Mental Health Basics and NIMA’s CureStigma Campaign

Mental Illness Awareness Week

Each year, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. However, mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends or coworkers. It has impacted our family and, more than likely, yours.  Despite the reach and prevalence of mental illnesses, stigma and misunderstanding are also, unfortunately, widespread.

That is why each year, during the first full week of October, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and participants across the country raise awareness of mental illness. Since this week was set aside by Congress in 1990, efforts to educate the public, fight stigma and provide support have grown stronger.

It is important to discuss mental health illnesses year-round, but highlighting them during Mental Illness Awareness Week provides a dedicated time for mental health advocates across the country to come together as one unified voice. Advocates are working together to sponsor activities, large or small, to educate the public about mental illness.


What Is Mental Health?

Mental health refers to your emotional and psychological well-being. Having good mental health helps you lead a relatively happy and healthy life. It helps you demonstrate resilience and the ability to cope in the face of life’s adversities.

Your mental health can be influenced by a variety of factors, including life events or even your genetics.

There are many strategies that can help you establish and keep good mental health. These can include:

  • keeping a positive attitude
  • staying physically active
  • helping other people
  • getting enough sleep
  • eating a healthy diet
  • asking for professional help with your mental health if you need it
  • socializing with people whom you enjoy spending time with
  • forming and using effective coping skills to deal with your problems

What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a broad term which encompasses a wide variety of conditions which affect the way you feel and think. It can also affect your ability to get through day-to-day life. Mental illnesses can be influenced by numerous factors, including:

  • genetics
  • environment
  • daily habits
  • biology

Continue reading “Mental Health Basics and NIMA’s CureStigma Campaign”

Stress and how it affects your health

Stress and your health

Stress is a reaction to a change or a challenge. In the short term, stress can be helpful. It makes you more alert and gives you energy to get things done. But long-term stress can lead to serious health problems. Women are more likely than men to report symptoms of stress, including headaches and upset stomach. Women are also more likely to have mental health conditions that are made worse by stress, such as depression or anxiety.1

What is stress?

Stress is how your body reacts to certain situations, such as sudden danger or long-lasting challenge. During stressful events, your body releases chemicals called hormones, such as adrenaline. Adrenaline gives you a burst of energy that helps you cope and respond to stress. For example, one kind of stress is the jolt you may feel when a car pulls out in front of you. This jolt of adrenaline helps you quickly hit the brakes to avoid an accident.

Stress can range from mild and short-term to more extreme and long-lasting. Chronic (long-lasting) stress can affect your mental and physical health.

What are some symptoms of stress?

Stress affects everyone differently. Some ways that chronic or long-term stress affects women include:

  • Pain, including back pain
  • Acne and other skin problems, like rashes or hives
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach
  • Feeling like you have no control
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of focus
  • Overeating or not eating enough
  • Being easily angered
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Drug and alcohol misuse
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Less interest in sex than usual

What causes stress?

People can feel stress from many different things. Examples of common causes of short-term stress include:

  • Getting stuck in traffic or missing the bus
  • An argument with your spouse or partner
  • Money problems
  • A deadline at work

Examples of common causes of long-term stress include:

  • Poverty and financial worries. Depression is more common in women whose families live below the federal poverty line.2 Women in poverty who care for children or other family members as well as themselves may experience more severe stress.3,4
  • Discrimination. All women are at risk for discrimination, such as gender discrimination at work. Some women experience discrimination based on their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.5,6 Stressful events, such as learning a new culture (for those new to the United States) or experiencing discrimination, put women at higher risk for depression or anxiety.
  • Traumatic events. Experiencing trauma, such as being in an accident or disaster or going through emotional, physical, or sexual assault or abuse as a child or an adult, may put you at higher risk of depression7 and other disorders.8 Women are more likely than men to experience certain types of violence, such as sexual violence,9 that are more likely to cause mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Ongoing, low-level stress can be hard to notice, but it can also lead to serious health problems. If you feel stressed, try these tips to help you manage your stress. If you need more help managing stress, talk to a doctor, nurse, or mental health professional.

How does stress affect women’s health?

