A Word About Mental Health

In honour of today being #BellLetsTalk day, a national campaign to end the stigma surrounding Mental Health and Illness, I have a word or two to say about mental health.

It’s not always obvious.

As a student nurse who has seen different forms of illnesses and diseases in front of her face, I can tell you that a fracture or wheezing in the lungs tends to be one of our easier cases. There are routine assessments for that sort of thing that have been used and developed by medical professionals and clinical specialists for many years. There are actual diagnoses that these medical professionals and clinical specialists can validate and the rest of the medical team can get behind by. There are treatments and medications for these diseases/illnesses, like insulin or morphine, which have been commonly used and prescribed for these illnesses. So when someone comes in for having an unusually high blood pressure or for spraining a joint, the medical team is prepped and ready to treat it. It’s taken with a high degree of seriousness.

When someone comes up to another person and says they’re feeling depressed, the most common responses are:

“What for? You have a great life – you have nothing to be depressed about!”

“Just try smiling and going out with your friends more!”

“You’ll be fine, just make more of an effort.”

They are quite rarely treated seriously. It is only when very serious things occur due to depression when people begin to realize the magnitude of their words or actions. Why do we have to get to that point?

It is important to be conscious about the effects our words and actions have to other people. It is vital to be understanding, empathetic, and a source of comfort for other people, and not a place of judgement. I believe this to be an “everyday rule” but this significantly applies to mental health. Your mental health is incredibly important. It’s the source of your ability for self-care, the source for your ability to function productively on a day-to-day basis, the source for your ability to interact with others, etc. It’s important to ensure that that part of you is well taken care of.

Mental illness is therefore a physiological, clinical illness that affects that part of the person. Mental illness is a product of neurological and psychological defects. Social construct refuses to see it in that way. Society would have us to believe that mental illness “isn’t real” and that it is just a way for people to “be lazy” and “complain.” I cannot stress this enough but that ideology is 100%, completely and utterly false.

If we buy in to this way of thinking, if we adopt this ideology about mental illness that society would like us to believe, we are facilitating the stigma that surrounds this issue. We are silencing voices that need to be heard. We are condemning the people who have these illnesses to fight a difficult battle alone and to suffer this silently. We are not allowing people the right to access safe, efficient health care that can possibly save their life.

What’s funny is that we wait for when someone takes their own life due to depression to be sorry for our actions.

Mental illness is still so heavily stigmatized. People still don’t take it seriously. People are ignorant about how debilitating it is emotionally and physiologically. You can provide someone with as much clinical proof as possible – that depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, etc. are all physiological illnesses – and they’ll still tell you to just “get over it.” Get real. Your mental health is equally as important as i.e your cardiovascular health. Be educated. Be kind and understanding. Think before you speak. Reach out. You can be saving a life just by being an open-minded and kind person.12651241_10156543597845457_5977017614954725656_n

Self Administered Treatment for Anxiety Disorder [Part I: Relaxation Techniques]

It’s that feeling you get when you feel like you can’t breathe. When your heart is beating so fast you fear it might explode or simply stop altogether. When your palms become so sweaty you can no longer grip anything. When you’re too stunned to speak. When you’re too overwhelmed by thoughts and this feeling of impending doom that you just don’t know what to do. When your emotions become so out of control you no longer know how to verbalize how you are feeling. When the only actions you can manage to perform are manic and fidgety, like picking your fingers or rubbing your palms down the side of your thighs. This is the reality of many… the undesired aspects of anxiety disorder which may, in extreme cases, lead to pure and undeniable panic.thCABAZNVA

This form of mental illness is very common and can be linked to other disorders such as depression, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and other specific forms of anxiety disorders such a social phobia, separation anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. With that being said, how does one cope with anxiety disorder and how does one conquer these worries or fears? While psychotherapy is certainly an option using methods such a talk therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy, there are also steps one can take on their own to assist in eradicating or at least diminishing these provoking thoughts that result in feelings of anxiety.

One can learn relaxation techniques such as box breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Box breathing is when you inhale and exhale in counts of 4 while visualizing a box (i.e. inhale 4 counts (up), hold for 4 counts (to the side), exhale 4 counts (down) hold for 4 counts (to the side) until you have completed the box). This will help stabilize your breathing when your breathing become rushed.

Box Breathing Technique

Box Breathing Technique

Progressive muscle relaxation is when you tense different muscles in your body and hold the tension for a few seconds before relaxing it. You can start head to toe or vice versa. (for example: tense face – hold – release, tense upper arms – hold – release, tense hands – hold – release etc.). I know it can be difficult to remember these exercises during an anxious episode or it can be difficult to perform these exercises on your own so I suggest teaching a friend, family member or loved one how to perform these exercises so they can remind you to do them and can coach you through it.

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation Technique

I find one of the hardest aspects of experiencing a severe anxious episode is remembering that you are not alone. It’s so easy to have your thoughts race and to begin thinking that you are the only person who goes through this and for that you are ‘odd’ or ‘not normal’. It’s important to remember how prevalent anxiety disorder is and to not focus on how ‘not normal’ we might feel, but to try and remember self-administered steps we can take to help relax our minds and bodies in order to feel a sense of equilibrium.

Next week I will be posting a continuation of this blog post on anxiety disorder treatment and will be focusing on more cognitive behavioural approaches to treating anxiety through thought records and other approaches. Don’t forget to check back next week!

Sources:

Box breathing http://www.livestrong.com/article/74944-box-breathing-technique/

Progressive muscle relaxation http://www.guidetopsychology.com/pmr.htm

Images:

http://jdy-ramble-on.blogspot.ca/2013/01/living-with-someone-with-depression-and.html

http://simplemedicine.co/2013/02/10/a-quiet-mind/

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/246994360786023886/