Mental Health – Depression And Anxiety De-Mystified
What Really Is Mental Health?
Mental Health means knowing what you want and being able to map the way how to get there and then being able to do the things you need to do to achieve these goals.
It’s also the way your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors affect your life. Good mental health leads to positive self-image and in turn, satisfying relationships with friends and others. Having good mental health helps you make good decisions and deal with life’s challenges at home or work.
It is very common for people to develop problems with their mental health, and it seems mental health issues like depression and anxiety are constantly increasing. COVID19 and the forced isolation hasn’t helped, but the tendencies were there even before that.
Even children often suffer from mental health issues, sadly often unregognized or belittled.The problems range from mild to severe. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens.
Unfortunately, most young people with mental health problems don’t get any treatment for them. But effective treatments are available that can help members of all racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.
If you broke your leg or came down with pneumonia, you wouldn’t let it go untreated. Often however, young people ignore mental health problems thinking they will “snap out of it,” or that they are something to be ashamed of. That kind of thinking prevents people from getting the help they need. Sometimes getting help is a matter of changing your mind and mustering the courage to talk to someone you trust.
How do you know that something is wrong?
The signs of depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders
Our mood normally fluctuates daily between very happy and really sad. Anxiety and Worry are also a normal part of life. They are designed by nature to alert us and help us to protect us from danger…
Feelings such as fear and anger are also a normal part of life.
And change in general is a normal part of life.
Learning about your own mood changes, like what triggers them and when, is important to knowing who you are.
There are many situations, such as a major loss, a strained relationship or problems at work, that can cause emotional stress. Difficult situations may make you feel sad or “blue” for a while.
The difference between a normal situational low mood or worry and a mental health problem is twofold:
By definition, anything that impairs your function in life, relationships, school or work for more than 2 weeks may be a mental health disorder that may require professional treatment.
For example, many people suffering from depression often feel an overwhelming sense of helplessness and hopelessness for long periods. This depression may lead to suicidal feelings. Often, additional worries and anxiety makes the problem worse.
Certain experiences, thoughts, and feelings signal the presence of a variety of mental health problems or the need for help.
Signs of a potential mental health issue:
The following signs of a potential mental disorder are important to recognize:
- finding little or no pleasure in life
- feeling worthless or extremely guilty
- crying a lot for no particular reason
- withdrawing from other people
- experiencing severe anxiety, panic, or fear
- having big mood swings
- experiencing a change in eating or sleeping patterns
- having very low energy
- losing interest in hobbies and pleasurable activities
- having too much energy, having trouble concentrating or following through on plans
- feeling easily irritated or angry
- experiencing racing thoughts or agitation
- hearing voices or seeing images that other people do not experience
- believing that others are plotting against you
- wanting to harm yourself or someone else
- Feeling constantly overwhelmed
It’s not necessarily easy to spot these signs, or to figure out what they mean.
Qualified mental health professionals are skilled in making an accurate diagnosis and making a plan for your treatment that will work and often involve a variety of health professionals.
As a general rule: the longer the signs last, the more serious they are and the more they interfere with daily life, the greater the chance that professional treatment is needed.
What is depression?
Depression is an illness that can interfere with a person’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, and physical health.
Everyone feels sad, “blue”, or “down-in-the-dumps” at times. Depression is different. It can last for weeks, months, or years and greatly interfere with a person’s life. It is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. from medical illness.
If not treated, depression can lead to suicide. The good news is that most people can be successfully treated.
How do I know if I might be depressed?
You might have a condition known as major depression if you have several of the following symptoms at the same time, these symptoms are different from the way you usually feel, they last longer than two weeks, and they are interfering with your life.
Some people have few symptoms; others have many. Symptoms might be worse for some people than others, but also the severity can change over time for each person.
- sad or irritable mood
- major changes in sleep, appetite, and energy
- difficulty thinking, concentrating, and remembering
- physical slowing or restlessness
- lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed
- feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and emptiness
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicide
- physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and pain.
Are there different types of depression?
There are different types of depression just like there are different types of other illnesses. Three of the most common include:
• Major depression, which involves a combination of different symptoms that interfere with a person’s daily life and last a long time. Someone may be diagnosed with mild, moderate, or severe major depression.
• Dysthymia, which is a less serious form of depression. The symptoms are not disabling but also last a long time and can keep a person from functioning well and/or from feeling well.
• Bipolar disorder, which is also called manic-depressive illness. It is not as common as the other forms of depression. In this disorder, a person’s mood can shift from depressed to manic. In the manic cycle, the person might be extremely active, sleep little, talk too much and too fast, and do things that can cause problems such as spending too much money.
How is depression diagnosed?
Depression can be diagnosed by a primary care or mental health practitioner such as a family doctor. Psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker.
It is a good idea to see your primary care practitioner early on. Some medical conditions and medications can cause the same symptoms as depression.
Through a physical exam, patient interview, and diagnostic tests, the primary care practitioner can determine if something other than depression might be causing the symptoms.
If other explanations are ruled out, a good work-up will include a thorough history of the symptoms, e.g., when they started, how long
they have lasted, how severe they are, whether you have had them before and, if so, whether the symptoms were treated, and what treatment was given. The practitioner should also ask about your alcohol and drug use, whether you have thoughts about suicide and death, and if other family members have had depression. The practitioner will also ask questions to determine if your speech, memory, or the way you think have been affected by the disease.
