B4Stage4: Recognizing and Treating Mental Illness Early

Since 1949, every May, the United States has celebrated Mental Health Month, thanks in large part to efforts by Mental Health America, the nation’s oldest mental health association.  This year’s theme is B4Stage4, which emphasizes that mental health concerns should be thought about and treated the same way as physical health concerns.

For many illnesses, Stage 4 means trouble, very serious trouble.  Addressing mental health before Stage 4 calls attention to the importance of addressing mental health symptoms early, identifying potential underlying diseases, and planning an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health.

 “When we think about cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them,” said Dr. Mary Armstrong, Director of the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences at the University of South Florida.  “We start before Stage 4—we begin with prevention. So why don’t we do the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness?”

Considering that 1 in 5 Americans suffer from a mental illness, recognizing the symptoms of a mental illness early enough to start treatment is key.  Too often, people ignore real symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious, or hearing voices, in the hopes that the symptoms will go away. However, these are real symptoms, which tell us that something is wrong.

 “Unfortunately, in Florida particularly, where we rank 49th in the nation for mental health funding, we are affected by the state’s ability to provide screening and early intervention services for persons struggling with co-occurring mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders,” said Dr. Armstrong.  “I recently participated in a community conversation hosted by Congressman Gus Bilirakis in Pasco County and with key leaders in adult mental health and substance abuse from the Tampa Bay area. We discussed how we might best address the chronic nature of mental disorders and concluded, right in line with the B4Stage4 campaign, that better access to care, with an emphasis on screening and early intervention, can make significant inroads into better quality of life for children and adolescents, persons in the criminal justice system, and for veterans, who have given so much for their country, who suffer from these disorders.I hope we can build upon the B4Stage4 campaign, and continue with community conversations that will encourage us all to work together to develop appropriate and successful services to ensure that all of our citizens, across their lifespans, can live life to the fullest.”

We know this is possible because mental illnesses are treatable. There is a wide variety of treatment options for mental illnesses, ranging from talk therapy to medication to peer support.  Although it takes some time for a person to find the right treatment or combination of treatments that works best for them, the results can be truly amazing and life changing.

One way to see if you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is to take a quick, confidential screening at www.mhascreening.orgfor a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, mood disorders or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Use your screening results to start a conversation with your primary care provider, or a trusted friend or family member and begin to plan a course of action for addressing your mental health.

The College of Behavioral and Community Sciencesat the University of South Florida enrolls nearly 2,200 students and includes the Departments of Child and Family Studies, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Criminology, Mental Health Law and Policy, and Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling as well as the School of Aging Studies and School of Social Work.  The Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute(FMHI), in the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, was created over 30 years ago by the Florida Legislature to expand our knowledge about how best to serve the mental health needs of Florida's citizens.