20 million Americans. Left untreated, depression can rob people of their ability to participate fully in daily activities and can even threaten their physical health.

  • Myth: You can overcome depression if you just tough it out.
  • Fact: Clinical depression is not something you can out-work, out-muscle, or out-think. It is a medical condition that sometimes requires a doctor’s attention to be treated properly.
  • Myth: Depression affects only your mood.
  • Fact: While depression has profound effects on mood and emotions, it can also produce physical symptoms. Some people experience headaches, upset stomach, body aches, loss of sleep, and less appetite.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders cause people to experience powerful and persistent worry, which can turn into panic.

Anxiety can turn into physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, and an intense “fight or flight” sensation. An estimated 42 million American adults live with anxiety.

  • Myth: You should avoid situations that make you feel stressed or nervous to reduce anxiety.
  • Fact: Avoiding anxieties or their causes can reinforce or worsen them, making you feel powerless.
  • Myth: Medication is the only way to treat anxiety disorders.
  • Fact: Medication alone can be effective, but cognitive behavioral therapy — a form of talk therapy described as “problem-focused” and “action-oriented” that addresses specific worries and behaviors — can be equally or even more effective, either on its own or in addition to medication.

Suicide

When people end their lives by suicide, the effects ripple outward to family, friends, coworkers, and communities.

Rates of suicide have risen sharply across the U.S. in recent years, and mental health conditions often play a role in suicide.

  • Myth: Suicide happens when a person overreacts to normal stress.
  • Fact: When someone is in suicidal crisis, the issues — whether they are real or perceived — feel to that person to be too big to manage. Another person’s ability to respond to the same issues is irrelevant.
  • Myth: Suicide is the easy way out.
  • Fact: People who end their lives by suicide cannot find any other way out of their suffering. They choose suicide not because they do not want to live, but because they feel helpless and hopeless.

Seeking support

Whole health includes your mind and your body. Mental illness and distress are not a sign of weakness.

If you have questions or concerns, talk with your doctor, a counselor, or someone you trust.

Get help right away if you or someone you know is in crisis:

  • Call 9-1-1 or go to the emergency room for an imminent emergency;
  • Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255;
  • Text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.

For more information and tips on how to support emotional and mental well-being, visit the Mental Health America of Arizona site, mhaarizona.org.

Editor’s Note: Christine Wiggs is director of community health interventions and health equity at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.

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