Information on how to recognize signs of poor mental health and resources for help and support.
Mental health can be defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to his or her community.” In contrast, a mental health disorder is a diagnosable illness that affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior and disrupts the person’s ability to work, carry out other daily activities, and engage in satisfying personal relationships. All of us exist somewhere on a spectrum ranging from good mental health to having a mental health disorder. Stress at work, financial problems, health issues, excessive drinking, and social or family problems can move someone from the healthy to unhealthy end of the spectrum.
Approximately 18% of adults in the US will experience a mental health disorder in any given year. The most common mental health disorders are anxiety and depression, but also include substance use disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia. Often an individual will experience more than one of these conditions at the same time. Only about 40% percent of people with a mental health disorder in any given year will seek professional help for it.
For those suffering at the extreme end of the mental health disorder spectrum, suicide is sometimes seen as an option for ending suffering. Suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the US, with 45,000 suicides in the US each year. White males between the ages of 45 and 65 are the most common group to die because of suicide. Farmers have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession.
Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Disorders
While there are many different mental health disorders, common signs and symptoms include but are not limited to:
- An unusually sad mood. Feeling anger or rage. Irritability. Change in mood.
- Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. Withdrawing from friends.
- Lack of energy and tiredness.
- Feeling worthless. No sense of purpose.
- Thinking about death and wishing to be dead. Threatening to kill or injure oneself.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- Being agitated.
- Change in eating behavior. Loss of interest in food or eating too much.
- Change in sleeping patterns. Not sleeping or sleeping too much.
- Acting reckless.
- Increasing alcohol or drug use.
- Rapid heartbeat or breathing.
- Dizziness, headache.
- Unrealistic and/or excessive fear or worry.
- Statements, such as: “I’m a failure.”, “Nobody cares.”, “Everyone would be better off without me.”
What to Do If You or Someone You Know is Suffering from a Mental Health Disorder
If you suspect someone is suffering from a mental health disorder, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply ask, “How are you doing?”. Try to get them to open up without pressuring them and then just listen without judging, interrupting, or offering advice. If someone is an immediate danger to themselves or others, call 911 or a suicide prevention hotline. After listening to the person, you may want to recommend they seek professional help (primary care physician, mental health professional, or certified peer specialist) and suggest some self-help options (talk with family, friends, or church members, participate in a peer support group, read a book, change diet, exercise, etc.).
- Iowa Concern Hotline, 1-800-447-1985, offers assistance to address stress and mental health concerns. They are focused on farming and the rural area, but will assist anyone who calls. Their services are available nationwide.
- Center for Dairy Excellence web site offers links to additional resources, including a list of local crisis intervention contact numbers for each county in Pennsylvania.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Portions of this article were adopted from:
- Mental Health First Aid (First Edition). 2015. National Council for Behavioral Health and the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
- C. Gardner. 2018. Communicating with Farmers Overwhelmed by Stress. Center for Dairy Excellence.