With breast cancer awareness month, and many other disease-awareness months in rotation, many people forget about another type of important and life-changing disease—mental health diseases, the invisible health issue. May is National Mental Health Month, and it’s important to take this time and learn more about mental illness and why that and addiction can potentially go hand in hand if left unattended.
Dual Diagnosis and Co-Occurring Disorders
Many people who have anxiety or mood problems have what people call “addictive personalities.” Addictions can range from alcohol, drugs or even eating disorders, and they all stem from some sort of mental health issue. Sometimes—those who suffer from depression and are alcoholics—believe when they drink they are feeling better and less depressed. However, over a long period of time, it’s the alcohol that’s causing the depression more so than the mental health disease. So not only are they addicts, but they have depression, two co-occurring disorders. These individuals need a treatment plan that focuses on Dual Diagnoses, which fixes the mental illness issue in addition to the addiction.
Drugs and Alcohol and Mental Health
For people who have mood disorders, anxiety disorders or PTSD, imbibing drugs and alcohol tend to make the individual feel like they can numb the anxiety and the pain. They end up trying to self-medicate their mental illness instead of going to get the help they need from a rehabilitation center. Alcohol or drug abuse can worsen the symptoms of people with mood disorders, anxiety or PTSD and they might not even know it’s happening.
Know the Signs
Be aware. Signs of a depression mood disorder include feelings of hopelessness and lost of interest in daily activities. These people might also have a lot of self-loathing or act in reckless behavior, including drinking too much. Signs of an anxiety mood disorder may include heart palpitations, chest pain, tingling of limbs because of hyperventilation and having panic attacks and having trouble interacting with others—especially in large groups. If an individual is suffering from bipolar disorder, they will have unpredictable mood swings. They can also have depression-like symptoms. Those with PTSD have issues with dealing with normal life situations after a trauma. They may use drugs or alcohol to cope with the isolation and fear they feel.
Eating Disorders and Mental Health
Eating disorders can stem from people attempting to control stress, and deal with fear and anxiety of not being good enough. When life becomes unmanageable, the one thing they can control is food. Many people are never cured of their eating disorder issue, because most places don’t get to the root of the problem—fixing the anxiety or mood disorder.
Know the Signs
There are three main types of eating disorders: anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. Anorexia involves extreme restriction of the person’s food intake. They will appear extremely thin—think like 15% lower than their normal body weight should be. Bulimia involves binge eating and then purging that after they eat. Signs of binge eating include excessive food intake in one sitting. This eating disorder doesn’t cause unhealthy thinness. It can actually lead to obesity, because binge eating doesn’t involve purging the food after it’s eaten.
This month, try to be especially aware of your friends and loved ones and their actions. Does anyone you know seem to be dependent on alcohol or drugs? There could be an underlying health issue and they need treatment as soon as possible. Remember, just because you can’t see it on the outside, it doesn’t mean they aren’t sick and suffering from a disease.