Health & Fitness

Dr. Wood: Here are tips for helping the 1 in 5 Americans with a mental illness

Mental health issues are common and impact our quality of life. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that 1 in 5 Americans are affected by mental illness each year.

We know that untreated mental illness can strain personal relationships and support networks. This can isolate people who most need support.

It is important to recognize that there are different forms of mental illness. These include anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, just to name a few. All are treatable, but can be complex for families and friends.

It is not uncommon for both the person with a mental illness and those who care about them to feel helpless or frustrated at times. There are things you can do to support loved ones who are coping with a mental illness.

  • Learn more about the illness — just like you would for any other health condition. It can make a big difference in understanding what the person is experiencing.
  • Expect things to get better. Mental illness can create the need to make adjustments in how you respond to behavior of your loved one, but positive outcomes are possible and hopefulness can be contagious. Even when there are ups and downs, people living with mental illness can learn how to get the support they need.

  • Express your willingness to help. Offer to take the person to appointments or provide support in other useful ways.

  • Suggest seeking help from a professional. Sometimes people are reluctant to get help for the first time, or may feel discouraged if they are seeking help again. Encouraging them to reach out to a medical or mental health provider can make a difference.

  • Know the warning signs for suicide. Most who attempt suicide show warning signs. Go to the Health Matters column on this topic to learn more.

Whether it’s you yourself, or a loved one, wrestling with mental illness, it’s important to recognize that some forms of mental illness go away, and come back. Be patient, especially if you are the person seeking help. Mental illness improves with appropriate treatment, but it takes time.

NAMI has a great resource center for people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness and for their families.

The most important thing to understand is that you are not alone. Hearing the experiences and challenges of others teaches us all that things can get better. The You Are Not Alone website provides a place to both share and learn. Mental health deserves the same compassion, attention and focus as being diagnosed with another type of health condition would.

If your loved one is covered under the Medicaid program, there may be resources available to you through the Thurston-Mason Behavioral Health Organization. You can learn more about what they offer and eligibility at their website: They also share helpful information on social media, so consider following them on Twitter @tmbhowa.

If you or someone you know needs help, reach out. For those in crisis, call The Crisis Clinic at 360-586-2800.

Reach Dr. Rachel C. Wood, health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, at 360-867-2501,, or @ThurstonHealth on Twitter.