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Mental Health 911

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Mental health illnesses are far more prevalent than most people know. In fact, the National Institute for Mental Health estimates one in four Americans over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That translates to more than 57 million people in this country. However, even more disturbing is that 6 percent of the population suffers from a serious mental illness.

With those kinds of staggering numbers, there's a good chance someone close to you suffers from a mental illness. It could be a neighbor, a co-worker or a friend. But it also could be a family member, and most families are not prepared to deal with learning someone they love is mentally ill. It can be physically and emotionally trying.

If you think you or someone you know may have a mental or emotional problem, it is important to remember there is hope and help.

When to worry

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic list more than 200 conditions as mental illnesses, ranging from minor to severe. Even with all the different symptoms and types of mental illnesses, many families share similar experiences. You may find yourself denying the warning signs, worrying what other people will think because of the stigma, or wondering what caused your loved one to become ill. It's important to understand these feelings are normal and common among families going through similar situations. Information is key: research all you can about your loved one's illness by reading and talking with mental health professionals.

The following is a breakdown of warning signs by age that might point to a family member needing to seek a medical or mental health professional.


  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailment
  • Substance abuse

Older children and pre-adolescents:

  • Substance abuse
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In young children:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Source: Mental Health America

Who can help

Help for a family member with a mental illness can come from a variety of people and places. The National Institute of Health offers the following for referral or treatment services.

  • Family doctors
  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
  • Religious leaders/counselors
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
  • University- or medical school-affiliated programs
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Social service agencies
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies

Other Resources

There are a number of resources available to you. Many can help you find local mental health professionals who can help. Here are just a few:

Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS)
Knowledge Exchange Network
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

American Psychological Association750 First Street,NEWashington, DC 20002 800-374-2721 or 202-336-5500

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)200 N. Glebe Road, Ste. 1015
Arlington, VA 22203-3457
800-950-6264 or 703-524-7600

American Psychiatric Association
1400 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Information Resources and Inquiries Branch
5600 Fishers Lane, Room 7C-02
Rockville, MD 20857

Mental Health America2000 N. Beauregard Street, 6th Floor Alexandria, VA 22311800-969-6642

Need help now?

Call! Help is available to anyone, 24 hours a day, every day. Simply call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You may call for yourself or for someone you care about, and all calls are confidential.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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