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Mental Health 

Normalizing Mental Illness

The most challenging component of mental illness is the stigma associated with certain disorders, which can cause a person to feel self-conscious about seeking help. This can be detrimental to getting treatment, as most people try to hide their symptoms for as long as possible, and their illness becomes more severe. Mental illness is like a physical illness in the sense that we cannot always control the onset or the severity and, if left untreated, they can get worse. We can look at mental disorders from the bio-psycho-social model, which encompasses a person’s genetic makeup, personality or temperament, and environment; there are many factors involved when a person experiences symptoms. If you have a mental illness, you should not be treated as if you are something less, and you should not be ashamed to get help. Actually, you will become stronger from the experience and will be able to cope with so many more things in your life! 

Disclaimer:  The information and resources shared on this page are meant as tools for learning and understanding, and not to be used for self-diagnosing or in place of seeking medical or mental health providers for help. Please seek out local providers in your area for professional help. To get started, we provided a short list of local agencies accepting new clients.

Local Agency Resource List:

Melanie Meyer, LMFT
Tri-Town Youth Services Bureau, Inc.
Tel: 203-533-1937

Westbrook Youth and Family Services
Tel: 860-399-9239

Child and Family Agency
190 Westbrook Rd, Essex, CT 06426
Tel: 860-442-2797×1262

Pathways Center for Learning & Behavioral Health, LLC
251 Westbrook Rd, Essex, CT 06426
Tel: (860) 767-1277

Sound Counseling Center, LLC
16 Saybrook Road Essex, Connecticut 06426
Tel:  860.767.0533
Fax: 866.706.1701

Click on any Topic Tab below for additional information.

While stress is not specifically designated as a mental illness, certain types of stress can negatively impact your mental health.  We have included information on the 5 Things You Should Know About Stress and how it can be helpful to have a professional to talk to when learning healthy ways to manage stress.

The National Institute for Mental Health provides five things you should know about stress: 

  1. Stress affects everyone! There are many types of stress, sometimes big, sometimes small, and each impacts everyone differently. 
  2. Not all stress is bad. Have you ever felt stressed before a big test or track meet? That stress helps you perform at your best. 
  3. Longterm stress can harm your health. Chronic stress can significantly impact your body and lead to health issues. 
  4. There are ways to manage stress effectively. Click here for ideas and to find what works for you! 
  5. If stress feels overwhelming, seek help from a professional. 

To understand what  “depression” is, we need to understand that sadness and depression are two very different things. Everyone experiences feeling sad from time to time. Sadness can come from a break-up, disappointing yourself or a loved one, being left out–it is a human emotion that we feel in response to many situations. Depression, on the other hand, is not an emotion but an illness. The article, Living with Sadness, discusses how sadness differs from depression, which can be thought of as a prolonged period of sadness that continues to persist in everyday life. To learn more about the potential causes for depression, click here.

Common Symptoms (you may experience some or all): 

  • Loss of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Sleep disturbance (too much or too little)
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating
  • Feeling worthless and lack of energy 

For a complete list of symptoms, check out Depression (major depressive disorder) – Symptoms and causes

There are more symptoms, including experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

*It is important to note that just because someone is depressed does not mean that they are suicidal. A person may also be suicidal without depression. The two commonly overlap; however, they can exist separately. 

If you are feeling suicidal call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 Or 211/911

Suicide Prevention

Scroll to the top of the page for a list of Local Agencies.

Much like medical conditions that cause other medical conditions to worsen, people who suffer from mental illness often experience serious symptoms when drug or alcohol addiction is involved. People who have substance use disorders as well as mental health disorders are diagnosed as having co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders. This is also sometimes called a dual diagnosis.

Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder are often co-occurring.  Read more about Substance Use Disorder here.

There are 10 separate classes of substance use disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: alcohol; caffeine; cannabis; hallucinogens; inhalants; opioids; sedatives, hypnotic or anxiolytic; stimulants; tobacco; and other (unknown) substances. Substance use disorders are complex and go beyond their specific “diagnostic criteria” or category. As listed in other sections of this resource, substance use disorders commonly interact with other such disorders as anxiety, depression and trauma. There are many risk factors for developing a substance use disorder: 

Genetic/biological: A person may have a genetic predisposition to addiction; this is why a provider gathers family history as a part of the assessment. Does it run in your family?

Environmental: Are substances easily accessible?

Social: What are the social norms for substance use in your circles? Is it “normal” to drink underage? To drink and drive? Do “all” of your friends and family drink?

Psychological: Do you struggle in other areas of using selfcontrol? Research shows that the behaviors of “pushing the limits” or other patterns can lead to increased substance use. 


These risk factors can heighten a person’s odds of experiencing a substance use disorder; however, a person may experience all of the risk factors listed above and still not develop a substance use disorder. If you or someone you know needs help, check out the resources below, as well as our Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition page here



National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357

Project Courage: 1-860-854-0724

Rushford: 1-877-577-3233 

AWARE Recovery Care: 1-844-292-7372

Find an AA Meeting: 

Information on JUUL and how to quit:

Suicidal thinking is usually associated with problems that can be treated.

