In recognition of May being Mental Health Month, crisis hotline Caring Contact is sharing helpful information about mental illness, including signs and symptoms and screening advice.

"Mental health is so important for a happy and fulfilling life," said Joanne Oppelt, executive direction of Caring Contact. "Yet 43 million Americans, or nearly one in five, do not enjoy mental health because they suffer with some form of mental illness. And mental illness knows no boundaries. It impacts children, youth and adults of all ages and is not limited by socioeconomic status. Statistically, it's likely someone in your family, where you work or within your circle of friends experiences some form of mental illness."

According to the Mayo Clinic, mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

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The American Psychiatric Association list signs and symptoms of mental illness as including:

  • Recent social withdrawal and loss of interest in others and activities.

  • An unusual drop in functioning, especially at school or work.

  • Problems with concentration, memory or logical thought and speech that are hard to explain.

  • A vague feeling of being disconnected from oneself or one’s surroundings; a sense of unreality.

  • Fear or suspiciousness of others or a strong nervous feeling.

  • Dramatic sleep and appetite changes or deterioration in personal hygiene.

  • Rapid or dramatic shifts in feelings, or mood swings.

Mental Health America recommends one of the easiest ways to determine if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition is to take a mental health screening by visiting http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/mental-health-screening-tools.

Caring Contact has been listening to and helping people experiencing mental health issues since 1975.

"More than 200 volunteer listeners provide an empathetic ear to callers who are in mental or emotional crisis or are even having suicidal thoughts," Oppelt said. "Our callers take more than 15,000 calls each year, helping more than 6,000 people through difficult time."

While listeners come from all backgrounds and are of all ages, Oppelt noted that volunteering as a listener is particularly attractive for empty nesters and recent retirees who are looking for something rewarding to do with their newfound time.

"When children leave home for college or marriage, the Empty Nest Syndrome sets in for many people," she said. "For so long their focus was on their children and now they feel a hole. Likewise, so many people feel defined by their careers and when work ends they feel an emptiness.

"Experts say volunteering for a worthy cause both fills that emptiness while also bringing a sense of fulfillment for having helped others. Caring Contact listeners not only help others, they often save lives."

Jane Berlant began volunteering at Caring Contact because she was looking for something meaningful to do with her time after her daughter went to college.

"It had to make an impact," she said. "I can't just play golf and tennis and go to lunch. It has given me such a sense of purpose and accomplishment, a sense of self. It has also changed my life in ways of dealing with people for the better, how I deal with my family, my daughters, how I listen to them. Instead of always wanting to fix things, I now just listen."

Caring Contact will be offering its next round of training for volunteer listeners beginning September 12. The training program meets once weekly for 13 weeks, including one two-day weekend session. Program participants are trained in Excellence in Listening, including mental Health First Aid and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), and develop the ability to listen actively, assess the needs of someone in crisis and provide empathy and support.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener and/or wanting to register for the training should visit http://caringcontact.org/volunteer-listener-application/.

Caring Contact is an award-winning, volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline and listening community, providing active listening support and best-in-class training to the Central and Northern New Jersey community.

Caring Contact serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach Caring Contact by dialing 908-232-2880. Those preferring to seek supporting through texting may text “heart” to 741-741. The hotline also provides best-in-class training to the Central and Northern New Jersey Community.

About Caring Contact

Caring Contact is an award-winning, volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline providing active listening support and best-in-class education to the Central and Northern New Jersey community. We attentively and compassionately serve those in emotional distress and educate our communities about the power of personal connection. We are affiliated with CONTACT USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Association of Suicidology. If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call us at 908-232-2880. To learn more, visit www.caringcontact.org.