Mental illness is a major health condition affecting millions of American families. With no regard to education, age, class, family, ethnicity, or gender, mental illness can impact anyone’s life and often has widespread effects.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and helps spread the word about the higher risk of mental illness in minorities own lives and the real barriers minorities face to receiving timely, high-quality, and accessible care.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), rates of mental illness impact minority communities in greater numbers. Culturally, many minority communities have a greater stigma associated with mental illness, so people have a hard time speaking up or admitting they need help. If they do decide to get help, the barriers for finding high-quality, accessible, and affordable care can be insurmountable.

As a result, nurses might routinely see patients who have symptoms of mental illness but won’t address it. Most of these conditions are treatable with the right help, so it’s important to let patients know about available resources or even that what they are feeling is a true biological illness, not something that they can just get over or take care of on their own.

The American Psychiatric Association and the Mayo Clinic offer these indicators that might signal something more serious than a passing phase. Experiencing one or two of these symptoms isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but if symptoms are interfering with someone’s ability to perform their normal functions, take care of themselves, work capably, or hold meaningful relationships, then they need to get help.

What are some signs and symptoms to look for?

  • Feeling sad, down, or hopeless
  • Excessive anger or an inability to cope with stress
  • Anxiety, feelings of guilt
  • Withdrawing from social activities, friends, family
  • An inability to keep up with grades or normal work quality
  • Sleeping too much or an inability to sleep
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Extreme mood changes – highs and lows that are beyond average
  • Increased or troublesome use of drugs and alcohol
  • Feelings of being disconnected or experiencing delusions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Many people experience sadness or mood changes throughout their lives. A bad day at work can make you grouchy, and family problems can make you sad and anxious. But lingering problems with these feelings and those that impact daily life need attention.

Be on the lookout for any of these symptoms in your patients and listen to the ways they might express them. If they are in danger of harming themselves or someone else, immediate help is necessary, so call 911 or get your emergency team to respond immediately.

Above all, reassure your patients that, like any other medical illness, mental illness is something that is treatable and nothing they are at fault for. A little compassion can make a huge impact.

 

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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