Thoughts of suicide can be caused by emotional disorders. Sometimes they may get in the way of seeing other options. Most people who receive appropriate care improve or recover completely. Even if you have received treatment before, you should know that different treatments work better for different people in different situations. Repeating treatment or trying a different method may be necessary before the right treatment for you is found.

Warning Signs of Acute Suicide Risk:

The following are not always communicated directly or outwardly:



If you or someone you know is struggling with throughts of suicide, help is available for you.  Whether through a friend, parent, teacher, doctor, coach, counselor, therapist, or member of the clergy. Find someone you trust and let them know how bad things are. Keep telling someone until you get the help you need.



Youth Mental Health Crisis: Dial 211, Select 1

Adult Mental Health Crisis: River Valley Services,


Domestic Violence Hotline 1-888-774-2900 (English);

1-844-831-9200 (Spanish)

Suicide Lifeline 800-273-TALK

Trevor Project (LGBTQ Support) 866-488-7386

911- Ask for Crisis Intervention Trained Officer • • •


Anxiety is something that we all experience. It is sometimes used interchangeably with stress in our vocabulary: “I’m so stressed about this test” or “This test is giving me so much anxiety.” Anxiety in its true definition encompasses a certain number of symptoms that must be present. Here are some of them:

  • Feeling nervous or restless
  • Having a sense of impending doom or dread
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Racing thoughts
  • Stomach issues 

When anxiety interferes with a person’s life, it moves from a typical human response to “danger or perceived danger” and becomes something we need help with. Please click on Anxiety Information Including Symptoms and Risk Factors to learn more about anxiety in general.  We have included additional tabs below for looking at the different types of anxiety that you might experience.

Key Takeaways:

  1. There are multiple types of anxiety disorders.
  2. If you feel you might have an anxiety disorder, reach out to your doctor right away, so they can help guide you to a therapist or psychiatrist. The sooner you take action, the sooner you can learn skills to help reduce symptoms!
  3. Some of the skills to help manage your symptoms may include:
    1. Acknowledging what gives you anxiety
    2. Mindfulness practices
    3. Breathing techniques
    4. Distraction skills like reading, watching a favorite show or walking your dog
    5. Thinking of things that bring you joy and slow you down
  4. There are multiple treatment options for anxiety. As with other mental illnesses, therapy and/or medications may be options for you. An evidenced-based modality known commonly for the treatment of anxiety and other disorders,  Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT can help. To learn more click here.  

Scroll to the top of the page for a list of Local Agencies.

Much like medical conditions that cause other medical conditions to worsen, people who suffer from mental illness often experience serious symptoms when drug or alcohol addiction is involved. People who have substance use disorders as well as mental health disorders are diagnosed as having co-occurring disorders, or dual disorders. This is also sometimes called a dual diagnosis.

Anxiety and Substance Use Disorder are often co-occurring.  Read more about Substance Use Disorder here.

(Social anxiety disorder (social phobia) – Symptoms and causes):

Being shy does not mean you have a social anxiety disorder.  Social anxiety can emerge in a multitude of ways. Some may be:

  • Experiencing intense fear and anxiety when in large crowds, which leads to avoiding crowds of people. 
  • Fear of judgment by peers so they avoid going to school or work. 

Avoidance feels like a unifying thread in social anxiety.  When you avoid what causes your anxiety, the fear tends to get worse, and avoidance becomes more frequent and can last longer.

For information on possible treatments for social anxiety (and phobias), including exposure therapy,  please visit the American Psychological Association. In exposure therapy, with the help of a treatment provider, a person is systematically exposed to their fears in order to practice using skills to lower anxiety-provoking situations while working up to the biggest fear.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

-While anxiety disorders like social anxiety arise from certain situations, GAD does not come from any particular situation. Instead, the anxiety comes from worry about nothing in particular, which results in constant and sometimes debilitating fear and anxiety.

-These symptoms often overlap with other psychiatric disorders like depression, panic disorders or trauma. GAD symptoms can vary; some may include:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren’t
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty

For the full list of symptoms and information about GAD, check out Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Panic Disorder occurs when a person experiences panic attacks at random times and when there is no threat to warrant this response. The symptoms of a panic attack feel scary and can sometimes be experienced as a heart attack. Thousands of people every year show up at emergency rooms thinking they are having a heart attack when really they are experiencing panic symptoms.

 Some common symptoms include (you may experience some or all):

  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart racing
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling of impending doom or death 

For more possible treatments, like CBT(Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), please visit here.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States today.

In our community, we are lucky enough to have The Nest Coffee House, a program by A Little Compassion Inc.  The Nest is a place where young adults with disabilities gain work experience and confidence in a setting that is grounded in acceptance and support.  It is also a place where our community gathers to see for themselves that young adults with disabilities are valuable and productive members of our community.  The Nest currently has nearly 20 young adults with disabilities beginning their work journey.