Some of the health effects of stress are the same for men and women. For example, stress can cause trouble sleeping and weaker immune systems. But there are other ways that stress affects women.

  • Headaches and migraines. When you are stressed, your muscles tense up. Long-term tension can lead to headache, migraine, and general body aches and pains. Tension-type headaches are common in women.10
  • Depression and anxiety. Women are twice as likely as men to have depression.11 Women are more likely than men to have an anxiety disorder, including post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.12 Research suggests that women may feel the symptoms of stress more or get more of the symptoms of stress than men. This can raise their risk of depression and anxiety.1
  • Heart problems. High stress levels can raise your blood pressure and heart rate. Over time, high blood pressure can cause serious health problems, such as stroke and heart attacks. Younger women with a history of heart problems especially may be at risk of the negative effects of stress on the heart.13 Learn more about stress and heart disease.
  • Upset stomach. Short-term stress can cause stomach issues such as diarrhea or vomiting. Long-term stress can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that is twice as common in women as in men.14 Stress can make IBS symptoms such as gas and bloating worse.
  • Obesity. The link between stress and weight gain is stronger for women than for men.15 Stress increases the amount of a hormone in your body called cortisol, which can lead to overeating and cause your body to store fat.
  • Problems getting pregnant. Women with higher levels of stress are more likely to have problems getting pregnant than women with lower levels of stress. Also, not being able to get pregnant when you want to can be a source of stress.16
  • Menstrual cycle problems. Women who experience chronic or long-term stress may have more severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms17 or irregular periods. Some studies link past abuse or trauma to more severe PMS.18
  • Decreased sex drive. Women with long-term stress may take longer to get aroused and may have less sex drive than women with lower levels of stress. While not surprising, at least one study found that women with higher stress levels were more distracted during sex than other women.19

What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is an illness that some people experience after going through trauma. PTSD can happen to someone who has lived through or witnessed a violent crime or war. It can also happen after a sudden traumatic event like a death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, or a severe car crash.

Women are about twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. Some PTSD symptoms also are more common in women than in men. For example, women are more likely to:20

  • Be jumpy
  • Have more trouble feeling emotions
  • Avoid whatever reminds them of the trauma
  • Feel depressed and anxious

Learn more about the symptoms and treatments for PTSD.

Do women react to stress differently than men do?

Yes, studies show that women are more likely than men to experience symptoms of stress. Women who are stressed are more likely than men who are stressed to experience depression and anxiety.21 Experts do not fully know the reason for the differences, but it may be related to how men’s and women’s bodies process stress hormones. Long-term stress especially is more likely to cause problems with moods and anxiety in women.22

How does stress affect pregnancy?

It is normal to feel stressed during pregnancy. Your body and your hormones are changing, and you may worry about your baby and the changes he or she will bring to your life. But too much stress during pregnancy can hurt you and your baby’s health.

Stress during pregnancy can make normal pregnancy discomforts, like trouble sleeping and body aches, even worse. It can also lead to more serious problems, such as:

  • Depression. Depression during pregnancy or after birth can affect your baby’s development. Learn more about depression during and after pregnancy.
  • Problems eating (not eating enough or eating too much). Women who are underweight or who gain too much weight during pregnancy are at risk for complications, including premature delivery (delivery before 37 weeks of pregnancy) and gestational diabetes. Get a personalized recommendation on how much weight to gain during pregnancy.
  • High blood pressure. High blood pressure during pregnancy puts you at risk of a serious condition called preeclampsia, premature delivery, and having a low-birth-weight infant (baby weighing less than 5½ pounds).

Talk to your doctor about your stress, and try these tips to help manage your stress. Learn about how stress affects breastfeeding too.

What can I do to help manage my stress?

Everyone has to deal with stress at some point in their lives. You can take steps to help handle stress in a positive way.

