Steps to avoid mental illness

Good mental health is within most people’s reach and is largely a matter of awareness and prevention.

Though most mental illnesses are biologically-based, there are steps people can take to prevent mental illness from occurring, or getting worse. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental illnesses. Knowing the signs and symptoms of these and other illnesses, and knowing when, where and how to ask for help are the keys to successful prevention and treatment.

Children may exhibit different signs and symptoms than adults because children may act out their fears, worry or sadness rather than talk about it. Warning signs of mental illness in younger children can include changes in school performance; fear, anxiety or worry that prevents them from taking part in normal activities; nightmares; hyperactivity, and unusual aggression or tantrums. One of the biggest things parents can watch for is a change. Older children may abuse substances, exhibit excessive anger or fear, experience a change in eating or sleep patterns, have difficulty coping with relationships, school or other routine activities, complain of physical ailments, or exhibit unusually defiant behaviors.

Adults may have confused thinking, prolonged sadness or hopelessness, extreme mood changes, social withdrawal, substance use, difficulty coping with daily routine, intense fear or worry, uncontrolled anger, unexplained physical ailments, or have suicidal thoughts. If these, or other unusual or troubling behaviors, persist for two weeks or more, it may signal a mental illness that, with timely treatment, can be successfully managed or cured.

With proper treatment 70 to 90 percent of people with mental illness experience significant improvement in their symptoms and quality of life. There are a few simple things that people can incorporate into their lives to help maintain good mental health.

A good place to start is your overall health, because it is all connected. Proper nutrition, plenty of rest, exercise, and moderate caffeine and alcohol use will pay off in extra energy and an improved outlook on life. Wellness is more than prevention and absence from disease. It is about the complete general, mental and social well-being.

We’re all living busy and sometimes stressful lives and face challenges at home and/or work. Fully embracing the concept of our overall well-being puts the focus on several areas. Here are some tips to follow:

Establish a meditation or exercise practice. Solitary, or with a group, what’s important is that you take time away from the hectic pace of your daily routine.

Consider the spiritual side – it can be as important as our physical care. When we believe and have faith in something bigger than ourselves, it can help up keep our lives and problems in perspective. Many of us experience this through our religious practices.

Nurture your friendships. It’s well known that the support and companionship of others enhances people’s health and longevity.

Organize yourself. Prioritize tasks and don’t over-schedule.

Take the time to learn something new – a language, a skill, a hobby. Give to others. Volunteer for an organization that shares your values and interests.

Be kind to yourself. Recognize your gifts, celebrate them, and then extend that kindness to others.

For more information on mental health prevention and treatment, call Marietta Memorial Hospital at (740) 374-1501, or visit

Dr. Todd Hawkins is the medical director for the Senior Psychiatric Unit at Marietta Memorial Hospital, Marietta.