The mission of A Little Compassion, Inc. is to change the lives of young adults with autism, intellectual, and developmental disabilities by creating employment and social opportunities that nurture their unique skills, strengths and preferences.  

A Little Compassion Inc is located in Deep River, Connecticut and serves communities on the CT Shoreline and in the CT River Valley.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is defined as a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Inattention manifests behaviorally in ADHD as wandering off task, lacking persistence, having difficulty staying focused, and being disorganized, and this behavior is not due to defiance or lack of comprehension. ADHD begins and is typically diagnosed in childhood. However, symptoms can continue through adolescence and adulthood. There are many symptoms associated with ADHD, but a few may  include:

  • Difficulty remaining focused on tasks or playing activities
  • Does not listen when spoken to directly
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Avoids, dislikes or is reluctant to participate in tasks that require continued mental effort (i.e., schoolwork or homework, for older adolescents and adults, preparing reports, completing forms, reviewing lengthy papers)

To learn more information about ADHD, including symptoms and treatments, please click over to this helpful guide from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Scroll to the top of the page for a list of Local Agencies.

I’m sure you have heard at least a few people say “I am so OCD about that” or “My mom is so OCD.” While we might be hypersensitive to some things, most of us do not have OCD. Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images, or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. People who suffer from OCD use compulsive behavior to get rid of the obsessions. A common example is a person with obsessive thoughts about leaving the stove on. This person may have to check the stove by tapping it 10 times until they are “satisfied” they can leave the house. Picture them having to do this over and over, making them late for work. 

OCD is an incredibly complex mental illness. It is very difficult to actually recognize if you have OCD if you do not understand what it is. The websites and videos listed above should serve as a good way to identify the signs and symptoms of this disorder. OCD is a specific disorder often requiring a specialist, so make sure your providers are knowledgeable and can guide you to the right treatment. Check out these other resources for more information:

Pediatric Anxiety Research Center

What is OCD?

What Causes OCD?

The Institute of Living in Hartford’s Anxiety Disorders Center

200 Retreat Avenue

Hartford, CT 06106

Many people experience disordered eating throughout their lifetime. Disordered eating can basically be described as not having a positive relationship with food and/or your body. This may cause some eating-disordered behaviors, like restricting your food intake, over-exercising (exercising when too tired or being unable to take a day off) and lowfrequency overeating or purging (getting rid of food after it has been consumed). An eating disorder is something that would be diagnosed by a provider (therapist, primary care physician or psychiatrist) when specific criteria are met by the individual. There are several categories of eating disorders; the main ones are listed below. There are also subgroups within each eating disorder, and even if all the criteria are not met, people are often still in need of getting help. Eating disorders are dangerous and carry the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. There are many health risks associated with eating disorders, such as heart disease, hormone imbalances, stomach issues, and neurological problems. 


 To learn more about these disorders or to take a self assessment, visit For screening tools and links to find more resources and connect with the community, please visit Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association is a helpful resource for more facts, local programs and support groups.

Eating Disorder Programs located in Connecticut:

 Walden Behavioral Care – Guilford, CT 

Center for Discovery – New Haven, CT 

Renfrew – Greenwich, CT

There are also many private practice providers who specialize in eating disorders, including registered dietitians. To find a local one, try using and filter for eating disorders as well as your insurance.

Anorexia Nervosa is the most commonly thought about or shown in the media; however, it is actually the rarest. Anorexia is when a person restricts their food intake, leading to an inappropriately low weight for their specific body. Characteristics include experiencing distorted body image and a fear of gaining weight. People with anorexia are often unable to rationally view their body as others see it. Anorexia commonly starts in adolescence; however, it can be seen in all ages and affect all genders, races and ethnicities. 

Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by a cycle of bingeing followed by such compensatory behaviors  as selfinduced vomiting, overexercise, fasting or use of laxatives. Compensatory behaviors look to “compensate” for the binge. This cycle must occur at least once per week for three months. 

Binge Eating Disorder is the most common eating disorder with almost equal numbers occurring in men and women. A binge is different from overeating or feeling “too full” after a dinner out or on a holiday. A binge occurs over about a two-hour period of time with a person consuming a large amount of food, sometimes alone due to embarrassment or shame, eating very rapidly, eating when not hungry, eating until feeling uncomfortably full, and feeling disgusted or depressed after. The binge is not followed by compensatory behaviors and occurs at least once per week for three months. 

Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is a newer diagnosis to the feeding and eating disorders group. ARFID can be explained as extreme picky eating. Many children can be picky eaters; it is an appropriate part of development and is very common. ARFID is when picky eating becomes worse over time with more and more limiting of food groups. For it to be diagnosed as ARFID, the person must be malnourished (not meeting their growth curve) and require supplements. The biggest difference between this and anorexia is that there is no body image disturbance with ARFID, in fact, the person is often aware of their low weight and is unhappy with it. 

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