Monday, May 7, 2012

Mental Health Awareness

“There are many people out there who are suffering and have nowhere to turn for help or are afraid because of the stigmas placed on mental health.” Brandon Marshall (Chicago Bears wide receiver)

May is National Mental Health Awareness month.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 4 people in the U.S. have a diagnosable mental disorder. Someone in your life, possibly yourself, may be battling depression or another mental illness. The purpose of my post today is to help eliminate the stigma of seeking treatment and discussing mental wellness as we do our physical health.

I blog frequently about life’s trials and how to deal with them spiritually. It’s not unusual to experience a bout of depression linked to psychosocial issues such as unemployment, grief, home foreclosure, and broken relationships. We all struggle with stressors that knock us down.

But when you go down and stay down, it’s time to seek help. If you’ve tried talking with your pastor, a close friend, or counselor, and you haven’t improved, get medical help. Depression can be physical in nature. If you’re experiencing symptoms of major depression, contact your family doctor for a physical that includes lab work. While you’re getting checked out physically, discuss possible treatment options of medication and/or talk therapy with a licensed mental health counselor.

Stigma should not prevent someone from seeking help to improve their quality of life. Mental illness does not diminish a person’s worth any more than diabetes or cancer does.

Brandon Marshall, quoted above, wrote an op-ed piece this week after retired NFL player Junior Seau’s suicide. Mr. Marshall openly shared his own treatment for depression and his belief that stigma prevents people, especially sports figures, from seeking help.

The subject of mental illness holds personal meaning for me. My sister Michelle battled severe mental illness for twenty years before her suicide seven years ago. I’ve written about her on my blog and in an article, "Opening A Window to Understanding," for my local newspaper three years ago.

My mom suffered with depression for several years when I was a young child. She overcame it with counseling from our pastor and prescription medication from her family doctor. She also made lifestyle changes, some of which are listed below from HelpGuide.Org. Check out their website for additional strategies and treatment options.

  • Exercise. Regular exercise can be as effective at treating depression as medication. Not only does exercise boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals, it triggers the growth of new brain cells and connections, just like antidepressants do. Best of all, you don’t have to train for a marathon in order to reap the benefits. Even a half-hour daily walk can make a big difference. For maximum results, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity on most days.
  • Nutrition. Eating well is important for both your physical and mental health. Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. While you may be drawn to sugary foods for the quick boost they provide, complex carbohydrates are a better choice. They'll get you going without the all-too-soon sugar crash.
  • Sleep. Sleep has a strong effect on mood. When you don't get enough sleep, your depression symptoms will be worse. Sleep deprivation exacerbates irritability, moodiness, sadness, and fatigue. Make sure you're getting enough sleep each night. Very few people do well on less than 7 hours a night. Aim for somewhere between 7 to 9 hours each night.
  • Social Support. Strong social networks reduce isolation, a key risk factor for depression. Keep in regular contact with friends and family, or consider joining a class or group. Volunteering is a wonderful way to get social support and help others while also helping yourself.
  • Stress Reduction. Make changes in your life to help manage and reduce stress. Too much stress exacerbates depression and puts you at risk for future depression. Take the aspects of your life that stress you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships, and find ways to minimize their impact.
If you’ve been depressed for more than a few weeks or symptoms are interfering with daily function, please call your doctor today and start incorporating the above suggestions into your life.  Hope exists for improved mental health, regardless of your situation now.

Is your life impacted by someone with mental illness? The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an excellent support network. Please take a few moments to look over their website.

If you’d like me to pray for you or a loved one, please email me or leave a comment, whichever you’re most comfortable doing.


24 comments:

  1. Thank you for helping people see it's okay to ask for help and prayer. We all have demons and issues in our lives- just because some are more socially acceptable doesn't make them any better or worse. We all need a savior- Jesus Christ.

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    1. You're welcome. I agree wholeheartedly!

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  2. I know treatments have come a long way in the past years, and insurance companies are finally picking up the tabs, at least partially. However, as to the stigma, I have a friend who sought help and insisted on paying out of pocket; he was afraid (and rightly so) that he would not be considered for a promotion if that information was on his insurance records. Yes, I know it would have not been legal, but it would not have stopped it from happening. It is still a very sticky subject with a lot of gray areas attached. Great post Laura!

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    1. I agree with your points, which is why I talk openly about the subject. The more we are able to de-stigmatize mental illness, the better. Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation, Cyn!

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  3. Thank you Laura for sharing this! Unfortunately, we still live in a world where people look at those with mental illness as "weak". Anxiety is my main issue at this time. A preacher once told me that anxiety is a lack of faith. While this may be true to some degree, I do not agree with it 100%. I believe in GOD and HIS ability to do anything. Sometimes, I just get anxious and do not know why!

