There’s a famous quote attributed to several people (including the late comedian Robin Williams) that goes something along the lines of: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
Life can be too much sometimes
The words ring true especially considering that, for many of us, the past two years have been tough. Really tough. The COVID-19 pandemic caused massive shutdowns and losses of all types including the loss of loved ones, friends, jobs, financial stability, school, homes, routines and many milestone events from weddings to graduations. Isolation was palpable and just getting through it has been a huge challenge for many and some sadly never made it through.
Just when we think things might be behind us on some level, we’re reading that influenza cases, which typically start to wane in the spring, are peaking after March this year for the first time in decades and that 100 million Americans could become infected with COVID-19 this fall and winter during an expected COVID surge. Couple that with everything else going on in the world, including in our own personal lives, and it can be too much.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and now more than ever it’s important to tune into your own thoughts and feelings but also of those around you including your family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. Mental health can be hard to understand and define as it encompasses social, emotional and psychological health and well-being where physical health is often far more straightforward.
There are a variety of struggles we all bear, like that quote states above, but how can we know when we need help ourselves or when to help or raise concern about someone else? The following points from The Jed Foundation can be used as a guideline for yourself, friend or loved one that something might be wrong keeping in mind it’s always critical that you seek out advice from your own doctor who knows you best. If you are feeling that you or your loved one needs urgent psychiatric care, is suicidal and/or are a danger to yourself or others, please call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room immediately.
4 things to look for that indicate help may be needed
1. Changes in behavior:
- No longer participating in activities that were considered enjoyable
- Isolation from friends and family and communicating less than normal
- Sleeping more and still feeling tired
- Being less productive at work, school or at home
- Eating differently, either losing an appetite or eating much more than usual
- Increased use of drugs and alcohol
- Showing impaired judgment or reduced inhibitions
2. Changes in appearance:
- Neglecting hygiene or basic care including frequency of bathing or changing clothes
- Looking tired or sad frequently
- Dramatic weight loss or weight gain
3. Changes in Mood:
- Having trouble coping with everyday stressors or challenges, or worrying and stressing out more than usual
- Overreacting to situations or becoming sad, irritated, angry or aggressive more easily
- Feeling sad and hopeless all the time
4. Changes in what you or they say:
- “I’m totally worthless.”
- “I’m messing up everything in my life.”
- “What’s the point?”
- “I wish I could just not wake up.”
- “I’ve let people down.”
- “I don’t feel well.” (Or expressing other physical complaints, like constant headaches, exhaustion or stomach cramps)
- Frequent negative comments about weight or other aspects of appearance
How to help yourself
If you note any of the above regarding yourself, seek help through your doctor or medical practice or pick up the phone to call a trusted friend or family member. If you don’t have a support system in place, below are resources for help:
Mental Health America
National Institutes of Mental Health
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration
American Psychiatric Association
How to help someone else
First, don’t second guess your concern. Mention that they don’t seem like themselves and offer to talk or meet up. Listen to what they have to say with no distractions and let them know that they’re not alone.
We’re barraged by so much information that when we’re feeling unwell mentally and emotionally sometimes it’s hard to know how to help ourselves.
A few further tips to help manage:
Be aware of the mind-body connection
Physical ailments impact mental and emotional health and vice versa. Chronic illness, disabilities, even long-COVID or post-COVID all can deeply affect one’s mental health to being aware of mind-body connection is key. Your mind are the emotions, feelings and thoughts you have that are closely connected to your body. Be aware of your internal self-talk and how that impacts your overall health.
Limit intake of news and social media
Scrolling through your social media feed can be enjoyable but it can negatively impact your mental health by eliciting feelings of depression, loneliness or feeling less than others. Know that what you’re seeing on social media is often an illusion and not the full story whether it’s through the use of photo filters to make people look flawless to giving the appearance of perfect lives. Same for news, not often do we turn to the news and then feel uplifted. Limit your use of both to preserve your mental and emotional energy and reach out to connect with others in real life, on the phone, via text or consider joining a faith or interest based community for connection.
Seek help with the resources above and check out this article, Does Medicare cover a therapist? for further information.