Mental Health Matters

Published on October 26, 2022

So, what can you do if you or someone you love may be having mental health challenges?

The first step is to recognize the warning signs. These can include withdrawing for more than two weeks, making self-harm plans, experiencing unexplained overwhelming fear or mood swings, taking extreme risks, having significant weight change, abusing substances (including alcohol), behaving drastically, changing sleep schedule, having trouble concentrating or worries interrupting daily life and activities.

Second, is to seek help and/or treatment. If it is emergency, call 9-1-1. For all other situations, the primary care physician can perform initial assessments and give referrals to specialists. And, as mentioned above, the federal government also has resources. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) can provide general information or find local treatment services; SAMHSA’s hotline is 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Or try contacting advocacy and professional organizations. They often post details on finding mental health professionals or have practitioner locators on their websites.

Finally, be pro-active in self-care. Self-care is important whether you yourself are overcoming mental illness challenges or are a family members or caregivers helping and supporting individuals with a mental illness. Developing effective coping strategies can dramatically reduce symptoms or burn-out. According to the World Health Organization, practical ways to deal with stress include:

  • Grounding. Slow down and connect with your body by paying attention to your breath, pressing your feet into the floor, and slowly pressing your hands together; then, refocus on the world by noticing three things you can hear, smell, see, and feel.
  • Unhooking. Detach from unhelpful thoughts and feelings by noticing the difficult feelings or thoughts arising, naming them (silently to yourself), and then refocusing on the activity you are doing.
  • Acting on values. Think of two or three values you want to live up to (like bravery, patience, trustworthy) and take small actions that reinforce those values; for example, if peace is a value, realize you cannot stop wars in the world, but you can stop unnecessarily arguing with others.
  • Being kind. Unkind thoughts are a normal part of daily life and it’s easy to be consumed by them; kindness begins with unhooking from unkind thoughts directed at yourself (like, “I am weak” or “I am a bad person”) as well as doing small acts of kindness for others.
  • Making room. Allow space for bad feelings or thoughts to come up without hurting you. Observe them with curiosity when they happen, like they are an object or words in a book.

Unlike some other diseases, there is no straightforward test to diagnose mental illness or challenges. Medication and psychotherapy can be incredibly helpful; sometimes more day-in and day-out help is needed to feel good or even just okay. The good news is we have the power to immediately start making changes to ensure our mental health is in as good of shape as our physical health.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise with information from Archetypes, NAMI, SAMHSA, NIMH, and WHO.