Is grief the same as depression?
Grief over the death of a loved one or over another loss in your life (such as the loss of a job) can cause many of the same symptoms as depression.
However, grief and depression are not the same.
A major loss can contribute to depression, but most people who are grieving will not need treatment for depression. It often takes longer than people expect to feel like themselves again after a loss.
Almost all communities have resources such as counselors or support groups to help people who are grieving, and can help sort out these feelings.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural reaction of our brain to alert and protect us from danger. You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response – either run from the tiger or fight the tiger – there is also a 3rd variation – freeze/play dead. All three responses are “built in” our brain.
Normally the period of anxiety is followed by a period of relaxation.
Our modern world with its over-abundance of information, TV, computers, video games, and fast-paced timing and technology can lead to your brain sending constant danger signals. This can lead to a “brain-overload”, sleeplessness and mental or even physical health problems.
So, in a way, worry and anxiety are nothing bad. They are only signs of a mental health disorder if they impair your functioning in life, relationships or work, your happiness, and last for longer than 2 weeks or more.
Signs of anxiety
- You dislike change
- Every time you are put into a new situation, you feel restless and worried
- You over process information, decisions, and possibilities before acting
- You tend to be pessimistic about the present and future
- You constantly dwell into negative past experiences
- You worry about everything
- You feel awkward when someone compliments you
- You also believe they don’t mean their compliments or are mocking you in some way
- Every night you have trouble falling asleep because your worries are keeping you up
- You have physical symptoms of unexplained causes, like neck or back pain, stomach pain or others
- You are your harshest critic.You feel stressed a lot
How-To Get Help: Reach Out to People You Trust
Sometimes people don’t get the help they need because they don’t know where to turn. When you’re not feeling well, it can be a struggle to take the necessary steps to help yourself get better.
When dealing with mental health or emotional problems, it’s important not to go at it alone. Healing is a combination of helping yourself and letting others help you. Comfort and support, information and advice, and professional treatment are all forms of help.
Think of all the people you can turn to for support. These are people who are concerned about you and can help comfort you, who will listen to you and encourage you, and who can help arrange for treatment. In other words, find the caring people in your life who can help you.
These people might include:
• friends or close family members
• other people whose advice you would value – perhaps a health or life coach, a member of your church or other place of worship, your family doctor or someone else you trust.
Research shows that males are more reluctant to look for help and receive it than females are. While some people may have difficulty reaching out to others they trust, taking this first step in getting help is important for everyone to do.
My own story:
My first step was writing down how I felt and passing this paper on to my family doctor. I couldn’t even look at him because I felt so embarrassed about asking for help.
His reaction surprised me. He nodded understandingly and sent me to a specialist right away. It’s worth reaching out in whatever way you dare.
Some families have health insurance that helps them get the services they need from mental health professionals. Insurance may cover some of the cost of these services.
How to get help: Take Action
The more you know, the easier it is
Online and offline libraries are an excellent source of information about mental health.
There are websites dedicated to mental health issues. Online and offline Bookstores often have “self-help” or “psychology” sections.
Some are better in quality than others. It is important to know if the information on a site comes from sources you can trust. Use caution whenever you’re sharing or exchanging information online: there’s a chance that it will not be kept private.
Nothing is worse than nothing
The consequences of not getting help for mental health problems can be serious.
Untreated problems often continue and become worse, and new problems may occur. For example, someone with panic attacks might begin drinking too much alcohol with the mistaken hope that it will help relieve his or her emotional pain.
Be a good friend, never keep talk of suicide a secret
Friends often confide in one another about their problems. But if a friend mentions suicide, take it seriously and help him or her to ask for help.
If needed, call 911 or take him/her to the emergency room yourself to get help.
Never keep talk of suicide a secret, even if a friend asks you to. It’s better to risk losing a friendship than to risk losing a friend forever.
Asking for help is courageous – not a sign of weakness!
There are many reasons why people do not get help for mental health problems. Fear, shame, and embarrassment often prevent individuals and their families from doing anything.
Sometimes being able to get the help, support, and professional treatment you need is a matter of changing your mind, pulling together all your courage and start asking the right person.
I myself was close to suicide when I pulled all the courage I had left together and did the hardest thing I ever did in my life: Ask for help. Boy am I glad I did.
Some important reminders:
- Mental health is as important as physical health In fact, the two are closely linked
- Mental health problems are real, and they deserve to be treated
- It’s not a person’s fault if he or she has a mental health problem
- No one is toblame
- Mental health problems are not a sign of weakness
- They are issues you can’t “just snap out of” even if you try
- Whether you’re male or female, or identify as either, it’s OK to ask for help and get it
- There’s always hope
- People improve and recover with the help of different treatments, and they can enjoy happier and healthier lives
- Treatment for mental health is a team effort
- It may involve your doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, spiritual counselor and health or life coach
- Read more a about the different roles of health care providers for mental health issues in a future blog.
It’s Your Choice – It’s Your Life – Don’t Throw it Away!
Sources:modified from: APA help center – American Psychology Association and PATIENT HANDOUT University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine
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