The top 5 reasons you shouldn’t ignore your mental health

Feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious? If you answer yes, here’s why you should pay attention to those feelings — plus, how to get support. 

Mental health: It’s not all in your head. Left untreated, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety can lead to physical ailments. They can cause more mental health issues, too. Unfortunately, many people with these conditions don’t get the help they need. Only about 61% of adults who have had a major depressive event in the last year are getting treatment. But seeking help is one of the most important things you can do for your well-being. 

“If you thought you were having a heart attack, you’d call 911,” points out Rosalind Dorlen, Psy.D., a psychologist in Summit, New Jersey. You want to take care of your mental health in the same way that you take care of your overall health, says Dr. Dorlen. Here’s why, and how to get the support you need and deserve. 

5 Ways Untreated Mental Health Issues Hurt Your Well-Being

1. They can lead to physical illness.  

Depression can put your heart health at serious risk. Even if you’re young and otherwise healthy. One recent study looked at healthy adults ages 18 to 49. Those who reported depression or poor mental health days went on to experience higher rates of heart attack, stroke, and risk factors for heart disease than the others. 

Depression has also been linked to low back pain, notes Dr. Dorlen. A new study found that people with back pain had higher rates of depression than those without back pain. “It’s very hard to say definitively that back pain causes depression,” Dr. Dorlen points out. “But they are definitely connected in some way.” 

2. They can make your mental health worse.

Without proper care, people with depression can experience a steady decline in their mental health. And the longer this goes on, the more difficult it is to treat.  

“As their condition worsens, they become less motivated to get help. Which is a real problem,” says Dr. Dorlen. “People become increasingly irritable and feel more and more hopeless.” Untreated mental health issues can also make it more difficult to sleep, she adds. Lack of sleep can make your mood even worse.

3. They can lead to self-harm and suicide. 

Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. And it’s the second leading cause of death in people ages 10 to 14 and 25 to 34. One major risk factor: a history of depression and other mental illness.

4. They can lead to relationship problems.

People with poor mental health have higher rates of divorce. Mental health issues can also impact non-romantic relationships, like those with family, friends, and even co-workers.  

That’s in part because when we’re depressed, we’re more likely to pull away from others. And that can weaken our personal connections and mental health even more. In fact, experts say that doing the opposite and reaching out to your support system can actually help improve your mental health and mood.

5. They can result in substance abuse.

Substance abuse and mental health issues often go hand in hand. Almost 14% of people between the ages of 18 and 25 deal with both. And 62% of the 2 million U.S. adults who have an opioid use disorder also have an underlying mental illness.  

Substance abuse is a common coping mechanism for people with issues like depression. But there are healthy and more effective alternatives for feeling better. Keep reading to find resources that can help you get started today.  

How to Get Mental Health Support

The best place to start is with your primary care physician (PCP), says Dr. Dorlen. They can refer you to a licensed mental health professional for support. And they can help guide you toward the right kind of therapist for your needs. 

Not comfortable bringing it up with your PCP? There are other places you can look to for support. They include: 

“There is plenty of community support out there,” says Dr. Dorlen. “People just need to be educated as to where to go to get help.” 

Don’t know if your health plan offers Wellframe as a benefit? Reach out to your human resources department to find out.

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