May is Mental Health Awareness Month. There are more than 200 classified types of mental illness – with depression being the most common. The list also includes anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, and substance abuse disorders.
Let’s consider the case of Gloria, as an example.
Gloria was a career advisor at a for-profit college. She had a high-pressure job, where quotas were tied to her performance. She was also impacted by a severe lack of sleep, family disfunction, and the need to appear successful at all times, Gloria was driven to exhaustion and a depression began to cover her like a blanket of fog. Soon, all of her energy was used just getting to work in the morning, where she spent the day distracted, sad, and tired, closing her door to avoid interaction.
This year alone, 18.8 million people with will suffer from depressive illnesses. Of people age 55 and over, 20 percent will experience some type of mental health issue.
There is a silver lining to this cloud: Research shows that between 80 and 90 percent of depression cases will improve with treatment. And treatment is key according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which reports that a combination of talk therapy and medication is often most effective.
Gloria did not seek treatment—not right away. At first, her belief was that she could overcome her problems. She slid further into the depression. Finally, she took a leave of absence from her job. At home every day, she slept or wiled away the hours watching television. Days turned into weeks and then into months and finally she decided not to return to her job, because her depression had grown so debilitating.
While successful treatment varies, the National Institute of Mental Health stresses self-care, which includes making sleep a priority. They also recommend simple things like getting regular exercise (even walks count) and staying hydrated, as that can help improve focus.
By the time Gloria sought professional help, she was desperate. She did not want to take medication unless she had to, but was willing to try talk therapy. That was the best decision she made, and she continues with it to this day—though not as intensively. During therapy, Gloria reconsidered her choices. She switched to a lower stress career – coaching job applicants through her own business – and decided to only hang out with family members and friends who uplift her.
Access to help for mental health issues is available through your doctor’s office, or on campus through the Employee Assistance Office: https://hr.wisc.edu/employee-assistance-office/.