Since 1990, National Mental Illness Awareness Week has been recognized by the U.S. Congress as a time for mental health advocates and patients to join together for various awareness-raising activities. Sponsored by National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the goal of this week is to transform the way we think about mental illness, which is defined by NAMI as “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.”
Like any other medical condition affecting a particular organ, mental illness is not caused by personal weakness or character defects, and it can affect individuals of any age, race, religion or income. As an example, some famous people who are known to have lived with mental illness include Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Tennessee Williams and Mike Wallace (who was eulogized by one of our members last June). Below is a new PSA ad for National Mental Illness Awareness Week 2012 that focuses on some of these legendary icons, stressing that “you are not alone in this fight.”
In addition to exchanging in-depth treatment evaluations about the effectiveness and side effects of commonly prescribed medications such as Cymbalta, Klonopin or Wellbutrin, our members are connecting and supporting each other daily in our Mental Health and Behavior Forum. Currently, there are more than 39,000 participants and more than 333,000 posts in this highly active forum, where you can find answers, empathy, humor and thought-provoking conversations day or night.
Now that daylight savings time has ended, the days are shorter, and before you know it, it’s nightfall. Has this affected your mood?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as seasonal depression, is a condition marked by a period of depression that occurs during the same season year after year. In most cases, that season would be fall through winter (when there is less sunlight), but for some people, SAD can occur during spring or summer.
One of the best ways to learn “what’s normal and not normal?” with SAD is to compare your experiences with other patients. There are 123 patients with SAD at PatientsLikeMe, with 85% of them female and 15% male. A commonly reported treatment is light therapy, or the use of a special light box that exposes you to bright light. This mimics the effect of natural outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals that positively affects your mood. (Does it really work? Check out the 27 treatment evaluations for light therapy that our patients have submitted.)
“My symptoms tend to be worsening depression and anxiety. There are no ‘indicator’ symptoms for me – meaning I don’t realize necessarily ‘Oh I’m starting to feel SAD, crap!’ But all of my Major Depressive Episodes (five so far since I was 20) have occurred in November and December. And looking back, I can see a downward trend in especially depressive symptoms getting worse starting in mid October – such as depressed mood, more frequent crying spells, fatigue, worse insomnia, headaches worsen, weight and appetite changes, and urges to self-injure. Three of my Major Depressive Episodes led to suicidal thoughts and short hospitalizations. The other two, I had frequent suicidal thoughts but did not feel in danger of acting upon them.” – Member with panic disorder
“[Symptoms are] mild now, but they ran the spectrum from comatose to the walking functional. Kids don’t understand, and our school bus arrived at 6:00 a.m. Needless to say they weren’t hungry, food on the bus = school contraband, so I’d whip up scrambled eggs with cheese and wrap them in a taco shell and tell them to sneak a bite when they got hungry. They just threw them in the bushes for the local dogs to eat. Then I’d watch TV and answer the ever increasing phone calls all day long. If I felt OK, I’d start to prepare for the tornado that was spring. Nowadays since I don’t have so much responsibility, my symptoms seem mild, but that could change depending on the winds of life events.” – Member with bipolar II disorder
“I think it varies year to year in terms of severity. The March/April period is characterized by an increase in my anxiety levels together with restlessness and restrictive eating. The September/October period is characterized by an increase in my feelings of sadness along with intense carbohydrate cravings and a need to sleep more. Both periods are marked by problems concentrating. I notice that the light box really helps with the carbohydrate cravings. I think it might even make me less hungry overall. It’s not that the cravings go away entirely, but instead they are dampened to the level where I *don’t* find myself eating cookies without realizing how I got them.” – Member with major depressive disorder
This graphic (which you can click to enlarge) gives you a feel of the many emotions, concerns and thoughts that surround the topic of mental health. But the best way to increase awareness and knowledge, we believe, is to learn from real patients. According to NAMI, one in four adults experiences a mental health problem in any given year, while one in 17 lives with a serious, chronic mental illness.
To help show what it’s like to live with depression, we thought we’d share some of our members’ candid answers to the question, “What does your depression feel like?”
“My last depressive state felt like I was in a well with no way to get out. I would be near the top, but oops….down I go. I truly felt that I would not be able to pull myself out of this one. I felt hopeless, worthless and so damn stupid, because I could not be like other people, or should say what I think are normal people.”
“It feels like living in a glass box. You can see the rest of the world going about life, laughing, bustling about, doing things, but they can’t see you or hear you, or touch you, or notice you at all, and you cannot remember how to do the things that they are doing, like laughing, and just being ordinary and satisfied with it. You are totally alone although surrounded by people.”
“It feels like walking in a dimly lit hallway (or totally black, depending on the severity) with no exit in sight and no one else around. You keep walking hoping to come to the end, trying to feel along the walls for some sort of door that will take you out of this tunnel, but to no success. At the beginning you feel like there has to be an end or a door of some sort – something to get you out, but as you keep walking, your hopes damper by each step. You try yelling for help, but no one hears you.”
“Depression is very much like feeling as if I have no arms nor legs and (what’s left of) my body is upright in the middle of a road on a cold, dark, foggy morning. I can’t run. I can’t walk or crawl. In fact, I have no options. I have no memory of how I came to be there. I know I’m going to die, I don’t know when or exactly how. There’s nobody around who sees me or understands my situation. If somebody gets close by and I scream, they’ll run away in fear. My family has no idea where I am and I’m alone… except for the headlights down the road.”
At PatientsLikeMe, people with every type of condition are coming together to share their health experiences, find patients like them and learn how to take control of their health. The result is improved care for patients as well as an acceleration of real-world medical research.
Stay tuned to our blog for the latest happenings with our company, our patients and our mission of opening up the healthcare system.