Most of us have used the standard reply, “I’m fine” at a point in time when we were not mentally (or physically) well. We supply these safe responses, to discourage any potentially uncomfortable discussions about how we are functioning. As a person who has experienced anxiety and depression, I know that I have said, “I’m okay”, when I wasn’t, because it just seemed the best option at the time. It is also likely that there have been occasions when I have said I was “fine” because I missed the signs of a growing mental health issue in myself.
Recognition and Acceptance
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans will experience mental illness each year, and nearly 60% of these individuals will not seek help. The stigma of mental illness can make recognition and acceptance of mental health problems difficult. It is much easier to explain away the signs of a growing mental health issue, especially when it is your own.
There are some common signs of mental illness in adolescents and adults. These include, but are not limited to: 1) Excessive worry, fear, anger, irritability, or sadness, 2) inability to feel emotion or notice changes in behavior, 3) thoughts of suicide, 4) major changes in sleeping, eating, hygiene, or sexual habits, 5) confusion or disorientation, 6) rapid and drastic changes in mood, 7) substance abuse, 8) isolation/avoidance, 9) multiple physical complaints that have no apparent cause, 10) experiencing delusions or hallucinations, and 11) an inability to complete normal daily life functions.
You may recognize changes in behavior, before you see any major problems. Know that your problem cues may be different from other individual’s problem cues. For example, you may start to have difficulty falling or staying asleep, while your best friend has told you that they slept all day and night when they were depressed. What is important is that you notice what your personal problem areas are. Once you realize that you have a problem, decide to accept it, and take steps to care of yourself. It can be that easy. Delaying addressing any mental health problem can lead to other physical and mental health issues.
So, you may notice that your go-to fun activities and friends are not helping you feel better. I tell my clients “this is when you get creative with coping”. When I was depressed, nothing that the therapy sites recommended, seemed to lift me out of my funk. I read, I exercised, I drank water, I bought clothes and got a haircut, I spent time with friends, I journaled, I hugged my kids, but somehow, I seemed to go right back to the same gloomy place I was before. One night, I was in bed (which was where I spent my time as a depressed person) and I picked up a Sudoku book and I started trying to figure it out. I dislike math, and I would have never picked numbers as a coping strategy, but I found that concentrating so intently on the puzzles barred my ability to continue to dwell on my sadness, guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness. It was in that strange and unlikely activity, that I found a way to block out the harmful feelings, and break the negative patterns that depression created in my life. So, don’t be afraid to get creative with your coping! Find the thing that works for you.
When you are experiencing mental health challenges, be sure to give yourself time away from caretaking and listening to other’s problems. Recent research suggests that mirror neurons in our brain “fire” equally when we experience something personally, as well as when we observe someone else’s experience. The more empathetic a person is, the more likely that they will be susceptible to secondary traumatic stress that can emerge when providing care for a person who has mental or physical health issues. It may be wise to take a break from negative media outlets as well!
Be kind to yourself. Accept that returning to optimal mental wellness may take some time and patience. Notice your limitations, but focus on your strengths. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. My mentor has a saying, “You get some of what you ask for, and none of what you don’t”. Find a trustworthy person and ask for what you need. Whether you choose a parent, a pastor, a friend, or a therapist, please seek help for yourself. Reach out to us at the Center for Child Development and the Delaware Center for Counseling and Wellness if you would like to see a therapist. We are here to help!
For more information from NAMI –
Jen Meehan, MSW