Addressing Mental Health Before Stage Four

Written by Audrey Reich, Behavioral Health Manager

Addressing mental health before Stage 4—this year’s theme for May is Mental Health Month—calls attention to the importance addressing mental health symptoms early, identifying potential underlying diseases, and planning an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start way before Stage 4. We begin with prevention. And when people are in the first stage of those diseases, and have a persistent cough, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms.  We don’t ignore them. In fact, we develop a plan of action to reverse and sometimes stop the progression of the disease.

Mental healthcare is no different than physical healthcare.  When someone first begins to experience symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious, or hearing voices, these symptoms shouldn’t be ignored or brushed aside in the hopes that they go away - intervention is needed.  Like other diseases, we need to address these symptoms early, identify the underlying disease, and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. Mental health conditions should be addressed long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process—before Stage 4.

About half of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health disorder sometime in their lifetime, yet many people do not seek treatment in the early stages of mental illnesses because they don’t recognize the symptoms. Research shows that by ignoring mental health symptoms, we lose ten years in which we could intervene in order to change people’s lives for the better. During most of these years most people still have supports that allow them to succeed—home, family, friends, school, and work. Intervening effectively during early stages of mental illness can save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to determine whether you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is to take a mental health screening. Go to www.mhascreening.org to take a screening for either depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.  You can also contact SLVH’s Behavioral Health department, and we can support you in getting screened.  Use your screening results to start a conversation with your primary care provider, or a trusted friend or family member, and begin to plan a course of action for addressing your mental health.  A screening only takes a few minutes, and after you are finished you will be given information about the next steps you should take based on the results. A screening is not a diagnosis, but it can be a helpful tool for starting a conversation with your doctor or a loved one about your mental health.

Mental health conditions are not only common, they are treatable. There is a wide variety of treatment options for mental health conditions, ranging from talk therapy to medication to peer support, and it may take some time for a person to find the right treatment or combination of treatments that works best for them. But when they do, the results can be truly amazing and life changing. San Luis Valley Health wants to help people learn what they can do both to protect their mental health and know the signs of mental health stressors.

As this year’s Mental Health month comes to a close, I encourage you to learn more about your own mental health status, and encourage those around you to take part in preventative screening.  It’s up to all of us to know the signs and take action so that mental illnesses can be caught early and treated, and we can live up to our full potential. We know that intervening effectively during early stages of mental health concerns can save lives and change the outcome and course of symptoms. Be aware of your mental health and get screened #B4Stage4 today!