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Behind every mental illness, there is someone with a complex story: those affected have different personalities, different home lives, different backgrounds, different genes, and different experiences. Like each person, the causes of mental illness are varied and unique within an individual. Exploring the different causes can guide someone in the correct direction to better understand themselves and figure out what type of recovery is suitable for them.
There are various factors that play into the development of a mental illness, and for many it can be confusing on where to begin, but the first step to discovering the root of a mental illness is going to a professional to help diagnose. Mrs. Shannon Harting, the school stress counselor, has a list of professionals who can help.
“The only way to know [if you have a mental illness] for sure is to meet with a mental health professional. Professionals who specialize in understanding and treating psychological disorder are licensed clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, licensed psychologists and psychiatrists,” Mrs. Harting said. “Some nurse practitioners also specialize in mental health. The guidance department has two licensed professional counselors and a licensed clinical social worker.”
Family support counselor Heather Borah, who works for CHADS coalition – a group that raises awareness for depression and preventing suicide – knows of numerous sources that are helpful for people with different mental illnesses and circumstances.
“If [a person] thinks they have a mental illness, they should probably talk to their primary doctor or pediatrician. They can help you rule out any medical causes and then also get you help. You could start with your insurance company and they can give you a list of counselors who are covered,” Borah said. “Psychology Today also has a pretty good search engine for counselors where you can check boxes for anxiety or other [mental illnesses]. There’s the Behavioral Medicine Institute that specializes in anxiety disorders, eating disorders and other things like that. So if you have a very specific disorder, you can see someone that specializes in it.”
Doing research on the topics surrounding mental illnesses can improve a person’s knowledge, which makes it easier to comprehend it. Marti Jennings, a provisional licensed professional counselor (PLPC), recommends looking into various resources in addition to therapy when delving into the causes of mental illnesses.
“‘Understanding Mental Illness’ from Missouri Department of Health, along with links to lots of great information on the NAMI [National Alliance of Mental Illness]-St. Louis Website, fact sheets, support groups, etc – these are just a few of the resources that I provide for clients, whether they are the individual dealing with a mental health issue or a loved one. This, of course, is just a starting point. There are so many resources available,” Jennings said.
An individual who believes they possess a mental illness should not self-diagnose because it is essential to talk to a therapist or counselor, according to AP Psychology teacher Mrs. Stacey Denningmann.
“Don’t self-diagnose, WebMD is not your friend, and if you’re not feeling how you felt a week or two weeks ago, you should look at what’s going on in your life,” Mrs. Denningmann said.
Although one should not self-diagnose, it is useful to know some possible indicators of a mental illness.
“If you’re just feeling out of sorts, you’re tired all the time, you never want to do anything, things you used to enjoy are no longer enjoyable, you don’t want to get up in the morning and go to school, you’re letting your personal hygiene slip, you don’t care if you fix your hair, you don’t care if you have clean clothes on; those are some indicators,” Mrs. Denningmann said.
As Mrs. Denningmann says, there are various different traumatic events in a person’s life that can cause a mental illness. Learning about your mental illness can be a confusing process, but there are certain signs that should not be ignored.
“When we look at stress, we look for PTSD, which is newly identified in the psych world as a real psychological disorder. A survivor of a tornado, someone who has come back from war, someone who has been assaulted, robbed or sexually attacked, [are all examples of potential triggering events],” Mrs. Denningmann said.
Borah finds that another common cause of mental illnesses is that it can run in the genes of a family, but while the chances of getting that specific illness is elevated, it is not inevitable.
“If you have a parent or two parents who have been diagnosed with depression or bipolar [disorder], then that increases your risk of developing those disorders. It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to develop, you’re just at a higher risk,” Borah said.
When it comes to finding the root cause of a mental illness, it can be more complicated than one certain gene or event or percentage.
“Usually [mental illness] is some sort of combination; it’s not going to be clear cut. It’s not that black and white. Oftentimes, what happens in people is they’re predisposed to something like depression, and then a precipitating event happens… the loss of a loved one or the loss of a job or something dramatic happens, and it can trigger that depression,” Borah said.
While Mrs. Denningmann agrees diagnosing a mental illness takes time and patience, it can be comforting to know that you are not alone and various treatments can assist in recovery.
“[Many factors] can trigger a mental illness, and the most commonly diagnosed mental illness we have is depression, and, fortunately, it is the most easily cured one, but it takes time,” Mrs. Denningmann said. “There are different ways to deal with mental illnesses and those would be medication and/or counseling. You just have to be patient.”