Today is week 3 of my Mental Health Monday posts.
Struggles with mental illness can often feel like swimming in the ocean, making no progress as waves continue to crash over you, again and again. Hold on, dear one, you are not alone. You can cry out for help, reach for your life jacket, and feel the relief and comfort of safety and security as your loved ones pull you back to shore and anchor you on firm ground.
The third highest rated area from the survey I did in February was “I Want to Know More About Anxiety and Depression” with 69.7% of survey participants (all female) reporting that they would like to have more information and content in regards to the signs and symptoms associated with anxiety and depression and mindful action steps that can be taken to help themselves and/or others cope with the anxiety and/or depression.
It is no secret that our country and the world at large is in the midst of a mental health crisis. The good news is we are becoming, albeit slow, better about engaging in open, honest and meaningful conversations when it comes to mental health whether it be our own or a loved ones. For the most part, society is beginning to recognize and acknowledge that mental health disorders (i.e., anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, PTSD, and many others) are every bit as important and deserve the same amount of knowledge, attention, and care that our physical health does.
One of the most important steps toward helping those who are struggling with mental health issues is to normalize the conversations surrounding mental health. We don’t ignore, stuff down or hush our conversations in regards to physical illnesses, so why do we feel the need to whisper about mental health concerns? Mental health is just as essential as physical health. Normalizing the conversation about mental health empowers people to talk and get the help they need (Mass.gov).
The ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) reports that 18% of those 18 years of age and older suffer from anxiety and/or depression. That is 40 million people. The ADAA goes on to report that there has been a dramatic increase of anxiety and/or depression amongst our youth with 1/3 suffering from anxiety and 20% with depression.
While these numbers are alarming and upsetting, they do help remove the stigma. People can see that they are not alone. It is evident that mental health can, and does, reach all ages, races, genders, and socio-economic classes. Just like physical illness, mental illness does not discriminate.
I know, from personal experience, that acknowledging and accepting my mental health struggle was the first hurdle. After I called it out for what it was, I then reached out to family, friends, and medical professionals for the help I needed to fight the battle well equipped.
Here are a few first action steps that can be powerful in beginning to face a mental illness and experience relief from the symptoms. There’s no cure for mental illness, but there are lots of effective treatments. People with mental illnesses can recover and live long and healthy lives (Mental Health America).
Share your story with a trusted friend (said friend can help you normalize your experience)
If you are spiritual, engage in specific prayer for your relief and treatment; ask others to pray with and for you
Be open to trying medications that medical professionals recommend and be patient with the results- it takes time (sometimes several weeks) for the medications to begin to be effective
Stay present and check in- if you are the one suffering from the illness make sure you have a “go to” person. If you are the “go to” person for someone that is suffering, be present, be available, be sympathetic (i.e. don’t tell them to calm down, just breathe, get over it, etc.) just be there for them, be a good listener...they don’t need you to “fix” them.You can’t “fix” them.
Signs of anxiety:
Withdrawal from normal, everyday, social situations
What Not to Say to Someone Dealing with Anxiety
Calm down - don’t you think they would if they could?
Get over it - there’s nothing to “get over” they likely don’t have a reason/cause for how they are feeling
It’s not that big of a deal - yes it is! To them, at this point, every little thing IS a big deal
Stop worrying- again, if they could, they would
Just breathe- they often feel like they can’t breathe, they feel like they aren’t breathing; breathing exercises work best when someone is in a calm state, so model deep breathing for them
I know how you feel - unless you have an anxiety disorder, you don’t know how they feel. Jitters or nerves that most of us experience before a big event are not the same as the feelings of anxiety
This is all in your head- they likely know this already…
Mindful Action Steps to Help Cope with Anxiety
Question your thoughts: challenge your fears,are they true?
Write down the “what ifs”- if this bad thing happens, then what….. What’s the worst that could come of it?
Practice and use deep breathing- this does take time and practice, we are often holding our breath and don’t even realize it
Use aromatherapy- light relaxing scented candles, diffuse and/or apply essential oils
Move your body- go for a walk, do yoga, etc.
Get outside in nature- breathe in fresh air and see the beauty of the outdoors
Write down your anxious thoughts- do a brain dump
If the anxiety is persistent, lasts for several weeks, and/or interferes with your daily life, seek medical/professional help
Signs of depression:
Loss of interest in typical, daily activities
Changes in appetite or weight
Change in normal hygiene
Extreme emotions, mood swings
What Not to Say to Someone with Depression
Snap out of it, try harder, cheer up, smile- again don’t you think they would if they could??? They can’t make their brain produce more serotonin, so they can’t force themselves to “feel happy”
Don’t act shocked or disbelief if/when they share they are struggling with depression- “People who need help often look like people who don’t need help.” -Glennon Doyle
It can’t be that bad, It could be worse, It’s all in your head, Other people have it worse than you
Mindful Action Steps to Help Cope with Depression:
Reach out and stay connected- talk with someone that will listen and be attentive and compassionate; make face time a priority- don’t just text, DM, etc. actually see your family and friends in person
Stick to your normal, daily activities even if you don’t feel like it
Find ways to help others, care for a pet
Continue to do things that you enjoy and that make you feel good
Move your body- Exercise every day
Try your best to stick to a normal sleep pattern- sleep at night and get out and about during the day
Get outside and get natural Vitamin D every day
Challenge your negative thinking- use those “if/when/then” statements again
You most likely will not “feel like” doing any of these things, but you have to make yourself do them. If you find you can’t make yourself, then entrust a loved one- family member or friend- to hold you accountable.
Most importantly- DO NOT BE APATHETIC. If you or someone you know is engaging in self harm or having suicidal thoughts seek professional help immediately. And, if you are the caregiver or support person for someone who is struggling be watchful and mindful of the condition of your own mental health. It is easy to suffer from fatigue, worry, emotional and mental burnout.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at : 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.