Community Health & Wellness

Wellness Wednesday | Ending the stigma: Mental Health Awareness Month

Posted on May 7th, 2024 By: Scot Fleshman

Acknowledging mental health concerns is not always easy for people to do. Chances are you, or someone you love, is included in the 1 in 5 adults in America experiencing mental illness each year. However, stigma is still incredibly prevalent.

What is the result of this general attitude towards mental health conditions?

Stigma perpetuates the unhelpful idea that you need to suffer in silence and that getting help shows weakness or lack of character. Often, symptoms can start early in life, with approximately 50% of all lifetime mental illnesses beginning by age 14 and 75% by age 24. These symptoms carry on while varying in intensity for years before receiving a diagnosis. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the average delay between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years.

Can you imagine waiting 11 years to address a physical health concern?

That doesn’t seem a reasonable ask for anyone! This month, we are focusing on awareness of mental health conditions, what to watch out for, and how to find the courage to speak up and access help.

Mental health awareness: Common conditions

A wide variety of diagnoses falls under the mental health umbrella. You are probably familiar with anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or even borderline personality disorder. Also included are eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

This is not an exhaustive list of all mental health conditions, but there may be one you didn’t realize was included before. Remember, awareness is the first step to seeking help.

Counseling or therapy can be a treatment for mental illness, but it’s not the only one.

Symptoms to watch for

While each of these conditions has its own set of symptoms, there are some to watch for in teens and adults:

  • Worries or fears that present in excess
  • Overwhelming feelings of sadness, irritability or anger
  • Brain fog and problems concentrating or learning
  • Strong changes in mood
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and activities you once enjoyed
  • Changes in energy levels, sleep habits and eating habits
  • Overuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

When looking for symptoms in younger children, it can be more challenging because they don’t always know how to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Symptoms typically show up in their behavior and can include:

  • Possible negative changes in academic performance
  • Excessive worry or anxiety about situations and difficulty with transitions, e.g. leaving a caregiver for school or falling asleep independently
  • Hyperactivity
  • Regular nightmares
  • Intense and regular temper tantrums, disobedience or aggression

If you notice that multiple of these symptoms are present simultaneously in yourself or someone you love, you have support options and we want you to reach out.

How to access support

For emergency situations in the U.S., please contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 or using the chat feature at

For non-emergency situations, please speak with your primary care provider to book an appointment and find out what mental health supports are available in your area. These supports will usually start with an assessment, diagnosis and then a suggested course of treatment. You have options!

These treatment options can include medication, therapy/counseling, or other lifestyle changes, such as diet, exercise, or sleep adjustments. There isn’t a magic cure that “fixes” all, but Gig Harbor Primary Care is here to be part of your mental health support system.

We want to reassure you that reaching out for help and support shows you are brave. It may take time to find the course of treatment that works best for you and your specific situation, but we are very happy and willing to work with you to find what that is.

Please share this article with friends and family to let them know that you value mental health and are working towards ending the stigma. Together we can prove that mental health = health!

Scot Fleshman

The Wellness Wednesday column is written by Scot Fleshman, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and board-certified family nurse practitioner. Fleshman and his wife, Jessica Hopkins, own Gig Harbor Primary Care.