The Impact of Mental Health Disorders on Our Community

From addiction to depression to schizophrenia, mental health disorders come in all shapes and sizes. They can alter your thinking, emotions and behavior in both subtle and noticeable ways. Some disorders can be minor, while others can be debilitating or even life-threatening.

Mental health disorders can affect anyone at any age, but most are diagnosed by age 24. While sometimes the exact cause is unknown, these disorders are generally thought to be caused by genes, exposure to certain chemicals or environmental toxins while still in the womb, physical or mental abuse, or imbalances with the chemistry in your brain.

Some of the more common mental health disorders affecting the Stormont Vail Health community include:

  • Depression (major depressive disorder): Depression causes long-term sadness, feelings of emptiness and a loss of interest in people and activities that used to be enjoyable. In severe cases it can lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: Often referred to as simply “anxiety,” generalized anxiety disorder causes constant, persistent worry. Anxiety can lead a person to automatically expect the worst — even when there’s no need to do so.
  • Seasonal affective disorder: This is a type of depression that typically only occurs in the fall and winter months. While the exact cause is unknown, lack of exposure to sunlight during these months is thought to be a significant contributing factor.
  • Postpartum depression: Many women feel “baby blues” for a few days after giving birth. This includes feelings of mild depression, mood swings and insomnia. But when the depression becomes more severe and lasts for more than 10 days, it may be postpartum depression.
  • Bipolar disorder (manic depression): Bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings. People with this condition may feel exceptionally happy and energized (episodes of mania or hypomania), and then suddenly experience severe depression and fatigue (major depressive episodes).
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): People who have ADHD may experience hyperactivity (constant movement or restlessness), impulsiveness and difficulty paying attention. ADHD can affect people at any stage of life. Hyperactivity tends to improve as you age, but the other symptoms often continue.
  • Schizophrenia: This disorder can make it appear as though the person who has it has lost touch with reality. Schizophrenia can cause hallucinations, delusions, a decreased sense of pleasure or enjoyment in day-to-day life, poor decision-making, trouble focusing, difficulty managing emotions and decreased ability to relate to others. This disorder is rare compared with other mental health conditions, but the symptoms can have be very serious, especially when untreated.
  • Addiction: When a person becomes addicted to something, they feel as if they need to partake in a certain behavior (e.g. smoking, drinking alcohol, gambling) — and they cannot stop themselves from doing it. People most commonly become addicted to nicotine, alcohol, drugs, gambling, food or sex.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD occurs after a person witnesses or experiences a traumatic event — such as violence, assault, abuse, terrorist attacks, major emotional losses, accidents or involvement in combat. It can cause nightmares, flashbacks and severe anxiety. Among American adults, 70% have experienced a traumatic event that could lead to PTSD.

No matter what mental health disorder you have been diagnosed with, there is something very important to remember: You do not need to be ashamed. Mental illness is a medical condition, just like heart disease or asthma.

What Does Mental Health Mean for Our Community Health?

Lack of Treatment

Many mental health disorders can improve with treatment. Medication, psychotherapy, support groups and practicing mindfulness are just some of the many forms of treatment that can help people with mental health disorders manage their symptoms and live more healthy and fulfilling lives.

However, not all disorders are completely treatable. And even the ones that are treatable do not always get treated. Across the country, 56% of adults with a mental health disorder, and 60% of young people with major depression, do not receive treatment.

What Happens When Mental Health Disorders Are Not Treated?

When left untreated, certain mental health disorders can greatly interfere with quality of life. They can become disabling, and may lead to other health conditions and complications. People who do not get treatment for their mental health disorders are at an increased risk for:

  • Hospitalization: This is especially common among patients with depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Chronic health conditions: These may include cardiovascular conditions, diabetes or obesity.
  • Other mental health conditions: Having a mental health disorder increases your risk of developing secondary mental health disorders, such as alcohol or drug addiction.

These complications can occur in anyone with a mental health condition, even if they do receive treatment. However, the risks are greater when the condition can’t be managed — and it’s difficult to manage a mental health condition without receiving treatment.

Risk of Suicide

When a mental health disorder becomes severe, it increases the risk of suicide. This is especially true among patients with depression or bipolar disorder.

Among Americans who commit suicide, depression and bipolar disorder are the most common underlying conditions. Between 30% and 70% of suicide victims also have one of these disorders.

Substance abuse is also common among people who attempt suicide, with those suffering from substance abuse disorders six times more likely than those without to take their own lives.

What Are the Keys to Addressing Mental Health Community-Wide?

There is no sure-fire method of preventing mental health disorders. However, there are steps we can take to reduce harm that these disorders can cause:

  • Improve access to care: Here in Kansas, more than half of all adults and children with mental health disorders do not receive treatment. There are 97 regions in the state where there is a shortage of mental health care providers, and patients in these areas may not be aware of where they can receive help. We must improve both access to and awareness of places that provide mental health care.
  • Reduce the stigma surrounding mental health disorders: People with mental health disorders are sometimes thought of as unstable, dangerous or unpredictable. This stigma must be reversed, as it is a major reason that people with mental health disorders do not seek treatment.
  • Address socioeconomic concerns: Another barrier to receiving care is socioeconomic status. Being unable to afford treatment, not having stable housing, living in poverty and having low levels of education can all stand in the way of receiving treatment.

How Does Stormont Vail Include Family and Friends as Part of the Team?

We know that the people you love can play an important role in your health and wellness. Our social workers will gladly work with friends and family members to make sure that they are giving you the support you need.

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