May is Mental Illness Awareness Month. Millions of Americans are affected by mental health conditions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness every year.

Help has never been better and more available. Innovations in medicine, therapy and psychiatric services have made recovery and wellness a reality for millions. Educate yourself about mental illness and recognize the signs and resources available to you, your family, coworkers and friends.

Warning Signs of Mental Illness



Mental illness is difficult to diagnose. Everyone experiences things like depression and anxiety differently. Being depressed for a day or two is normal, but being depressed nonstop for weeks on end is not. The earlier signs of mental illness are recognized, the quicker a person can get the help they need to resume a healthy and full life.

Common signs of mental illness:

  • Feeling incredibly sad or depressed
  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Confused thinking or difficulty concentrating and learning
  • Changes in sleeping habits; sleeping too much or too little
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideations
  • Changes in eating habits; eating too much or too little
  • Inability to carry out daily functions or handle daily stress and problems
  • Failure to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (“lack of insight”)


Each illness has its own symptoms and educating yourself on mental health is a significant first step. Do not be afraid to reach out if you or someone you know needs help. Many times a person dealing with mental illness needs someone to reach out for support on their behalf – as they feel stuck, broken or stigmatized by their illness.


Treatment and Services



NAMI outlines four treatment options for mental illness:

  • Counseling
  • Medication
  • Social therapy
  • Education


People who are directly involved in designing their own treatment plan – including setting and defining wellness goals  –  experience better outcomes. For some, medication is sufficient. For others, medication is not helpful at all and professional counseling could be the most beneficial treatment. Social therapy can take many forms  –  from seeing a trained professional, to learning relaxation skills, to intensively reworking your thinking patterns. Educating yourself on mental illness and the tools and treatment plans available can also be a very insightful step to recovery.

With the help of a treatment team, you can develop a well-rounded recovery plan that may include counseling, medication, social therapy, and education.

Support, acceptance, and encouragement from friends and family is a vital part of overcoming mental illness. If you are a friend, coworker or family member of someone suffering from mental illness, do not give up on helping the person in need. Practice positivity, strength, understanding, and a lot of loving patience. Know when to seek professional guidance for matters you cannot handle on your own.


Practical Examples



Overcoming sadness can be a simple as talking to a friend, writing in a journal, or getting involved in the community. Going for a walk and getting fresh air is sometimes all it takes to change your mood. Breathing exercises and physical activity are also good ways to clear your mind.

If you see someone who is exhibiting signs of mental illness, let them know you care and educate them on recovery options. If the person does not want to accept help, reach out to a professional for guidance. Getting a diagnosis is only the first step; equally important is having goals for recovery. Do not feel stigmatized for having a mental illness. Like any illness, it is beyond control and can be treated.

If you or someone you know needs help immediately, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or call 911.

Aliat co-employees and their family members have free access to the Employee Assistance Program as they deal with life’s struggles.