February is mental health awareness month

MONTGOMERY – Alabama Department of Mental Health Commissioner John Houston and Associate Commissioner for the Division of Mental Illness Services Susan Chambers are urging all Alabamians to pay close attention to their mental and emotional health during National Wise Health Care Consumer Month, which is observed annually in the month of February.

"It is critically important that we look for changes in our minds and bodies," said Chambers. "Many studies have indicated that consumers who consult with mental health professionals at the first sign of symptoms and seek treatment early experience greater levels of recovery."

National Wise Health Care Consumer Month is sponsored by the American Institute for Preventive Medicine. It seeks to give more visibility to the importance of wise consumer programs. The U.S. Surgeon General has stated that one in five Americans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Additionally, the economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. For these reasons, consumers should place mental health as a high priority in their health care.

Understanding that mental illnesses are no-fault biological brain diseases is critical to reducing the stigma most people with mental illness encounter every day, the ADMH said. "The stigma, wrongly associated with these illnesses, often prevents people from seeking treatment in the early stages of the illness. When people realize that these symptoms are biologically and psychologically based and that they are not 'failures in character,' they are more likely to go to the doctor before a crisis occurs," said Commissioner Houston. "No one would ever suggest that an individual with a serious physical illness like diabetes should be embarrassed or ashamed to regulate their condition with insulin and/or dietary restrictions. Likewise, no individual seeking needed mental health treatment should ever be ashamed or embarrassed to treat their mental illness," Chambers said.

In Alabama, ADMH serves more than 100,000 citizens with mental illnesses each year. More than 98% of those individuals are experiencing recovery and living in the community. According to NIMH, the best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life.

Information Source: Alabama Department of Mental Health