By Stacey Brown is Program Director of the Human Services Program at Edison State College School of Health Professions. She is also a Licensed Mental Health Therapist.
We know that it is important to take care of ourselves in order to feel good, be healthy and function well as workers, parents, partners and contributing members of society. We know that we are expected to accomplish the required tasks of daily living, find work/personal life balance, be nurturing parents and caretakers, community contributors, good role models for the youth and feel happy and joyous most of the time. We know we “should” eat balanced meals, exercise, wash our hands to prevent the spread of germs and go to the doctor if we get really sick. Handling all of this can be a gargantuan task.
The reality is that many of us tend to neglect one or more of these important areas because it is hard to find that balance to do it all. As a result, stress, anxiety, depression, frustration, strained relationships, inattention, sleeplessness and irritability can result. In extreme cases, some of us experience more severe symptoms of mental illness that may have been genetically inherited or triggered by all of these unmet needs and responsibilities.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Learning about early warning signs and what to do if the symptoms are present can get you and your loved ones on the road to recovery quickly. The stigma of mental illness in America has prevented education and awareness of these very treatable issues. These conversations can be uncomfortable. Just as we have been educated about the early warning signs to look for regarding bronchitis or heart disease and about the importance of sneezing into our tissues and using condoms rather than spreading contagious diseases, there are strategies to help prevent, cope with and treat mental health issues.
According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, 1 in every 4 adults experiences some sort of mental illness issue in their lifetime. All of us will likely be touched by mental illness in some way. Knowing the early warning signs and knowing prevention and treatment strategies can strengthen your ability to cope with everyday problems and struggles more effectively to, hopefully, prevent a more serious health issue or crisis.
If you or someone you know is experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors, it’s worth checking out:
• Eating or sleeping too much or too little
• Pulling away from people and usual activities
• Having low or no energy
• Feeling numb or like nothing matters
• Having unexplained aches and pains
• Feeling helpless or hopeless
• Frequent headaches
• Chronic complaining
• High blood pressure and/or rapid heart-rate
• Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
• Feeling unusually confused, for getful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
• Yelling or fighting with family and friends
• Experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
• Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
• Thinking of harming yourself or others
• Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of your kids or getting to work or school
Becoming aware of your symptoms, staying honest with yourself and taking a realistic account of your experiences will be life changing. Listen to family or friends who may offer concern. Obtaining a comprehensive assessment by a licensed mental health professional is the next step to recovery. After the assessment, treatment options can be reviewed.
There’s a lot of science behind the treatment of mental health issues. Take advantage of the treatment options available to you.
Research consistently shows that attitude, gratitude, willingness to seek help and guidance and self-esteem play a huge part in the success or failure of treatment, and thus, life satisfaction. Learning strategies to help you deal with stress and interpersonal conflict, parenting strategies, or old lingering issues of trauma or abuse will help you to feel stronger, more confident, more hopeful and more capable so you can build a happy and rewarding life.
Learning how to think positively and reframe problems in a solution oriented way, learning how to let go and be mindful and present rather than worrying or getting anxious are a few ways counseling can help. Staying connected to others, involved in groups, helping others, getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, exercising, taking care of your spirit, enjoying a hobby and spending time with quiet reflection are things that you can do to help yourself with stress.
Take some time to learn about mental health. Take responsibility for yourself and your wellness. Your mental health is one of your greatest assets.
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