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    1. Betty, I've seen your strength in the midst of tragedy. Connecting anxiety to lack of faith is oversimplifying (in my opinion). Not only are we all hardwired differently, our life experiences have an effect on our minds. This side of heaven we will not be perfect. We can only pray for the grace and strength to get through. I'm not a doctor, but knowing what you've been through, I feel it's perfectly normal to feel anxious for no apparent reason from time to time. The key is putting positive steps into place to help when it happens. And I'm a huge proponent of prayer, as I know you are, to see you through.

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  4. Laura,
    Great post. So true. Two thoughts came to mind.

    My sister is a social worker. The best way I can describe her is the Mental Health Whisperer. She has a sixth sense about people in this regard. Her wisdom is surpassed only by her compassion. She is my go to when I have a friend struggling with an issue.

    Years ago a friend shared her concern for her sister who suffered from depression. The sister's behaviors were pointing toward suicide. My sister spoke with my friend and told her she needed to do whatever it took to get her sister committed for an evaluation, stressing that she felt the sister would take her life within 4 days if she didn't get help. My friend didn't want her sister mad at her. Plus the sister was better now. She was calmer and even seemed happy. My sister shared this meant the situation was more urgent - the depressed sister had her suicide plan all mapped out and that brought peace. Again, my sister urged my friend to have her sister evaluated, taken forcibly by police if necessary. Once again my friend couldn't bear the thought of her sister being mad at her. My sister's words cut to the heart of the matter:
    "Your sister will get over being mad. She can't get over being dead."
    My friend did not intervene. Her sister committed suicide on the day my sister predicted.

    As I read your post, I felt like someone might need an extra measure of strength to make a tough choice.

    On a slightly less macabre note:
    especially @Betty,I heard a description once that might help lighten the shame/guilt/condemnation the pastor introduced.

    As Laura said, God made each of us differently. When it comes to our ability to handle stress, we aren't all on a level playing field. Some people have brains that are genetically wired to handle a bathtub full of stress, while others can only handle a thimble full of stress. Our brain comes hardwired to handle a pre-determined amount of stress. That's something we can't change. If God gave you a thimble-sized stress container, you can't make it into a bucket or a bathtub.

    We can't make our brain hold more stress, but we can learn tools that will help us cope and manage the stress. Obviously, the person whose brain is designed for only a thimble full of stress will need to initiate measures sooner to help manage the stress at lower levels.

    How we handle that stress is also different. Some peopley get anxious. Some grow paranoid. Some withdraw. Some act out in anger. Some choose to self-medicate with addictive behaviors or susbatnces.

    There are books written on depression. Just like everything else, using discernment and wisdom is essential when choosing who to listen to.

    In the end, the most helpful perspective may not be to look how you were designed but at WHO designed you. God doesn't make mistakes, which means if you have a thimble-size stress cup there is a reason for that. Instead of focusing on the frustration and why you don't have a bigger stress capacity, ask God why He gave you the thimble. Ask Him why you are frustrated. What does He want you to learn? How does He want to use that limitation to grow you? How does He want to use you for the glory of His kingdom?

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    1. Very well said, Janey. I'm sorry about your friend's sister. When someone is threatening suicide and is depressed/agitated, then suddenly is at peace, that is a huge red flag. Thanks for the illustration on anxiety. We have to remind ourselves as Christians that God designed us for His purpose. We have to discover what He wants us to learn through our earthly trials and journey. Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation!

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  5. laura very poignant for me right now. thank you for the wise words. it makes me very sad when i think of michelle. when we were growing up i thought she was the coolest thing walking and could not have had a problem. i can only imagine how much you miss her. i also did not know about your mom's depression. my mom also had depression and mental problems through the years. she tried to kill herself when i was around 10 and i still remember fighting her for the pill bottle. guess as kids we kept these things from each other - too bad - what a help it would have been to share this with each other. thank you for sharing this now. God Bless.

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    1. You're welcome, Betty. I'm glad the post helped. You and I were at different schools when we faced these challenges with our mothers. I'm just thankful they both overcame their depression. Even though we didn't share this as teens, God brought us together for a life-long friendship. Thanks for joining the conversation today!

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  6. Good post, tough topic. I am glad that you shared your heart on mental illness though. It isn't something one can talk openly about like other illnesses because it affects behavior rather than being physical like diabetes or cancer.

