Recently I’ve been approached by a lot of my peers and social networking friends about some of the mental health battles they’ve been facing. Literally one after the other, after the other, after the other, in my messages and via phone calls. I’ve been thinking on this for some time now and after much confirmation I realize that I’d like to use my blog to include more practical help and education on mental illness.
First, I’d like to do away with the stigma that mental illness means you’re flat out crazy and no good use. In fact, it happens to the best of us. It’s happened to me. It may have happened to you without understanding it fully. And it is likely to have occurred in some of the people you admire and look up to. There’s a lot of negative connotations we attach to the idea of mental illness that need to be put to bed. A lot of this comes from ignorance and lack of understanding.
Mental illness is very much like a physical illness, but many people have a hard time coming to grips with it because the mind is less tangible. This is also the reason why many people don’t get help. There are no scars or bleeding to show proof that something is wrong. Instead it may look like a dysfunction in mental processing. However, it’s all a common health issue just the same. Just like a cold or virus, some mental illnesses happen for an episode, are treated and then never come back or rarely show up again. Some mental illnesses are more like a cancer, which are harder to cure and have more long-term, serious effects but still have the potential to be treated over time. Nevertheless, the best way we can make sure we’re in a healthy mental state and in the best place to help others is to educate ourselves non-judgmentally on mental health.
Now, this is my particular passion and it may not be yours so in the meantime I hope my blog will be some help to you. I’ve personally encountered episodes of major depression, anxiety attacks and as a teenage girl, suicidal thinking and self harm. I’ve had my share of being on the battle field with mental illness. I haven’t faced as serious conditions as the millions who face it as an everyday part of life and I can say understanding God has a purpose for my life has played a big role in going strong. Nevertheless, I hope this post gives you the confidence to get the help you need or be a help to those around you in a way that is actually effective and no longer stigmatized.
The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is our mental health guide for those who are careered or in the study of the mental health field. It’s how we learn how to spot signs of mental illness that are abnormal to a persons regular functions of life. So when I’m sharing signs and forms of treatment this is the manual I’m mostly coming from with a few notes of my own.
Our society likes to throw the word “depressed” around pretty commonly. I’ve done it. You say, “Ugh I feel so depressed.” And many times we’re referring to the “blues” or a bad string of days or even a bad week. Having a bad break up, or grieving a loss, failing at something important or just not feeling yourself are all normal forms of sadness. This is common for just about anyone. It doesn’t mean you’ve got a diagnosis, it just means you’re human. Be encouraged.
However, a person who is clinically depressed will show 5 or more of these symptoms together for at least 2 weeks. It will have significantly impaired their typical functioning in relationships, at work and regular activities. And this will occur most of the day, everyday for at least the two weeks straight.
- Depressed moods or sadness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities most of the day, nearly every day
- Sudden or recent weight gain, weight loss, or significant change in appetite
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much or excessively)
- Feeling restless
- Having slower than usual speech and movements
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Trouble staying focused or making decisions
- Regular thoughts of death, suicide, planned suicide or attempted suicide
If you’re like me, look at signs and symptoms and are quick to diagnose yourself, be careful. Be careful of confirmation bias where you not only interpret things leaning into your feared belief but begin to fall deeper into it because of assuring yourself of it. Remember that the blues for a few days can be normal and some of these things normally happen in the event of disappointment or loss. The difference with clinical depression is the lengthy time it has occurred, the consistency of the signs on an everyday basis and the severe change in regular functioning that is disabling.
What You Can Do
- Try to monitor or track how long you’ve been in this haze. Journal how you’re feeling or even using a handy app like Pacifica are great ways to track your mood and functioning.
- Take it seriously. Tell your friend, spouse, pastor or trusted counselor and ask if they’ve noticed any significant changes. Get someone else involved.
- See your health provider, seek treatment using the resources I’ve listed in the resource section below.
