“Know the Five Signs” to Change Direction for Mental Health

US First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced the launch of the new “Campaign to Change Direction” (www.changedirection.org), backed by a host of non-profit organizations, mental health leaders and corporate sponsors. The campaign’s goals are to see mental health as having equal value to physical health, to recognize the signs of emotional suffering, and to encourage care and mental well-being for all.

The Current Story

The campaign website offers a full page of sobering statistics of the “current story” about mental illness today. Among the many points listed, several stand out:

• About one in five US adults experience a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
• Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada.
• One-half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14, three-quarters by age 24.
• Almost one-quarter of prisoners in state and local jails have a recent history of a mental health disorder.
• 20–25 percent of the US homeless population has some form of severe mental illness.
• The amount spent on mental health care in the US is equivalent to the amount spent on cancer care.
• More people die by suicide in the US than in motor vehicle crashes.
• More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder.
• For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death.
• Mental illness alone will account for more than half of the projected total economic burden from noncommunicable diseases over the next two decades.
• Depression ranks second for global disease burden.


The Five Signs

At the center of the campaign are the “five signs” which may indicate emotional suffering and that someone needs help. By learning and recognizing the signs, we can reach out to someone who is distressed and help guide them to appropriate care and resources. Let’s review the five signs, as described by the campaign.

1) Personality Change
The person’s personality changes, as noted by sudden or gradual changes in the way they typically behave. This change doesn’t seem to fit the person’s values, or they may just seem different.

2) Agitation
The person is uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated or moody. They may have problems controlling their temper, seem irritable, can’t calm down, are unable to sleep, or may explode in anger over a minor problem.

3) Withdrawal
The person isolates or withdraws from family and friends, they stop taking part in activities they used to enjoy, and they fail to make it to work or school. This shouldn’t be confused with reserved or introverted behavior. This is a change in someone’s typical sociability, such as pulling away from their usual social support.

4) Poor Self Care
The person stops taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior or display acts of poor judgment. This may include letting personal hygiene deteriorate, abusing alcohol or illicit substances, or engaging in other self-destructive behavior that may alienate loved ones.

5) Hopelessness
The person used to be optimistic but now can’t find anything to be hopeful about. They may be overwhelmed, suffer from extreme or prolonged grief, or have feelings of worthlessness or guilt. They may say the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

How to Help

If you recognize someone is suffering emotionally, how do you help them? The campaign site says, “You connect, you reach out, you inspire hope, and you offer help. Show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help themselves. There are many resources in our communities. It may take more than one offer, and you may need to reach out to others who share your concern about the person who is suffering. If everyone is more open and honest about mental health, we can prevent pain and suffering, and those in need will get the help they deserve.”

The site provides links to many helpful resources, including three national help lines:

SAMHSA’s National Helpline: http://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Veterans Crisis Line: http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

In addition, several mental health organization links are listed, representing psychology, psychiatry, social work, suicide prevention, public health, and mental health and substance abuse services. The “Campaign Collaborators” page provides about 50 more links to all of the campaign’s supporting partner organizations and founding member groups.

Let’s “Change Direction”

The “Campaign to Change Direction” is a breath of fresh air in the mental health landscape today. It represents a positive, proactive, easily accessible framework to promote early intervention, support, and help for people to get the services and supports they need to address their mental health issues. It’s also a good model for public-private sector collaboration around a massive public health topic that definitely needs more attention and resources. Kudos to the campaign and let’s hope it will indeed “change direction” in how we help people achieve and maintain better emotional health.

Here’s a question: How can you help spread the word about the “five signs” to broaden awareness about mental health issues and early intervention? Please leave a comment. Also please consider subscribing to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

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