Although our organization’s focus is to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as those with traumatic brain injuries, it is equally our focus to support individuals who are dually diagnosed and experience mental health challenges. Many individuals we serve experience this dual diagnosis. Each May, our nation draws attention to Mental Health Illnesses, yet it is the goal at AIM to promote awareness each and every day.

Increasing community awareness regarding those we support is at the heart of our mission. Our organization believes a more informed community will lead to one that is more involved with the people for whom we care. Below are some important facts regarding mental health that we hope will help our readers become more informed.

1. Mental Health Challenges are an “Invisible Illness”

Mental illness is something that people experience internally, often not seen externally, and is thus considered an “invisible illness”.  It can be difficult to understand a person’s mental health struggles because many people struggle silently. While there is a big push toward mental health awareness in recent years, many people still feel the stigma is too strong to come forward and seek help.

Though mental illness is most often invisible, long term effects of some mental health conditions may result in trauma that is evident physically as well.  Some of these symptoms may include gastrointestinal problems, body aches, migraines, poor eye sight, weight gain or loss, ulcers, high blood pressure, and sleep disturbances, to name a few.

2. Mental Illness Does Not Discriminate

People with developmental disabilities are 30%-35% more likely to be dually diagnosed with a mental health condition. Mental health struggles do not discriminate; they are experienced by people from all different walks of life – socioeconomics, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, culture, race, etc.  We need only quickly research online to discover that some of the most well know people, people we may idolize, struggle with mental health challenges. With this in mind, mental illnesses are a great equalizer. The more we are able to speak up about these types of struggles, the closer we come to eradicating the stigma that surrounds those struggling.

3. Caregivers of People with Mental Health Illness can experience Second-Hand Trauma

Those who support people through their mental health struggles tend to be present for mood swings, reliving of trauma, suicide attempts, substance abuse, etc.  This can lead to care-givers experiencing their own struggles; such as anxiety, depression, paranoia, substance abuse, insomnia, and PTSD.

Due to this risk, it is important for caregivers to focus on their own wellness and practice good mental hygiene. This includes getting a healthy amount of sleep, staying hydrated, getting exercise, taking breaks and vacations from their caregiving duties, spending time with friends and family, and seeking counseling if they are feeling overwhelmed or their job is starting to negatively impact their quality of life.

4. Talk Therapy and Medications are not the Only Options for Treatment

Although these treatments are the most widely talked about, there are many other options. Additional types of therapy include play therapy, art therapy, music therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical-behavior therapy, and rapid eye movement therapy.

Talk therapy is incredibly beneficial, but not everyone feels comfortable opening up to a stranger with whom they do not have a trusting relationship. Each person is unique and their therapy should be reflective of this fact. For those with various anxieties, music or art therapy can be especially effective due to the naturally calming nature of these activities.  For children, play therapy can be most effective because their ability to explore their emotions is not yet fully developed. Play Therapy decreases re-traumatization of reliving events, it allows for freedom of imagination and expression, and offers a low-pressure environment.

Ultimately, medications can be incredibly helpful for some people, but are not always necessary, and the above therapies should be explored first if possible.  Medication is not something that should be decided on lightly. In addition, medication has been proven to be more effective if used in conjunction with various therapies

5. People with Mental Health Challenges are More Likely to Experience Addiction-Related Behavior

Addiction-Related Behavior can include alcoholism, drug use, promiscuity, and eating disorders. These behaviors are a way of feeling a sense of control, while actually being entirely out of control in terms of mental health. This can lead to a dangerous pattern of dependency, tolerance, exposure to other addictions, and can destroy the relationships that people need in their lives to improve their overall wellness. We hope that, through therapy and positive intervention, we can connect with and assist people before Addiction-Related Behaviors arise.

There is so much to learn regarding mental health and those struggling with associated illnesses. We are happy to offer a small sample of this information to perpetuate our goal of community awareness. Please share this important blog story so you too can carry on this message!