  • Take deep breaths. This forces you to breathe slower and helps your muscles relax. The extra oxygen sends a message to your brain to calm and relax the body.
  • Stretch. Stretching can also help relax your muscles and make you feel less tense.
  • Write out your thoughts. Keeping a journal or simply writing down the things you are thankful for can help you handle stress.
  • Take time for yourself. It could be listening to music, reading a good book, or going to a movie.
  • Meditate. Studies show that meditation, a set time of stillness to focus the mind on a positive or neutral thought, can help lower stress.23 In addition to traditional medical treatments, meditation also may help improve anxiety, some menopause symptoms, and side effects from cancer treatments and may lower blood pressure.24 Meditation is generally safe for everyone, and free meditation guides are widely available online.
  • Get enough sleep. Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to feel rested.
  • Eat right. Caffeine or high-sugar snack foods give you jolts of energy that wear off quickly. Instead, eat foods with B vitamins, such as bananas, fish, avocados, chicken, and dark green, leafy vegetables. Studies show that B vitamins can help relieve stress by regulating nerves and brain cells.25 You can also take a vitamin B supplement if your doctor or nurse says it is OK.
  • Get moving. Physical activity can relax your muscles and improve your mood. Physical activity also may help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety.26 Physical activity boosts the levels of “feel-good” chemicals in your body called endorphins. Endorphins can help improve your mood.
  • Try not to deal with stress in unhealthy ways. This includes drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or overeating. These coping mechanisms may help you feel better in the moment but can add to your stress levels in the long term. Try substituting healthier ways to cope, such as spending time with friends and family, exercising, or finding a new hobby.
  • Talk to friends or family members. They might help you see your problems in new ways and suggest solutions. Or, just being able to talk to a family member or friend about a source of stress may help you feel better.
  • Get help from a professional if you need it. Your doctor or nurse may suggest counseling or prescribe medicines, such as antidepressants or sleep aids. You can also find a therapist in your area using the mental health services locator on the top left side (desktop view) or bottom (mobile view) of this page. If important relationships with family or friends are a source of stress, a counselor can help you learn new emotional and relationship skills.
  • Get organized. Being disorganized is a sign of stress, but it can also cause stress. To-do lists help organize both your work and home life. Figure out what is most important to do at home and at work and do those things first.
  • Help others. Volunteering in your community can help you make new friends and feel good about helping others.

Did we answer your question about stress and your health?

For more information about stress and your health, call the OWH Helpline at 1-800-994-9662 or check out the following resources from other organizations:


  1. Hammen, C., Kim, E.Y., Eberhart, N.K., Brennan, P.A. (2009). Chronic and acute stress and the predictors of major depression in women. Depression and Anxiety; 26(8): 718–723.
  2. Brody, D.J., Pratt, L.A., Hughes, J. (2018). Prevalence of depression among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 2013–2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 303. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
  3. Wadsworth, M.E. (2012). Working with Low-income Families: Lessons Learned from Basic and Applied Research on Coping with Poverty-related Stress. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy; 42(1): 17–25.
  4. Sapolsky, R.M. (2004). Social Status and Health in Humans and Other Animals. Annual Review of Anthropology; 33: 393–418.
  5. Perry, B.L., Harp, K.L.H., Oser, C.B. (2013). Racial and Gender Discrimination in the Stress Process: Implications for African American Women’s Health and Well-Being. Sociological Perspectives; 56(1): 25–48.
  6. Meyer, I.H. (2003). Prejudice, Social Stress, and Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations: Conceptual Issues and Research Evidence. Psychological Bulletin; 129(5): 674–697.
  7. Chapman, D.P., Whitfield, C.L., Felitti, V.J., Dube, S.R., Edwards, V.J., Anda, R.F. (2004). Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of depressive disorders in adulthood. Journal of Affective Disorders; 82(2): 217–225.
  8. Gilbert, L.K., Breiding, M.J., Merrick, M.T., Thompson, W.W., Ford, D.C., Dhingra, S.S., et al. (2015). Childhood adversity and adult chronic disease: an update from ten states and the District of Columbia, 2010. American Journal of Preventive Medicine; 48(3): 345–9.
  9. Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., et al. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010–2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  10. Farooq, K., Williams, P. (2008). Headache and chronic facial pain. Continuing Education in Anaesthesia, Critical Care & Pain; 8(4): 138–142.
  11. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. (2017). 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Table 8.56A (PDF file, 36.7 MB).
  12. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Table 4: Specific mental illness and substance use disorders among adults, by sex: percentage, United States, 2001/2002. Behavioral Health, United States, 2012. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4797. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  13. Vaccarino, V., Shah, A.J., Rooks, C., Ibeanu, I., Nye, J.A., Pimple, P., et al. (2014). Sex differences in mental stress-induced myocardial ischemia in young survivors of an acute myocardial infarction. Psychosomatic Medicine; 76(3): 171–180.
  14. Grundmann, O., Yoon, S.L. (2010). Irritable bowel syndrome: epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment: an update for health-care practitioners. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology; 25(4): 691–699.
  15. Michopoulos, V. (2016). Stress-induced alterations in estradiol sensitivity increase risk for obesity in women. Physiology & Behavior; 166: 56–64.
  16. Louis, G.M., Lum, K.J., Sundaram, R., Chen, Z., Kim, S., Lynch, C.D., et al. (2011). Stress reduces conception probabilities across the fertile window: evidence in support of relaxation. Fertility and Sterility; 95(7): 2184–2189.
  17. Gollenberg, A.L., Hediger, M.L., Mumford, S.L., Whitcomb, B.W., Hovey, K.M., Wactawski-Wende, J., et al. (2010). Perceived Stress and Severity of Perimenstrual Symptoms: The BioCycle Study. Journal of Women’s Health; 19(5): 959–967.
  18. Bertone-Johnson, E.R., Whitcomb, B.W., Missmer, S.A., Manson, J.E., Hankinson, S.E., Rich-Edwards, J.W. (2014). Early Life Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Abuse and the Development of Premenstrual Syndrome: A Longitudinal Study. Journal of Women’s Health (Larchmont); 23(9): 729–739.
  19. Hamilton, L.D, Meston, C.M. (2013). Chronic Stress and Sexual Function in Women. Journal of Sexual Medicine; 10(10): 2443–2454.
  20. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, National Center for PTSD. (2015). Women, Trauma, and PTSD.
  21. Verma, R., Balhara, Y.P.S., Gupta, C.S. (2011). Gender differences in stress response: Role of developmental and biological determinants. Industrial Psychiatry Journal; 20(1): 4–10.
  22. Bangasser, D.A. (2013). Sex differences in stress-related receptors: “micro” differences with “macro” implications for mood and anxiety disorders. Biology of Sex Differences; 4(2).
  23. Goyal, M., Singh, S., Sibinga, E.M.S., Gould, N.F., Rowland-Seymour, A., Sharma, R., et al. (2014). Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Internal Medicine; 174(3), 357–368.
  24. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. (2015). 8 Things to Know About Meditation for Health.
  25. Stough, C., Scholey, A., Lloyd, J., Spong, J., Myers, S., Downey, L.A. (2011). The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Human Psychopharmacology; 26(7): 470–476.
  26. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2017). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Chapter 2: Physical Activity Has Many Health Benefits (PDF file, 8.8 MB).

This content is provided by the Office on Women’s Health.

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Captured Date: 2018-08-29 21:26:00.0

The Often Misunderstood Diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is a condition that many veterans and non-veterans alike suffer; PTSD can occur when someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. This condition wasn’t always understood properly by the medical or military community, and Department of Defense press releases often point to earlier attempts to identify PTSD symptoms in the wake of service in World War 2, Vietnam, and other conflicts.

PTSD Awareness Day is observed today, Wednesday, June 27, 2018.

The History of PTSD Awareness Day

In 2010, Senator Kent Conrad pushed to get official recognition of PTSD via a “day of awareness” in tribute to a North Dakota National Guard member who took his life following two tours in Iraq.

Staff Sergeant Joe Biel died in 2007 after suffering from PTSD; Biel committed suicide after his return from duty to his home state. SSgt. Biel’s birthday, June 27, was selected as the official PTSD Awareness Day, now observed every year.

How Do People Observe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day?

Much of what is done to observe PTSD Awareness Day involves encouraging open talk about PTSD, its’ causes, symptoms, and most important of all, getting help for the condition. When today, PTSD is often misunderstood by those lacking firsthand experience with the condition or those who suffer from it. PTSD Awareness Day is designed to help change that.