For a loved one,
- If you noticed they haven’t been themselves, let them know you’re concerned and mention what you have noticed. Ask them how long they’ve been feeling this way. If they’ve been a completely different person everyday for about a month, take it seriously.
- Look out for signs of guilt, worthlessness, withdrawal from life or loss of complete interest, loss of work performance, complete isolation, weight gain/loss and ESP suicidal thinking (we’ll talk more about approaching this in a latter article).
- Listen nonjudgmentally
- Try not to be overprotective or show overly concerning looks- this can be debilitating and/or enabling.
- Don’t tell them to “snap out of it”, “get over it” or get frustrated when it doesn’t just disappear. It’s not that simple, many times there is a chemical imbalance in the brain and serious help is required.
- Do not belittle their feelings or nag them to do what they would normally do.
- DO NOT condemn or demonize them- this only recycles the problem.
- Listen without interrupting.
- Remember empathy is different than sympathy. Empathy is being able to put yourself in their shoes and show understanding. Sympathy is pitying or feeling sorry for them, which is also debilitating.
- Encourage them to get help and show your support. Let them know recovery is possible. In fact, 80-90% of those who get treatment will begin to recover with signs of relief. Offer to go with them if it will bring some comfort.
- Offer some of the resources I’ve listed in the resource section below.
Some facts to keep in mind when looking for signs:
- Young adults ages 18-29 are three times more likely to have the disorder than people over 60.
- Women have 1.5-3 times of a higher chance than for men.
- Men may show signs differently than women. Many may still go to work every day and continue to provide but have feelings of hopelessness, agitation, frustration, outbursts, and be detached overall.
- Genetics do play a role and someone with a close blood relative like parent or grandparent who has struggled with clinical depression has a 2-4 times higher risk of developing it too.
- Visit your healthcare provider, pastoral counseling, clinic or urgent care who may be able to refer you to an appropriate clinician or therapist.
- Research/visit your local Department of Human Services or Public Social Services to see if you qualify for state or federal healthcare if you can’t afford medical insurance to see a clinician.
- For those specifically interested in Christian Counseling check out PsychologyToday.com, Find a Therapist, and choose “Christian” in your filtered search for your area. Get on the phone with a counselor and see if they’re a good fit for you. Also check out the American Association of Christian Counselors and Find a Counselor. (Remember that even the right therapist without a labeled Christian practice will still be able to help you gain coping skills and give helpful, practical guidance for recovery.)
- Have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on hand- 800-273-TALK (8255). This is my saved in my phone just in case for anyone in need.
- Visit NAMI.org and click “Find Support” for resources in your area.
- Exercise, even if it’s a 15-20 minute walk outside each day. Many times depression is a chemical imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain like, Serotonin, which is a mood stabilizer. Sun is known to release Serotonin and exercise release Endorphins in the brain, both of which can give you a healthy boost.
- Read my article 100 Ways To Instantly Boost Your Mood
- Get involved in a support group either via your church, online or even look into your local hospital.
- SAMe is a natural supplement sold in drugstores to help with joint pain but it is also known to assist in mood imbalances.
- Invest in a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy book to educate yourself on the workings of depression. This is often the same type of therapy used in treatment.
This is not the end. There is much to be hopeful for.
Like I shared in the stats earlier, a majority of people do heal and recover from major depression because of seeking the appropriate help. But getting and offering help is key! The longer you put it off the deeper it can get and the harder it will become to recover- just like any infection. On average, most cases wait 10 years before receiving help. You can only imagine how disabling that can become as the time grows for you to be shaped in ways that could be prevented in the beginning.
Was this helpful for you? Would you like to see more articles on mental health like this? If you have any other questions, let’s chat in the comments below!
Resource: Online Counseling & Therapy
I’m happy to have partnered with BetterHelp to help provide an effective and more accessible way to speak with a licensed counselor anytime. Get started with online therapy (via phone, video or text) and 10% off your first month: http://betterhelp.com/moses