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Even people who know someone with mental illness, or who themselves have been diagnosed with it, often consider the condition shameful, which hinders access to treatment. In a survey done by the Boston Globe, nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said that they believe most mental illnesses are the result of character flaws and personality defects, and that the cycles of the moon influence people with manic-depressive illness. Those are the types of myths and misperceptions that need to be changed. People who suffer from mental illness should not be ashamed. Effective treatments are available.

It is important to know that mental illness is very common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five people is affected by some form of mental illness during the course of a year. Only 5 percent of those suffering from a mental health disorder will seek the treatment of a mental health professional, even though 25 percent of all visits to a primary care physician involve patients with a diagnosable behavioral health disorder.

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Recognizing Addiction

Listed below are some generalized signs and symptoms of addiction:

  • Odor on the breath (alcohol)
  • Intoxification
  • Difficulty focusing; glazed appearance of the eyes
  • Uncharacteristically passive behavior; or combative and argumentative behavior
  • Gradual (or sudden in adolescents) deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene
  • Gradual development of dysfunction, especially in job performance or school work
  • Absenteeism (particularly at the beginning of the week)
  • Unexplained bruises and accidents
  • Irritability
  • Flushed skin
  • Loss of memory (blackouts)
  • Availability and consumption of alcohol or drugs becomes the focus of social or professional activities
  • Changes in peer-group associations and friendships
  • Impaired interpersonal relationships (troubled marriage, unexplainable termination of deep relationships, alienation from close family members)
  • Changes in debt level as a result of gambling activity

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Recognizing Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by three major groups of symptoms:

  • Trembling, twitching, or feeling shaky; muscle tension, ache or soreness; restlessness and tiring easily
  • Shortness of breath or "smothering" sensations; rapid heart beat, sweating or cold clammy hands; dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, diarrhea or other abdominal distress; hot flashes or chills; trouble swallowing or "lump" in throat
  • Feeling keyed up or on edge; having an exaggerated startle response; having problems concentrating; having trouble falling or staying asleep; general irritability

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Recognizing Depression

There is a difference between "feeling blue" and clinical depression. If any of the following symptoms occur frequently, or persist for more than a week, depression is a strong possibility, and a survey is suggested.

  • Feelings of worthlessness, isolation, loneliness, or awkwardness
  • Pessimism about yourself, the world, and your future
  • Difficulty in concentrating, carrying out daily routines, making decisions
  • Changes in sleeping habits, trouble getting to sleep, or staying awake
  • Changes in eating patterns, overeating or loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in family, friends, events
  • Unexplainable crying spells
  • Thoughts of suicide

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Recognizing Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

Obsession for thinness with self-imposed starvation

Warning Signs:

  • Fear of weight gain
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Denial of hunger and refusal to eat
  • Excuses to avoid meals
  • Talk about food all the time
  • View of self is fat even when very thin
  • Excessive or compulsive exercising
  • Depression, isolation
  • Menstrual periods stop or don't start

Bulimia Nervosa

Repeated episodes of binge eating with feelings of lack of control that may be followed by purging (using vomiting, laxatives, or diuretics to avoid weight gain). While those with anorexia are always thin, individuals with bulimia nervosa may be normal or overweight.

Warning Signs:

  • Preoccupation with food and calories
  • Secret eating, hoarding food
  • Feeling of being out of control
  • Bathroom trips immediately after eating
  • Eating of enormous meals without weight gain
  • Binge eating, then purging by vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, fasting or diet pills
  • Dental problems from acid on the teeth

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The North Mississippi Medical Center Behavioral Health Center is a place where families who are struggling with problems such as these can come to get help and hope.