May is Mental Health Awareness month!
While I have decided to save politics and religion for my other blog, Silent Musings on a Noisy Life, I never want to steer away from the deeper and more serious topics here. Although this is a lifestyle blog; I don’t want to get caught up in only posting about beauty, food, and fitness. The best people to follow on social media (in my opinion) are the people who are completely real and transparent. My favorite fitness accounts are the girls who show you what they look like posed, and what they look like relaxed. In the same way, while I enjoy sharing the exciting and pretty parts of my life with you, I also want to show you the parts that aren’t quite as much fun that I am equally as passionate about. One of these things is mental health.
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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or mental health professional, just someone sharing my personal experience. Please consult a licensed therapist if you are struggling.
If you are suicidal or need help please call 1-800-273-8255 or 911 or go here for online chat.
More and more young adults and teenagers are being diagnosed with mental illnesses. Some of this can be attributed to over- and self-diagnosis. However, there are plenty of legitimate things that have lead to this increase. I’m not going to jump into those reasons today because I don’t think I could do it without getting political. Suffice to say that mental health issues are more prevalent today than they were even 20 years ago. They are more prevalent in the United States than anywhere else in the world.
What I do want to focus on is what we as individuals can do for ourselves and for our friends and family who are struggling.
It’s sometimes difficult to admit to yourself, and to others, that you have a problem. I struggle with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. Through most of high school I was suicidal.
I went to see an on-campus counselor a few times during my first semester of college. For some reason we scheduled my sessions for 8am Monday mornings and that just didn’t last very long for someone who could barely force herself to get up for her 9am Tuesday class. So I became a recluse. Skipping classes and just watching Netflix in my dorm room.
Here I am about 5 years later, I haven’t been consistently suicidal in years, and only very rarely have a depressive episode so bad I can’t function normally. So how did I get here?
What you can do for you
First of all, what works for one person may not work for someone else. This is what has worked for me, and what will hopefully help you, but if something doesn’t help you as much as it has helped me then don’t give up. You are never too far gone.
Learning to advocate for myself. I plan to do an entire post on this at some point (maybe next week? I’m really excited about it!) so I don’t want to go too much into detail about it right now. But learning to stand up for myself, learning that my thoughts and opinions and feelings matter has made such a difference for me. I’ve always been an opinionated person, but for some reason always felt like I needed to validate my thoughts and feelings to other people.
Getting out of the house. One big indicator of depression is seclusion. In high school and college I spent a lot of time in my room. As an adult I know that when I start to feel depressed the best course of action: put on clothes that make me feel good about myself, and go for a walk or run. You can read about my Soda Method here. Working out and sunlight have been proven to decrease symptoms of not only depression and anxiety, but also things like schizophrenia.
Recognize your triggers. I don’t mean this in the “somebody said something I don’t agree with and now I’m triggered” kind of way. I mean it in being able to localize things that make you struggle. For example, I’ve noticed that every time I go to the mall by myself I get depressed. Even sometimes when Ryan goes with me. I’m not sure if it’s something in the air or not being able to find what I’m looking for, but I’ve found it to be a huge issue for me. I’ve also found that even a small of an amount of caffeine will cause my insomnia to go insane. It’s just like when you go for a run and think “hey my body is telling me I need to slow down and get some water”. Do you speed up and forgo the H2O? In the same way, when your brain tells you “hey I don’t like this” you should listen!
Listen to your doctor. I know that there can be some stigma around taking medication for mental illness. But the truth of it is that your brain is sick in the same way your body gets sick. If you have cancer do you say “no, I don’t want chemo, I just need to think positively and I will be healed”? It just doesn’t make sense. Of course, there are plenty of things you can do. Diet changes and exercise can help with cancer and, in the same way, they can help with mental health issues.
There are plenty of other things I could add to this list, like being honest with yourself, your doctor, and your friends and family about how you’re feeling; having a support group; finding hobbys, etc. but these are the four big ones.
How you can help other people
Whether you struggle with mental health issues or not, the statistics say that you probably know people who do. You may not know anyone with things like Dissociative Identity Disorder or schizophrenia. However chances are you probably know quite a few with depression or anxiety, or who have narcissistic personality disorder or PTSD.
Stop the stigma. This is more of a cultural thing than an individual goal, but it’s still great to work towards! Think about people you’ve known or have known about who committed suicide. How many people have said, after the fact, how surprised they were “they always seemed so happy”? Anyone can struggle with mental illness. There’s so much stigmatization around it that people find it difficult to reach out to anyone. They are often brushed off with a “oh you’re just stressed” or “you have nothing to complain about think about everyone who has it worse.” or my favorite “you don’t know what it means to be stressed, you’re just a kid.”
Be understanding. Sometimes you just need a mental health day. People shouldn’t just use up their sick days. Parents shouldn’t let their kids stay home anytime they’re feeling sad. However, if a friend cancels plans at the last minute because they’re just not feeling up to it or your kid just can’t pull themself out of bed in the morning, be understanding. Let them know that it’s ok, you can reschedule another time to hang out. If it happens often, though, you should also step in. Say “hey, I know you’re struggling right now and don’t want to leave the house. Lets do something that won’t be super stressful that will get you out of the house. We can just go for a walk or get ice cream. You can wear your pjs if you want.”
Don’t make them feel guilty. People with depression already feel bad enough without you making them feel guilty for the way they’re feeling. I especially hate when people say things like, “Suicide is selfish.” If you have never been suicidal you cannot understand. I can see how you could find it selfish, in your eyes someone commits suicide because they want relief from their pain and don’t think about how their death will affect their friends and family. But that’s not how it is for someone who is suicidal. Suicidal people think that other people will be better off without them. They believe that nobody will care if they’re gone. They think that anyone who has any emotion about it will be happy that they are gone. By telling them they are selfish you are basically confirming their thoughts about themselves.
Don’t ditch them. It’s frustrating being friends with someone who cancels plans or is stressed or depressed a lot, but recognize the difference between flakiness and mental health needs. I’m really bad at staying in touch with people, especially if I’m struggling. So don’t just stop being friends with someone because they aren’t around or don’t contact you on their own. With anxiety sometimes I’m afraid to ask people to hang out. I have thoughts like “what if they think I’m too clingy!” “what if they don’t actually like me?”
Again, there are plenty of other things I could add to this list, but I don’t want to ramble on! I hope that you will take May to be aware of both your own and other’s mental health needs.
Here, where I live, there’s been a string of suicides and attempted suicides over the last few weeks. Please reach out to people, whether you think they might be struggling or not. Remind them that you love and care about them.
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