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Samaritan recognizes mental health awareness month

Published on: May 1, 2024

Do you treat your mental health with the same care and attention as you do your physical health?

It’s a simple yet important question to consider, especially as we enter Mental Health Awareness Month. Observed every May, this nationwide recognition event shines a light on the often overlooked but critically important aspects of our mental well-being.

For most of us, the honest answer to the above question is “no.” When we have cold or flu-like symptoms, we consult our doctor or an urgent care clinic. If we chip a tooth, we make an appointment with a dentist. Yet, when we feel anxious, depressed or experience a traumatic event, we often avoid asking for help.

“It is quite common for people to brush off feelings of anxiety or depression rather than seek help from a mental health professional,” says Tina O’Neil, director of mental health services at Samaritan Health. “Some may think they can handle these feelings on their own, or they might feel embarrassed or ashamed about seeking help. Some people may not even realize that what they are experiencing is a mental health issue.”

Watch for warning signs

Identifying the warning signs of mental illness can be a difficult – but critical – first step toward getting help. All individuals have different behaviors, and all illnesses have different symptoms, but the following are some common warning signs of 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
  • 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
  • Overuse of substances such as alcohol or drugs
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

“Children and teens may also show warning signs of mental illness,” says Samaritan Psychiatrist Daniel J. Williamson, MD. “It is important to be aware of certain behaviors in youth, especially since they may not be capable of or comfortable talking about their full emotions at home.”

In addition to the warning signs listed above, Dr. Williamson encourages families to watch for the following signs in children and adolescents.

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

Reaching out for help

Image shows a therapist during session with a young patient.

If you notice any of these warning signs, or even if you think you do, the next step is to reach out for help. Start by voicing your concerns to a trusted family member, friend or your primary care doctor. Then get in touch with a mental health professional in your area.

Here in the North Country, Samaritan offers comprehensive mental health services for patients of all ages. The Samaritan Outpatient Behavioral Health clinic, located at 1575 Washington Street in Watertown, provides various forms of counseling, talk therapy, medication-based treatment, and other interventions.

“Our specialists are trained to treat anxiety disorders, mood disorders — including depression — sleep disorders, psychotic disorders, and just about any other mental or behavioral health concern a patient may need help with,” O’Neil says. “Treatment is tailored to each patient, and we even offer counseling specific to couples, families and other situations.”

New patients can access Samaritan’s Outpatient Behavioral Health clinic by coming to walk-in hours from 8:00–11:00 a.m. Monday through Friday. During the initial walk-in appointment, a caregiver will collect medical history, perform a brief assessment, and schedule a follow-up appointment with a therapist. Space is limited at walk-in hours.

In addition to providing outpatient care, Samaritan has resources to help in urgent mental health situations. The emergency department at Samaritan Medical Center has a unit dedicated to behavioral health emergencies, and just upstairs, a 32-bed inpatient mental health unit provides a safe, caring and confidential environment for adults experiencing a severe psychiatric crisis.

Fighting against stigma

“One other thing I would like to mention about Samaritan is our commitment to educating patients, families and the community about mental health,” says O’Neil. “Raising awareness is our best way to fight against stigma and to help people feel more comfortable about seeking the care they need.”

Fortunately, O’Neil says, she has seen public opinion on mental health changing for the better in recent years, thanks in part to efforts such as Mental Health Awareness Month. Recent polling shows that 23% of American adults visited a mental health professional in 2022, up from just 13% of adults in 2004.

This shows that, while the need for mental health services has increased, so has the emphasis on seeking out help and achieving mental wellness. This trend is inspiring to O’Neil, who hopes to see the support and acceptance continue.

“We want everyone to feel comfortable seeking care for their mental health,” she says. “We can all benefit from counseling or talk therapy at certain points in our lives, just like we all benefit from regular visits to the doctor or dentist.”

If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis and unsure what to do, an urgent mental health hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling or texting 988.

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