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.
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.