Suicide — the 10th leading cause of death in the United States — is preventable. What we know from the research is that for someone at risk of dying by suicide, the period of immediate danger usually lasts only 15 to 30 minutes. If the person in distress can get through those few moments of anguish, they can regain their usual healthier ways of coping, reach out and get the help they need.

Recognizing the pain

Those who experience a mental health condition like depression know that the feeling goes far beyond simply “feeling sad.” It can evoke a sensation of flatness. At other times, such as during a suicidal crisis, it can be a vivid, acute despair many would readily trade for physical pain. Yet these moments pass. There is hope.

Together we can prevent suicide. There is no shame in experiencing anxiety or depression or any other form of mental illness. Though some of us don’t talk about it openly yet, one in five adults experiences a significant mental health challenge in a given year. What is important is that we face distress head-on, and address it in as clear and matter-of-fact a way as we would a physical health problem.

Facing the problem

It is important to manage a mental health condition in much the same way we would manage a chronic physical health condition. This means learning what particular strategies keep you healthy and what leads to downward spiral, reaching out for help and working with a doctor to maintain positive health habits.

As a society, we must work towards communicating about mental health more positively and openly — and we are getting better at this. It is entirely possible to live a happy and fulfilling life while managing a mental health condition. Through example, we can let others know that it’s okay to work through mental health challenges and to reach out for help. By doing so, we can all help save lives.

Unveiling the Hidden Truths About Mental Health Disorders

We sat down with Scott L. Rauch, M.D., president and psychiatrist in chief at McLean Hospital, to dispel some mental illness myths and get the best advice for patients and their families.

What are the common misconceptions about mental illnesses?

Scott L. Rauch, M.D.: It is crucial to understand that psychiatric illnesses, including substance use disorders, are common and hence affect virtually every family. One in five people suffer from such an illness in a given year and over 40 percent of people will have a psychiatric disease at some time in their lives. Psychiatric illness is treatable and accessing high quality care at the earliest possible time is vital.

How can friends and families support their recently diagnosed loved ones?

Friends and family can be most helpful by providing compassionate support to their loved one, by becoming knowledgeable about the illness and its evidence-based care and by aligning with the care plan. But never let the disease define the person; join them in finding recovery to live life to its fullest.

What is the one piece of advice you would give a patient who is on the road to recovery?

The road to recovery is unpredictable and can be a bumpy one, with successes and setbacks. The keys are to have a team of trusted professional care providers and family or friends with whom to ride that road. Successful resilience often depends on a sense of community, purpose, perspective and faith. Draw strength and wisdom from others who can relate to your challenges.