I wanted to write this post. I didn’t want to write this post.
I wanted to write this post because May is Mental Health Month and mental health has been a big part of my life for the past few years.
I didn’t want to write this post because I am hesitant to share painful experiences. Although I am not comfortable writing about the details, I can write about their devastating effects on my mental health, along with what I have done, and what I am doing to heal.
I am writing this post to remind myself and others that it is ok to talk about mental health. It is ok to say that you are struggling. It is ok to seek help. I am writing this post because I have been inspired by others who had the courage to share their mental health story, like Jenny Lawson [I’m reading her latest book, Broken (in the best possible way)]. I am writing this post to encourage you to take care of your mental health and seek help if you are struggling.
My Mental Health Struggles
For several years, my mental health was at an all-time low. Certain things caused overwhelming anxiety. Other things caused a huge wave of fear or sadness. I didn’t recognize the thoughts and emotions in my head; and I didn’t like them. Many of the things that caused these reactions were outside of my control. All of this left me feeling hopeless. Sometimes I felt like giving up. I realized that the only way to cope was to seek help – and I did.
Although I still have struggles, I have learned some things to help offset the anxiety, fear, and sadness when they make an appearance. For example, I try to interrupt negative thoughts and feelings and substitute positive thoughts. I’m also trying to prioritize daily self-care things like physical activity and getting a good night’s sleep.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Everyone faces challenges that can impact their mental health. When you do, there are many resources and tools available to help. Not sure where to start? You can take a free, private online mental health screen for depression, anxiety, bipolar, PTSD, addiction, and more. Then what? Depending on your situation, you could check out some self-help articles and worksheets (see Mental Health Resources section), talk to family or friends, and/or seek help from a mental health professional.
When to See a Mental Health Professional
According to Dr. Vasudev Makhija, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology Diplomate, American Psychiatric Association Distinguished Fellow, and President of South Asian Mental Health Initiative Network (SAMHIN), one of the problems with identifying signs of illness is that symptoms of mental illness resemble and mimic normal human experiences and emotional challenges.
Who has not experienced anxiety with rapid heartbeat and feelings of apprehension when faced with a stressful situation (especially during the pandemic) or feeling down at life’s disappointments or the loss of a loved one? Often, when mental illness develops, it is perceived initially as a normal reaction or a phase that will soon pass. It is only later that it becomes clearer.
Mental illness can manifest in changes in personality, functioning, thinking, and mood. Changes in personality including withdrawing from others (I am not referring to social isolation practiced during the pandemic), becoming easily angered or hostile, or showing odd behavior that is uncharacteristic.
Changes in thinking include difficulties with concentration and memory, excessive worrying, and being suspicious of others. Another sign is when others have difficulty following the individual’s logic and speech.
Mood changes might consist of persistent sadness or crying and apathy, no initiative, no interest in or desire to do anything; and unexplained mood swings, nervousness, and restlessness.
One thing to look for is any significant changes in functioning in one or more areas of life i.e., work, school, home, and social. For example: missing work, not completing projects, neglecting self-care, tardiness, or drop in grades. Look for changes in functioning and behavior from the individual’s baseline and not in comparison to another person.
Any of these signs can raise a flag. But if the individual is exhibiting several of these signs, it might be time to seek a consultation and help. It is also important to remember that others may notice changes in your behavior and functioning before you do.
After you recognize that there is a problem, the first step is to seek a consultation/psychiatric evaluation with a mental health professional – a psychiatrist, psychologist, or social worker. You can start with your primary care provider for a basic screening and recommendation for a mental health clinician. You can ask a trusted friend, family member, or colleague for the name of a clinician they know. There are also websites to help find a provider (see Mental Health Resources section). You can reach out to helplines offered by various non-profit organizations. Sometimes you may have to speak to more than one mental health professional before you find the one who is the right fit for you.
Participate in Mental Health Month 2021
Mental Health Month is a great opportunity to consider what you can do for your mental health or ways you can help others.
- Participate in Mental Health Action Day on May 20
- Take a mental health screen
- Check out Mental Health America’s Tools 2 Thrive
- Become an advocate for mental health
- Spread the word on social media – get sample messages and graphics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America: social media posts and social media graphics
- Search online to find events in your community like Why We Rise LA (I‘m heading out to see some of the art exhibits this week)
Mental Health Resources
- If you or someone you know is in crisis or has thoughts of suicide, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Mental health fact sheets from National Institute of Mental Health
- Self-help tools from Mental Health America
- Finding a Mental Health Professional (National Alliance of Mental Illness)
- Finding Therapy – Resources from Mental Health America
- South Asian Mental Health Initiative Network (SAMHIN) Mental Health Provider Directory
- Find a Therapist Directory (Psychology Today)
Thanks to Dr. Vasudev Makhija for his contribution to this post.