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Jeannie Merrick W.H.C.N.P

Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Posted by on in Primary Care
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160517MentalHealthMonth-325Most people believe that mental disorders are rare. Each day at Oak Street Medical, we see patients with mental health problems, such as mood disorders, or physical symptoms associated with mental issues—these problems are far from rare.

According to Mental Health America (formerly the National Mental Health Association), an estimated 54 million Americans suffer from mental disorders each year.

What is mental illness?

A mental illness causes mild to severe disturbance in thoughts, which can change behaviors, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s everyday demands and routines.  

There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illness. At Oak Street Medical, the most common mental illnesses we encounter are depression, anxiety, panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder. Other less common disorders include bipolar, dementia, and schizophrenia.  

What are the symptoms of common mood disorders?

Many symptoms caused by anxiety are similar to those of physical disorders and can be easily confused. Some of these symptoms include: chest pain, shortness of breath, stomach discomfort, nausea, fatigue, a feeling of something caught in your throat, headaches, and trouble sleeping.
People suffering from depression often complain of bodily aches and pains, feeling exhausted and experience change in appetite that causes weight gain or loss.  

By carefully listening to our patients describe their symptoms, along with performing a physical exam and sometimes blood work or imaging studies to rule out physical problems, our primary care providers can determine the true cause of these symptoms and start appropriate treatment.

What does bipolar mental illness feel and look like?

Bipolar disorder frequently causes extreme mood shifts, from feeling invincible or “on top of the world” to feeling severely depressed and suicidal. Behaviors may include being extremely restless and taking on more activities than usual to withdrawing completely from social activities and being unable to complete or even start any tasks.

Mental illness can present in many different ways. In general, sudden changes in mood, personality, thoughts, behaviors, and personal habits, as well as becoming socially withdrawn, should be cause for concern.

Can a person with mental illness get better?

We now have very good treatments for common mood disorders. More serious illnesses can be successfully treated to control symptoms and allow people to live more normal lives.

Left untreated, mental illness can lead to worsening behaviors and increase the risk of suicide or other violence. Today, more people die from suicide in the United States than from traffic accidents or homicides, and we lose 22 veterans to suicide daily.

Unfortunately, many people feel that they should be able to overcome out-of-control emotions and feelings, and, as a result, are ashamed or embarrassed to seek the help they need for themselves or their loved one.

How quickly will I start feeling better after starting treatment?

Treatment for mental illness usually includes both medication and counseling or “talk therapy.” Most medications can lessen symptoms in two to four weeks.  

We strongly encourage our patients to combine drug therapy with counseling.   The goal of counseling is to better understand the triggers, which can increase symptoms and provide new strategies to cope with and diminish these disturbing feelings.

Therapy is a process of change and takes time; it requires hard work and making recovery a priority. It requires understanding what does and does not help a person feel better. It is incremental and typically has many ups and downs.  

People recovering from mental illness say it feels like: “a fog is lifting from my mind,” or “a weight is being lifted from my shoulders,” and “being alive again.”

Are there support networks to help my family or me?

If you are reluctant to talk with your family or friends about how you are feeling or about a family member’s worrisome behavior, you can find a support group that can provide you with an opportunity to talk with other people who are going through or have endured a similar experience. Contact us if you’d like recommendations.
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

Check out the daily tips on the May calendar at

As a women’s health care nurse practitioner, Jeannie Merrick has spent 30 years working with women of all ages as a specialist in gynecological, reproductive and sexual health. Jeannie’s down-to-earth approach is reassuring and comforting to patients.