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When Feeling Down is More Than Just a Case of the Blues: Treating Anxiety, Depression, and Other Mental Illnesses while Abroad

Posted by Dr. Santiago Hernandez, October 2, 2014

indexAccording to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26.2 percent of Americans above the age of 18 (meaning 1 in 4 adults) suffer from a mental disorder any given year. Mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada. Some of the most common types of mental illness are mood disorders, which can be categorized as Major Depressive Disorder, Dysthymic Disorder, and Bipolar Disorder. About 20.9 million American adults have a mood disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder affects approximately 6.7 percent of the adult U.S population with it more commonly afflicting women than men. Although onset can start at any age, 30 years old is the average age of onset for mood disorders. This illness is also called Clinical Depression, Major Depression, Unipolar Depression, or Recurrent Depression and is characterized by pervasive and frequent low mood accompanied by low self-esteem and a loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities. Typically, the diagnosis for Major Depressive Disorder is founded on the patient’s self-reported experiences, behavior reported by friends and family, and a mental status evaluation.

Dysthymic Disorder is also referred to as Dysthymia, Chronic Depression, and Neurotic Depression. It consists of the same physical and cognitive problems as found in Depression but with longer-lasting yet less severe symptoms. In order for one to be diagnosed with Dysthymia symptoms, meaning chronic or mild depression, must persist for at least two years.

Bipolar Disorder is characterized by periods of elevated mood called Mania followed by episodes of depression. During Mania an individual can feel abnormally happy, energetic, or excitable but will frequently make poor decisions due to unrealistic ideas or lack of regard for the consequences of their actions. The cause of Bipolar Disorder is still not entirely understood, however a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors are believed to play a role. Treatment for the illness involves mood stabilizing medication, such as Lithium, and psychotherapy.

Unfortunately, mental illness is still stigmatized in society. Although the stigma of mental illness is more related to context than appearance, it still remains a powerful and negative influence on social situations. Some of the myths associated with those suffering from a mental illness are that they are dangerous, incompetent, or are just merely weak individuals who cannot bear the burdens of daily life. However, these are all misconceptions. An appropriate medication regiment and therapy, along with the support of friends and family, can help individuals recover from many types of mental health issues.

Escaping the stressors of everyday life or imrpving one’s own mental health are excellent reasons to go abroad. Seeking refuge from loud and congested large cities or from a harshly cold climate can drastically improve one’s mental state. In fact, that is why a large number of North Americans travel to countries such as Mexico. If during your stay your mood does not seem to improve or worsens, there are plenty of facilities to visit in order to consult a professional.

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