Who Can Get A Mental Illness? LIFELINES You’ve probably heard someone talk about mental illness, or sadly, as many persons call it, ” going off ” or ” going crazy “. The truth is that if you have ever gotten sick, or had to visit your doctor, then it is possible that your mind can get sick too. Yes! Anyone can get mentally ‘sick’ at any time in their life, even if none of their family members has ever been mentally ill. So you might be wondering, what can lead to mental illness? There are many reasons that someone may become mentally ill, but in today’s article I wish to focus on two factors that affect our population. As you read about these two factors, ask yourself, ” Can this happen to me? Do I know anyone who this has happened to? ” Stress – If you are frequently stressed out by your job, your family, a relationship or even poor health, this could eventually contribute to developing mental illness. Children who are severely stressed out by school, assignments, home situations, difficult relationships, abuse, or those who were attacked, traumatized, or bullied, might also develop a mental illness. Frequent stress increases the chances of developing some mental conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders. Stress can also trigger mental illnesses in persons who have a genetic risk for the disease (i.e a disease that runs in their family). This can be seen with illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depressive disorders . It is important for us to remember that we do not get a mental illness every time we get stressed out, just as we do not catch a cold every time someone accidentally sneezes on us. However, the more stressful our lives are and the longer we stay in those stressful situations without help or relief, the more likely it is that we may develop a mental illness. Also, because we are all different, some persons may be able to easily handle a particular form of stress, such as stress on the job, but may get sick mentally when things go wrong with their husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, son or daughter. It is possible that because we really care about those closest to us, challenges in these relationships may affect us more than other problems. On the other hand, some persons have tremendous responsibilities at work that may be more stressful to them than dealing with a personal situation. For example; business managers may be remarkably stressed if they recognize that they have not earned enough to pay their workers or their bills. They often imagine being embarrassed and losing everything that they have worked to build over the years. Worse yet, they may even imagine being attacked by employees who are depending on their income to provide for their families. Whatever the stressor, it is important for us all to find ways to manage our stress levels. Persons who are unaware of the steps they can take to best manage their stressors can secure the assistance of a qualified psychologist or therapist. It is interesting however, that some persons feel ashamed to visit a mental health professional such as those previously mentioned. Nevertheless, most people are not ashamed if they have to visit their family doctor because of a pain, an illness or a diagnosed disease. Unfortunately, many pretend that the stressors in their life are not significant and some even pretend that everything is going well. This may continue until they simply cannot pretend anymore and the stress takes control, leading to undesirable outcomes. How much easier would it have been if they had chosen to see a mental health professional, learn additional stress management skills, ‘beat the stress’, and live happy and healthy lives? Please note that I am not saying that counselling will remove stress from one’s life or that a counsellor is the only person that can assist in stress management. Instead I am saying that, with counselling, one will learn how to manage stress, how to control emotions that come with stress, and how to contain the stress so that it does not result in unintended consequences, such as taking out frustration on innocent individuals. Additionally, I am suggesting that we select those who we choose to assist us with ‘matters of the mind’ very carefully. If you would not allow a novice at surgery to operate on your body, would you allow a novice to lead the charge in working on your mind? Heredity/Family Genes -If you are a member of a family with at least one individual who has been challenged by a mental illness, it is possible that you or another member of your family may become mentally ill as well. Have you ever noticed that your doctor often asks about your family history? Questions such as, ” Does anyone in your family have diabetes ?” can be found on the intake sheet at many doctor offices. But why should one find out about the physical and mental health of your parents, grandparents, and other family members? Simply put, mental illnesses sometimes run in families. Mental illnesses that may be hereditary include depression, anxiety disorders (such as obsessive compulsive disorder), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia . This is not to say that if you have a family member with a mental illness that you will also develop one. However, those with such family members may need to take precautions to ensure that they manage all factors that could lead to the onset of a mental disorder. But what does ‘managing factors’ look like or mean for someone with genetics that may lead to mental illness? This involves monitoring one’s interaction with abuse, stress, or even traumatic or scary events. Since no one can prevent his/herself from ever encountering these factors, the person must instead minimize his/her level of interactions with them. Questions to ask yourself as you manage these factors may include: ” Does this potential friend have a reputation for being abusive to others ?” ” Can I afford to pay this amount of money every month of the year, for the length of time stipulated by the lenders ?”, ” Am I able to do that many classes and examinations ?”, ” Are the demands of this job too intense for me to maintain? “, ” Should I marry this man or this woman with this personality and these habits ?” Persons with genetics that predispose them to mental illness must be especially careful to monitor their activities, relationships and experiences to limit the likelihood of developing this illness. In conclusion, it is possible for anyone to develop a mental illness, just as it is possible for anyone to develop a physical illness. However, we can minimize the likelihood of developing these health challenges if we manage the factors that increase our chances of getting them. Do your part today to lesson your chances of developing a mental illness. Monitor your stress levels and begin asking the necessary questions about your family history. The adage still remains true, ” An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure .” Submitted, Ms. Chereca Weaver, Vice President – St. Kitts Mental Health Association “LifeLines is a monthly column dedicated to addressing issues of mental, behavioural, and social health. The column is written by professionals in the field of social work, mental health, and community medicine “.