Mental Health Awareness, and Why It Matters

By: JoAnn Snavely

TRIGGER WARNING(May be triggering for some as there is mention of anxiety, depression, suicide, eating disorders, PTSD, and schizophrenia spectrum disorder. Remember you are not alone, at the end of the article there will be resources to reach out to if you or someone else you know needs help. Also, I am not a mental-health expert. Please speak with a professional before self-diagnosing.)

Mental health is something that 20 years ago would have been shrugged off as a myth of sorts. As something that is a relatively new concept in today’s society, mental health can mean many different things to different people. To most, mental health is one’s social, emotional, and mental well-being. It is important to be aware of one’s mental health because there are many signs or symptoms that can be the start of a dangerous habit. With today’s current political climate and with all that’s going on in the world, it’s important to focus on your mental health and the mental health of those you love.

MENTAL ILLNESS

When someone thinks of mental health, it is common to think of one of the many mental illnesses. This is because the two go hand-in-hand, meaning that mental health can be heavily influenced by mental illness. Mental illness is any condition that can affect mood, behavior, and almost every psychological aspect of a person. Each mental illness is different, and it is very common for multiple different disorders to be present. It is important to note that even though the word “mental illness” sounds very negative and compromising, many people deal with these psychological disorders on a day-to-day basis and go about their lives. 

DEPRESSION/ MOOD DISORDERS

Getting upset every once in a while is normal, however, people who suffer from mood disorders experience more constant, severe, and often dangerous symptoms. Mood disorders can affect one’s mental health the most as depression and other mood disorders provide those affected with mood swings and unnecessary feelings of sadness. If mood disorders are left untreated, there can be lasting emotional and physical damage. Although most people who are diagnosed with mood disorders manage their day-to-day lives, many suicide victims suffer from mood disorders. There are many signs that can help one detect mood disorders, some of these signs are:

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Trouble with decision making
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and/or fatigue
  • Loss of interest in things that were previously pleasurable
  • Irritability
  • Overeating or appetite loss

ANXIETY DISORDERS

Anxiety disorders can give a sense of panic in situations where panic is not usually warranted. Everyone experiences anxiety, but anxiety disorders give those affected extreme anxiety either in general or within different niches. There are 7 main types of anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the relentless fear or panic towards inconspicuous, everyday situations. Phobias are the excessive fear of any specific situation or tangible object. Social Anxiety is a fear of unfamiliar social situations. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is the repetitive thoughts or impulses that are usually associated with the fear of negative circumstances. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder occurs after very traumatic events; PTSD is unique in the sense that these anxieties are related to the traumatic events that led to the disorder. And lastly, Panic Disorder which is the panicked reaction to situations where no real danger exists, except in one’s mind. Each disorder has specific symptoms, but the most common symptoms are:

  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Being on edge
  • Muscle tension
  • Constant fear in certain situations
  • Disruption of normal daily habits
  • Reliving trauma
  • Depression
  • Excessive sweating
  • Panic attacks
  • Trouble breathing and/or dizziness
  • Digestive problems or pains
  • Feelings of doom or helplessness

EATING DISORDERS

Eating disorders (ED) can happen to all people, no matter their size. Eating disorders are just unhealthy eating habits that lead to extreme weight gain or loss. Being that they are completely psychological, an eating disorder can develop over time leaving those affected unaware. Although eating disorders can have many different effects varying from person to person, there are 6 main types. Anorexia nervosa is probably the most well-known form of an eating disorder. Those affected constantly believe that they are overweight even if they’re chronically underweight. Bulimia Nervosa differs from anorexia in the sense that instead of barely eating, victims of bulimia eat normally, or follow a strict diet until they have binge episodes. What this means is they eat without control over their eating habits. Binge episodes are usually followed by purges or even stricter diets, this ultimately leads to a vicious cycle of binge eating and purging. Binge eating disorder is the complete opposite of anorexia, for instead of hardly eating, those affected by binge eating disorder overeat and consistently feel no self-control over their eating habits. Pica is a disorder where one eats substances that are not considered edible. Those with Pica crave to eat non-food substances, even when it is not socially acceptable. Rumination disorder is one of the most dangerous eating disorders. This condition is described as one where those affected regurgitate a meal they’ve previously ingested. This can lead to unhealthy weight loss and can be fatal in some situations. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFD) is a condition where one either undereats or doesn’t eat the proper nutrients necessary. This is due to a lack of interest or dislike of the appearance of the food. Each eating disorder is unique, however, the most common symptoms are:

  • Overeating/undereating
  • Self-esteem issues/ body dysmorphia
  • Feelings of depression
  • Abnormal weight fluctuations

PERSONALITY DISORDERS

Personality disorders are characterized by extreme and stiff personality traits that can make it difficult for one to interact with others. Borderline personality disorder is when one person often acts impulsively,  experiences trouble controlling their emotions, and disturbing thoughts. This can lead to dangerous decision making and unstable relationships. Those affected by antisocial personality disorder typically have trouble controlling their emotions and get frustrated fast. It is common for those affected to be affected by depression, which often leads to substance abuse.

SCHIZOPHRENIA SPECTRUM

Schizophrenia is described as a psychosis and is often associated with hallucinations, manic episodes, lifelessness, and incoherent speech. This disorder can affect how one thinks, acts, and ultimately lives. For many years, schizophrenia was split into many different categories. These categories ended up dying out when doctors specialized in mental health. Experts now use a spectrum that includes the categories that were once used. Because it’s a spectrum, there are many common symptoms within the disorder, these include:

  • Unwarranted paranoia
  • Delusions (religious, somatic, grandiose, etc.)
  • Confused thoughts
  • Confusing speech
  • Movement disorders
  • Withdrawal

WHAT TO DO

If you find yourself in the situation that you or someone you love is showing symptoms of any of these disorders, start by seeking help. If you can’t seek help, there are many hotlines to call. Always check on those you love, because many of these disorders are silent. You never truly know what is going on with anyone at any given time. Most people look like they live their lives normally with these disorders. Struggling with mental health is normal and your feelings are valid, especially in these crazy times. There are many things you can do to ensure your mental health is your priority:

  • Make YOU a priority, you are important
  • Go for a walk
  • Take care of your body
  • Take mental health breaks
  • Find a stable support group.

But most importantly know that your mental health doesn’t define you!

RESOURCES

1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE) – National Hopeline Network

Hotline Numbers

Mental Health America (MHA) – by State List

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