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WASHINGTON — When Tom Starling first heard the statistic that 1 in 5 Americans have a mental illness, he thought it had to be a mistake. The number simply seemed too high.

Then he remembered the number of women who have postpartum depression, and the veterans left with post-traumatic stress disorder from military service. He thought about suicide statistics and those who experienced childhood trauma, the rise in anxiety and depression and how many families have lives marred by domestic violence.

Starling, the board chairman of Mental Health America, reconsidered. He decided if you take those and so many other factors into consideration, the original figure is probably way too low. It’s probably closer to 1 in 2 who struggle with mental health, he said Thursday during the group’s annual conference.

Hundreds of mental health experts, advocates, public health officials, community organizers and school officials have been meeting here this week for Mental Health America’s annual conference. The 2019 theme “Dueling Diagnoses” is a nod to the fact that mental health challenges seldom travel completely alone. It’s more likely that people with depression are also anxious, or that someone has autism and a mental illness, each condition complicating care for the other. And treatment requires seeing and screening the whole person.

The Deseret News received a Mental Health America media award for its yearlong "Generation Vexed" series on teen anxiety. And we've been listening to and learning from conversations at this conference. Here are eight things experts want you to keep in mind about the connections between mental health and everything else:


Mental and physical conditions often coexist.

That's according to Simone Lambert, who trains counselors and is president of the American Counseling Association and a professor at Capella University. “Most people struggle with more than one thing,” she said, pointing to research from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that says 68 percent of adults with mental disorders have medical conditions and nearly 3 in 10 adults with medical conditions have a mental disorder.

For older adults, the number dealing with a chronic illness, mental or physical, rises to 80 percent — but the elderly are not the sole group disproportionately affected by chronic disorders, either. Ethnic and racial minorities experience them at twice the rate of whites, while the poor also have elevated risk compared to people with more resources.

Lambert pointed out that receiving proper care involves recognizing and addressing all the mental and physical disorders a person may have and acknowledging that they are “complex and bidirectional.”


You can’t treat cancer without addressing mental health.

Nearly 40 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and “the usual reaction to cancer is to feel traumatized,” says Elizabeth Franklin, executive director of the Cancer Policy Institute.

Yet the majority of time and energy is spent talking about aggressive and immediate treatment, rather than asking the person about what’s important to them, what they’re worried about and what emotional and mental support they need.

Heather Miller, National Alliance on Mental Illness

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8 truths about mental health you might want to consider
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