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Learn about mental health to spread awareness

Nearly half of all Americans will experience a mental health challenge at some point in their lifetime, and taking steps to take care of yourself and others is vital in helping to prevent and minimize these challenges.While Mental Health Awareness Week may be over, mental health is something that we all need to be aware of throughout the year.

An elderly woman sits in a waiting room, anxiously waiting to meet with a counselor for the first time to talk about her childhood trauma for the first time in her life. The average American waits years to seek treatment when experiencing a mental health challenge, and this can lead to potentially disastrous outcomes. Early intervention can be the difference in life or death for some, and will help increase their overall quality of life but it can be hard for someone to admit that they need help or even recognize the changes in themselves.

For this elderly woman, her mother minimized the many abuses she experienced as a child, and continued to minimize her mental health challenges she experienced going into adulthood as well. She would spend years in and out of hospitals, psychiatric units, and struggling through an abusive marriage, the loss of a child and more. Changing beliefs about mental health is important because for many people, it is an illness and something that can be with them,or a part of them for a long time, even though it may not be as noticeable as a physical ailment such as a broken arm or cancer.

Sometimes, a person can experience multiple mental health challenges at once. Understanding that mental health is different for everyone is vitally important. For example, the loss of this woman’s father caused her sister to experience extreme levels of depression while the woman was able to cope with it, given her previous experiences with loss and the development of healthy coping skills and therapy.

This woman, upon coming to talk about her mental health and how it relates to her childhood abuse, had recently been hospitalized for depression after experiencing seasonal affective disorder. She recollected how she drove herself to the hospital and sat in her car for a few hours before going in, contemplating ending her life because she felt so hopeless. “I just can’t keep doing this to myself, so I’m here to finally talk about that last thing I’ve ever wanted to talk about” she said, looking out the window of the therapist’s office, a grimace on her face. Knowing the signs and symptoms of general mental health challenges is crucial when it comes to talking to someone about signs you’re seeing or recognizing those symptoms within yourself. Eating or sleeping too much, or too little can be a sign of a mental health issue, as well as avoiding friends and loved ones or events that they used to enjoy.

Physical ailments such as headaches or muscle pains can also be a sign that someone is experiencing problems with their mental health, especially when these aches and pains cannot be easily explained. In addition, having trouble to complete and do basic daily activities such as personal hygiene, cleaning, and other life tasks can be a warning sign also. Finally, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or mood swings can be other potential symptoms. When you see these signs and symptoms in a loved one, it is important to reach out and talk to them about it.If you would like more information on how to talk to someone who may be experiencing mental health challenges, Community and Family Resources offers Mental Health First Aid for both youth and adults.

Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental health challenges that Americans face. Over 18% of the US population experiences anxiety in a given year, and nearly 7% experience depression. While many people will experience some symptoms of anxiety or depression in their lifetime, it becomes a problem when it begins to interfere with a person’s ability to function, work, and complete daily life tasks. Less than 37% of people who are suffering from an anxiety disorder seek treatment even though anxiety is highly treatable. This elderly woman did not seek treatment for her mental health in any capacity until she was hospitalized by her first husband in her late twenties, but continued to avoid talking about her childhood abuse until she was in her mid-sixties.

This woman had abused alcohol and other substances and attended AA meetings regularly, as it was something she continued to struggle with for much of her life. “I just couldn’t deal with what was going on inside, so I turned to alcohol instead,” she stated in one session. Instead of seeking treatment, some people turn instead to substances to help them cope, and this can develop into a substance use disorder. Some people who have a substance use disorder also have a mental illness. Generally speaking, people turn to substances as a way to self-medicate and dull their feelings or pain they may be having. This usually starts off innocently enough, but as tolerance levels grow, a person needs more and more of a substance to get to that same state that they felt the first time, and can eventually even need the substance so they don’t feel worse without it.

A few years after sitting in that waiting room for the first time, this elderly woman is doing well, having felt tremendous relief in finally taking the risk in talking about her childhood abuse and having a therapist listen and validate her feelings. She is now happily working with others who have had similar experiences, volunteering in her community, and has been hospital free for years. She is living proof that recovery is possible. Taking care of yourself and encouraging others to do so can help to drastically reduce the likelihood of someone experiencing a mental health challenge, and can help improve your overall quality of life. Making sure to get a proper amount of rest, establishing healthy eating habits, and getting active regularly can make a big difference in how you feel and function overall. Breathing exercises, keeping a journal, and expressing gratitude can also be helpful in improving your mental health. Create a routine and work these into your life whenever possible, and encourage loved ones to do the same.

Learning about the different signs and symptoms of various mental health challenges, what you can do to help combat stigma, and encouraging others to seek help is vital to spreading awareness. If you or your loved ones are in need of more than Mental Health First Aid, please reach out to us to see how we may help. CFR employs a compassionate group of mental health professionals who are ready to help you with whatever mental health challenges you are experiencing.

Lacy Waldera is a Prevention Specialist at Community and Family Resources

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