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Mental Illness Is Mainstream

Mental Illness Is Mainstream

We must help the one in four adults affected.

Amy Simpson  |  posted 5/13/2013

Note: This article is excerpted from Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission.

For the first couple of decades of Mom's full-blown illness and my family's crisis, one of the greatest catalysts to our pain was the sense that we were alone. Because we suffered mostly silently, we didn't find other people who were suffering in the same way. And because those other suffering people were silent too, we all thought we were the only ones. Now I know better. We weren't even close to alone.

More Common than You Think

Most people are surprised to learn that mental illness is incredibly common. In fact, mental disorders are the number-one cause of disability in North America. According to the National Institute of Mental Health and other experts, about one in four adults—a little more than 25 percent of Americans ages 18 and older—suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Yes, one in four. That equates to around 50 million people in the United States. And that's only in a given year. Because many mental illnesses (like depressive episodes) are short-term and not chronic, a higher percentage of people are affected by a mental illness at some point in their lives.

Serious and chronic mental illness is less common but still present among 6 percent of the population, or 1 in 17 adults. That's almost 12 million people in the United States. Those mental illnesses considered "serious" are major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder.

Other mental illnesses, while not as serious as those called clinically "serious" by psychiatrists, still must be taken seriously. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental illnesses as "medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning" and "often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life." All mental illness, by definition, impairs a person's basic functioning and disrupts the kind of social connections God created us to enjoy (see Genesis 2:18-23; Colossians 3:12-15; 1 John 4:7-12).

Antipsychotics are now the top-selling class of drugs in the United States. This is because of their growing use not only to treat serious psychotic disorders but also to address a broader array of problems. These drugs have powerful side effects, which contribute to the reluctance of people who need them to take them consistently. These side effects themselves can impair a person's functioning as powerfully as an illness can.

What about those under the age of 18? Many people think of mental illness as an adult problem because such illnesses in children are not as well documented and well known as they are in adults. People hesitate to diagnose—and thereby label—children, who are still forming and who may "grow out of" a mental illness. Perhaps another reason is that, because our bodies begin to break down as we age, we tend to associate illness in general with adulthood. And we find it especially tragic when people in the "prime of life" go through serious suffering.

But the nature of much mental illness makes it different from most other disabling disease. The National Institute of Mental Health calls mental disorders "the chronic diseases of the young." Many of these disorders begin early in life. According to one of the institute's press releases:

Topics:Community, Discipleship, Fellowship, Friendship, Medicine, Ministry, Support
Date Added:May 13, 2013

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January 09, 2014  6:00pm

I have been suffering with major depression and apparently bipolar and borderline personality disorder at least that's what one of the doctors told me I had and I've been suffering in silence for over 20 years now. I literally have been in hiding and I am just now getting around people because my husband recently got saved and we are now attending church, but it is very hard for me to be around people since I've been so damaged. I'm really hurting and there is no one that I can talk to that I can trust because unfortunately there is a stigma with depression and all the other mental health stuff. I came very close to reaching out to a Stephen Minister at my church and my husband told me not to do it because nothing is confidential. Then I came very very close to reaching out to my pastor but still don't know if I can trust that are not afraid he'll talk. It's personal and it's my life and if it got out to other people it would be devastating and it would send me over the edge.

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May 24, 2013  5:05pm

Brilliant article. Our family is struggling because my husband suffers from Major Depressive Illness and border line personality disorder and has now left the family home. Life is lonely. Much has been lost. A lot of people stay away. But true friends are like gold in this season.. Priceless.

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Robyn Sully

May 16, 2013  7:54am

One very overlooked issue in regard to human health, of which mental health is included, is our daily intake of NUTRIENT rich foods. "We are what we eat ,"is a very worthy quote from Hippocrates some 2,000 years ago; the Father of Medicine. We have been slowly fed a diet that is very poorly lacking in the VITAL nutrients that provide our bodies with the necessary, God given nutrients ,to assist our cells to do the functions for which they were created. When we return to eating REAL FOOD , not synthetic food substitutes, then we shall find a huge difference in our National & yes , Global, health status. When we relearn how our bodies need & use these VITAL nutrients , then we shall really exclaim, with the sweet Psalmist of Israel; "I am fearfully & wonderfully made."

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