Health & Fitness: Recognizing Mental Health issues, where to find help


By LATINA EMERSON, Health & Fitness

Mental health is equally as important as physical health, so it’s critical to recognize if we’re having mental health challenges and know where to seek help, if needed.

A growing number of adults and youth across the United States are facing mental health problems. Nearly 21 percent of U.S. adults experienced a mental illness from 2019 to 2020, which equals more than 50 million people, according to a 2023 report from Mental Health America.

The survey also found:

• Most individuals with a substance use disorder in the U.S. aren’t receiving treatment. In the past year, 15.35 percent of adults had a substance abuse disorder, and 93.5 percent of these individuals didn’t receive any treatment.

• Millions of adults in the U.S. are reporting serious thoughts of suicide (4.84 percent), which totals more than 12.1 million people. The highest rate is among multiracial individuals. For adults who identified with two or more races, 11 percent reported serious thoughts of suicide.

• Over one in 10 youth in the U.S. are experiencing depression that is severely impairing their ability to function at school, work or home, with family or in their social life. In the past year, 16.39 percent of youth (ages 12 to 17) reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode. More than 2.7 million youth (11.5 percent) are experiencing severe major depression.

• More than 1.5 million youth (6.34 percent) reported a substance use disorder in the past year and met the criteria for an illicit drug or alcohol use disorder.

• Over half of adults with a mental illness (54.7 percent) don’t receive treatment, equaling more than 28 million individuals nationwide.

The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities offers some tips to help people of all ages navigate mental health issues.

“We recommend people reach out for help when these problems begin to be a cause for concern or when they begin to impact the person’s ability to relate to others, perform typical duties, or otherwise begin to interfere with their quality of life,” said Dawn Peel, director of crisis intervention for the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. “It’s very important to reach out early for intervention instead of waiting until the condition rises to the level of a crisis.”

What is Mental Illness

Mental illnesses are conditions that affect thinking, emotions and behaviors, according to Mental Health America. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness, and some common disorders include depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal.

These illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances or a combination of these. The brain has changed in a way that makes the person unable to think, feel or act as desired, but with proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental illness or emotional disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Here are some common signs and symptoms for mental illness in adults and adolescents from the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

• Excessive worrying or fear
• Feeling excessively sad or low
• Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
• Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
• Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
• Avoiding friends and social activities
• Difficulties understanding or relating to other people
• Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
• Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
• Changes in sex drive
• Difficulty perceiving reality (delusions or hallucinations, in which a person experiences and senses things that don’t exist)
• Inability to perceive changes in one’s own feelings, behavior or personality (”lack of insight”)
• Overuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
• Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
• Thinking about suicide
• Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress
• Intense fear of weight gain or concern with appearance

In children, symptoms of mental health conditions are behavioral, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. These symptoms may include:

• Changes in school performance
• Excessive worry or anxiety, such as fighting to avoid bed or school
• Hyperactive behavior
• Frequent nightmares
• Frequent disobedience or aggression
• Frequent temper tantrums

Where to Seek Help

Receiving proper care and treatment are essential to overcoming mental illness, but some people may not have health insurance or can’t afford mental health services with a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist. The Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities recommends these resources:

• Georgia Association of Community Service Boards Inc.
“In Georgia, there is a network of Community Service Board providers who can assess and treat individuals with mental health conditions,” Peel said. “They serve individuals who are uninsured as well as those who are underinsured and provide a wide array of services to include assessment, medication management, counseling and other supportive services.”

For more information, visit and use the Resources tab to find providers in your area.

• Georgia Crisis and Access Line
The Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL) provides 24/7/365 crisis assessment services, but it can also link people to treatment providers in their area regardless of insurance or insurance type. GCAL can be reached by calling 800-715-4225 or by text/chat using the MyGCAL app which can be downloaded for Apple and Android devices.

• Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities
Visit the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities website and click on the tab to Find Services & Contacts:

• Federally Qualified Health Centers
Many Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) in Georgia provide primary care and behavioral health services. For more information, visit

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