While you may try to push through a cold or flu, you probably recognize that something isn’t right after the first series of sneezes, aches or other symptoms. And when those symptoms persist, you’re likely to seek resources to help you get well again. Even with chronic health conditions like cancer or heart disease, advancements in health technology, awareness and education have made seeking treatment a “no brainer.” We now have tools for early detection and screening, making prevention more accessible than ever by helping to motivate adoption of healthier lifestyle habits. We’re better able to recognize when something isn’t right and are always encouraged to seek care early, not waiting years to get necessary treatment. We do what we can to address our health concerns before they reach the acute phase—stage 4.
Each May, we recognize Mental Health Month, or Mental Health Awareness Month, to foster understanding of the relationship between physical and psychological well-being and expand the dialogue surrounding mental health. This year’s theme is “B4Stage4.” Mental Health America (the organization that has led Mental Health Month for over 40 years) chose this message to emphasize the importance of promoting good overall health, as well as recognizing and treating mental health concerns early—just as we would with physical health concerns.
Mental health is influenced by a variety of factors—from emotional, psychological and social well-being, to our environments and physical health behaviors—impacting how we navigate stress and make choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research indicates that good mental health is associated with overall positive health outcomes. Despite these facts, many early signs of mental health concerns like mood changes or fluctuations in ability to function at work or home, go unrecognized. Even upon recognition, research indicates that an average of ten years passes before these symptoms are acknowledged and addressed—valuable time that could otherwise be used to change or save a life.
Mental health conditions don’t just impact certain groups—they can impact anyone. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, one in five American adults will have a diagnosable mental health condition in any given year, and 50% of Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition during their lifetime. That’s why it’s increasingly important to educate one another about signs, resources, and prevention, making sure that we’re keeping health—both mental and physical—in the forefront of conversation.
Take this month as an opportunity to engage your shipmates or family members on the many resources available to promote mental health, intervene when symptoms are present and prevent “stage 4” crises. Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoE) and Mental Health America have a myriad of tools to help educate and motivate action, and we’ll be sharing additional tips throughout the month on Facebook and Twitter. Remember, health isn’t merely the absence of a particular disease or disorder, and we must take conscious and active steps to maintain it. There is an unbreakable link between a healthy mind and overall wellness, adding truth to the old cliché “you only look as good as you feel.”
 Substance Use and Mental Health Estimates from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Overview and Findings. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/NSDUH14-0904/NSDUH14-0904.pdf