    When you have a loved one who is mentally ill you tend to be careful about what you say to others in regard to them. In the case of children we tend to keep it quiet so they will not have to suffer more stress from others knowing about it. Those who have loved ones who are mentally ill and those who care for them have to walk a fine line because disclosure can cause more problems. It sometimes makes it hard to advocate for them because of all the stigma attached to it, and it is often hard to find support.

    It seems each state and counties have support like mental health ombudsman for chilren and adults who suffer from mental illness. Thay can help you find ways to help your loved one with their mental illnesses and the difficulties surrounding their care and problems with insurances and mental health providers. They can help advocate for you when you know the person with a mental illness needs an evaluation but is reluctant to do so. It is important to try to take care of yourself as well, so the tips that you supplied are also important for those who care for their loved ones.

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    1. I agree, Lori, that we need to be careful about what we disclose about others who are mentally ill. They deserve their privacy. I'm very selective about what I share about my family for the same reason. My sister Michelle and I had several conversations over the years, and she was supportive of my efforts to shine a light on the issue. She never wanted anyone else to go through the things she went through. That is a driving force behind my efforts now. But, even so, I think we can work to de-stigmatize mental illness without bringing an individual into the conversation. Thanks for stopping by and joining the conversation. I appreciate the insight you added.

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  7. I'm also glad you posted this article. My husband has been battling severe bipolar disorder for 24 years now. When he first became ill, we didn't know anyone who was bipolar. Now it seems every family we know has someone bipolar or some type of mental illness.

    There should be no shame in getting medical help. It is like having diabetes or heart issues. We always pray for miraculous healing but if God chooses to heal by medication, we'll take it!

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    1. Thanks for joining the discussion, Jerralea. Mental illness is being discussed more openly now than 24 years ago, though there's still stigma. God gave us medical knowledge for all diseases, and we continue to progress. Meds for mental illness should bear no more shame than for any other illness. I'll be praying for you and your husband. It's a tough road!

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  8. What an important post! I'm so glad you wrote it. I struggle with periodic bouts of depression. Mental illness runs strong in my family. I think my experiences with family members led me to become a psychotherapist. So glad I stopped by today!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience! I agree that mental illness runs in families. I'm glad you are using your experience to help others. God bless you!

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  9. I like the balance of your post, and the strategies list and link. So many things can cause or worsen depression or other mental illness, even just a vitamin or mineral deficiency. And sometimes those things you listed can head off a depression at the pass, and keep it from materializing out of a spell of the blues.

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    1. Thanks, Sylvia. Dealing with family members suffering from depression has made me proactive in my own mental health. Staying active, taking care of physical health through diet, exercise, and sleep keeps a person balanced physically and emotionally.

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  10. Thank you for sharing this! I have struggled with both severe depression and anxiety disorder for most of my life, but it has gotten so much worse over the past few years, adding pregnancy hormones and PPD into the mix. I think awareness is one of the most important things! So many people misunderstand depression and anxiety disorder. it is not a choice, or a sin, or a character flaw. It is a medical condition. I've had spritual leaders tell me that it's basically a lack of faith, or even a sin against God. I've had them tell me I should just snap out of it. They do not undertand that's not possible. You cannot will yourself cured of depression anymore than you can will yourself to be cured from cancer.

    It's a really tough thing,and for me I have no insurance and our income is JUST ABOVE where I could get help, so I have no options there. I have tried the lifestyle things, but can't really tell that it's helping a lot. I do have hope because through prayer, I received a word from God that He is going to deliver me from these bonds, but I just don't know exactly when, although it has been better lately.

    Mental illness is a generational curse in my family. It's hereditary and I just pray desperately that my boys don't end up suffering this!

    Depression is an awful thing and I'm so sorry for the loss of your sister, but thank you for speaking out to raise awareness. Depression is definitely treated as a shameful disease, and people who suffer from it are treated as outcasts when what they need is support.

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    1. I'm sorry you're going through this, Crystal. I suffered with PPD with both of my children. It's no fun! If you haven't read Janey's comments above, please do so. She sheds light on the anxiety/spiritual issue you speak of. The lifestyle changes aren't a cure-all, but they won't hurt. Please continue to try them. They will add balance, even when you think they're not. Have you tried your local mental health center for resources? I'll be praying for you. Please check in again and let me know how you are doing.

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  11. You know, Laura, even for folks who aren't clinically depressed, your suggestions are helpful. And it's good that you're talking about this subject because it is more widespread than most of us realize. Thanks for sharing it on B&BB. Blessings,
    Gail

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    1. You're welcome, Gail. Thanks for stopping by. I always love hearing from you.

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  12. Hi...Your post really got me thinking man..... an intelligent piece, I must say. Health Awareness

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