by Heidi Yost

When we think about cancer, heart disease or diabetes, we don’t wait years to treat them. We start before Stage 4 — we begin with prevention.

When people are in the first stage of those diseases, and are beginning to show signs of symptoms like a persistent cough, high blood pressure or high blood sugar, we try immediately to reverse these symptoms. We don’t ignore them. In fact, we develop a plan of action to reverse and sometimes stop the progression of the disease.

So why aren’t we doing the same for individuals who are dealing with potentially serious mental illness? When you or someone close to you starts to experience the early warning signs of mental illness, knowing what the risk factors and symptoms are will help to catch them early. Often times family and friends are the first to step in to support a person through these early stages.

Experiencing symptoms such as loss of sleep, feeling tired for no reason, feeling low, feeling anxious or hearing voices, shouldn’t be ignored or brushed aside in the hopes that they go away. Like other diseases, we need to address these symptoms early, identify the underlying disease and plan an appropriate course of action on a path towards overall health. Mental health conditions should be addressed long before they reach the most critical points in the disease process — before Stage 4.

Many people do not seek treatment in the early stages of mental illnesses because they don’t recognize the symptoms. Up to 84 percent of the time between the first signs of mental illness and first treatment is spent not recognizing the symptoms. Mental Health America’s screening tools can help.

Taken online at, a screening is an anonymous, free and private way to learn about your mental health and see if you are showing warning signs of a mental illness. A screening only takes a few minutes, and after you are finished you will be given information about the next steps you should take based on the results. A screening is not a diagnosis, but it can be a helpful tool for starting a conversation with your doctor or a loved one about your mental health.

Chestnut Hill Hospital’s Senior Behavioral Health Program is raising awareness of the important role mental health plays in the lives of seniors who face an increased risk of mental challenges including depression and memory impairment. The good news is that in most cases, these conditions can be successfully treated and managed with specialized care. The skilled clinical staff at Chestnut Hill Hospital provides hope and healing through inpatient programs that include individual and family therapy activity therapy and anger and stress coping skills.

There are a wide variety of treatment options for mental illnesses and it may take some time to find the right treatment or combination of treatments that works best. If you have a loved one 65 years or older who may need assistance with conditions such as depression, psychosis, bipolar disorder and anxiety give us a call to discuss, 215-248-8117.

Treatment can be life changing.

It’s up to all of us to know the signs and take action so that mental illnesses can be caught early and treated, and we can live up to our full potential. We know that intervening effectively during early stages of mental illness can save lives and change the trajectories of people living with mental illnesses. Visit for wellness lectures on the Aging Mind and topics. Be aware of your mental health and get screened today!

Heidi Yost is the director of senior behavioral health at Chestnut Hill Hospital.