Feeling off balance? You're not alone. Over 44 million Americans struggle with mental illness

Most people have moments of feeling sad or disconnected, but for some people those uncomfortable emotions are more intense and last much longer.

In the United States, more than 44 million Americans live with a mental illness, which includes conditions like anxiety disorders, addictive behaviors, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and depression.

Of those disorders, anxiety is one of the most common, affecting approximately 40 million adults. While it may sound as though anxiety means just being stressed out, there are different types of the disorder that manifest in different ways.

An example would be a panic disorder,  which is when people experience panic attacks on a regular basis.

Those attacks can feel unsettling because they are often unpredictable and filled with intense fear. They can also include an accelerated heart rate, trembling or shaking, shortness of breath, and sweating.  

Of course, not all mental illness symptoms are the same. In fact, they vary depending on the disorder. Overall, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors can all be affected.

Some symptoms can include:

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Extreme mood changes of highs or lows
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts

Anyone can be affected by a mental illness regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. There are also some common risk factors that can trigger symptoms. These include genetics, stressful life situations, living with a chronic disease, and impaired brain chemistry.

That said, a diagnosis is typically manageable, especially when the affected person reaches out for assistance.

“A good rule of thumb is, if you’re thinking about whether or not you should talk to someone, you probably should just do it,” New York psychotherapist Katherine Schafler told Yahoo Lifestyle.

To find help, the first step is to talk to your friends and family. Chances are, someone you know has already been to therapy and can offer recommendations. If you don’t know anyone personally, there are dozens of helpful resources available online.

In many cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Still, close to 60 percent of Americans with a mental illness don’t receive the mental health services they need.

African-American and Latino communities use mental health services at about half the rate of Caucasians. The rate for Asian-Americans is even lower, at around one third.

One reason for this disparity is the inequality in our health care system.

“Practitioners aren’t trained most of the time in multicultural awareness, and people don’t want to seek help from people who don’t understand and are misinformed about where they’re coming from,” Schafler explained.

She added that there are other barriers to help, including the location of a community center offering assistance, the cost, and whether the services are covered by insurance.

Unfortunately, many people choose not to get help for their mental health issues because of the stigmas surrounding mental illness in America.

“We’ve come a long way, but we’re still in this place where we associate needed help with a personal weakness,” said Schafler.

“Thinking about it as emotional health and emotional wellness is a better place to start.”

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