The Department of Defense publishes circulars, articles, and other materials to help educate and inform military members and their families about the condition. The Department of Veterans Affairs official site has several pages dedicated to PTSD, and when military members retiring or separating from the service fill out VA claim forms for service-connected injuries, illnesses, or disabilities, there is an option to be evaluated for PTSD as a part of the VA claims process.

What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The current American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-IV, says PTSD can develop through a range of exposures to death or injury: direct personal involvement, witnessing it or, if it concerns someone close, just learning about it.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is a form of anxiety that can happen after experiencing or witnessing actual or near death, serious injury, war-related violence, terrorism or sexual violence.  While most people typically connect this disorder to military veterans or refugees, it can happen to anyone.

Almost no other psychiatric diagnosis has generated as much controversy.  The diagnosis is almost four decades old.  PTSD is not a sign of weakness, and people can be affected by PTSD even when they were not directly part of the traumatic event.

The specific nature of the trauma can and does vary greatly. Experts are quick to point out, while combat and combat-related military service can be incredibly challenging, and while witnessing or being a victim of an event that rips the fabric of daily life can be traumatic, not everyone responds the same way. Some may develop symptoms of PTSD, while others may be unaffected.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: How Widespread Is It?

Some sources estimate that as many as 70% of all Americans have experienced a traumatic event sufficient to cause PTSD or PTSD-like symptoms. That does not mean that all 70% of Americans WILL suffer from PTSD. Using these statistics, some 224 million Americans have experienced a traumatic event. Of that number, some 20% will develop PTSD symptoms, roughly 44 million people.

Of that 44 million, an estimated eight percent experience active PTSD symptoms at any one time. An estimated 50% of all mental health patients are also diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD: Often Misunderstood and Misidentified

“Shell shock” and “combat shock” were earlier attempts to define and understand the symptoms of PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder was often stigmatized in popular culture after the Vietnam conflict, and many films and television shows featured antagonists or unsympathetic characters suffering from “Vietnam flashbacks” or other issues.

The misunderstanding of PTSD slowly began to change in 1980 when it was recognized as a specific condition with identifiable symptoms. It was then the disorder was listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

This manual is a diagnostic tool for mental health professionals and paraprofessional workers in the healthcare field and is considered a definitive reference. The addition of PTSD to the DSM was a highly significant development.

Today, the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are better understood, treatable, and recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as a service-connected condition. PTSD is not exclusive to veterans or currently serving members of the United States military, but a portion of those who serve are definitely at risk for PTSD.

What Are the Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome?

Some PTSD symptoms may seem vague and non-specific, others are more readily identified specifically as evidence of PTSD. In this context “non-specific” means that the symptoms may be related to other mental health issues and not specifically limited to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In the same way, more “specific” symptoms may be manifest outside PTSD, but when looking for specific signifiers, these issues are common “red flags” that indicate PTSD may be the cause of the suffering rather than a different condition. This is often circumstantial, and there is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis for the condition.

Suicidal thoughts or self-destructive acts are often a result of PTSD or related symptoms. Anyone experiencing thoughts or urges to self-harm should seek immediate care to prevent the condition from getting worse in the short-term. (See below)

That said, more non-specific symptoms include varying degrees of irritability, depression, and suicidal feelings. More specific problems-especially where veterans and currently serving military members are concerned-include something known as “hypervigilance” or “hyperarousal”.

Other symptoms include repeatedly experiencing the traumatic event(s) in the form of flashbacks, nightmares, persistent memories of the event(s), and intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event(s).

These symptoms vary in intensity depending on the individual and are not ‘standardized”. They may come and go, or they may be persistent over a span of time. Sometimes PTSD sufferers can be high-functioning, other times they may be more debilitated by the condition.

Get Treatment For PTSD

Those who experience symptoms of PTSD or PTSD-like issues should seek help immediately. Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, private care providers, counselors, and therapists can all be helpful in establishing an initial care regimen or refer those suffering from PTSD to a qualified care provider.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has more information on help for PTSD on its’ official site including help finding a therapist.

Those experiencing suicidal feelings or self-destructive urges should get help immediately. The Suicide Crisis Hotline (1-800-273-8255) has a specific resource for veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a Veterans’ Crisis Hotline confidential chat resource.

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