May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while we may be near the end of the month, there are still things we can learn and practices we can incorporate into our lives to help loved ones that may be dealing with a mental health condition!
Mental health conditions are on the rise. In fact, depression is an increasingly growing condition. The 2022 Mental Health America report states that over 2.5 million youth in the US have been diagnosed with severe depression, and that substance use is steadily increasing with youth at 0.25% and adults with 0.07% over last year’s report.
Depression and anxiety can greatly lower our immune system. Both conditions lead to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol and adrenaline. Cortisol suppresses the immune system, digestion, reproductive systems, and our growth processes. Prolonged high levels of cortisol can lead to muscle atrophy, a rapid change in appetite, and a weakened immune response. In fact, adults diagnosed with depression have a harder time fighting infections and have even shown resistance to vaccines.
Fortunately, mental health has been very well studied and there are many resources for help. From proper medication to professional therapy, or a combination of both, it is possible to overcome (or at least manage) mental health issues. With access to proper help you or those you might know can get better.
Unfortunately, social stigma around mental health still persists, and this can lead to those affected feeling as though they can’t get professional help. Many still believe that depression is something you can just “get over.” Those with ADHD just need to “focus and work harder.” Or that addiction is simply a “personal choice.” Mental health is often falsely portrayed as a weakness, and/or laziness. These false, negative views consistently prevent those affected from seeking help when they need it most.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood mental health disorders is suicide. Suicidal ideation has increased by 4.58% in youth, and more adults are reporting suicidal thoughts as well. But, while suicide is viewed as a tragedy, suicide attempts or speaking of suicidal thoughts is often disregarded and many see it as “a cry for attention.” This flippant disregard of this very serious mental health condition can lead to those affected feeling unheard, feeling as though their only option is to attempt suicide. Instead, if we work to be more empathic and understanding of this condition we could save lives.
If we suspect a loved one’s mental health is suffering, there are some things we can do to help”
- Spend time with them
Set aside time to be with them. Encourage open conversation. Ask questions and be involved in the conversation, but try to not place judgment or unprompted personal opinion on what they say. This will help show them that they can speak freely with you.
- Don’t try to diagnose them
Diagnosing mental health conditions is best left to those professionally trained in that field. Misdiagnosing someone can have negative consequences. Instead, it’s best to help encourage, but not pressure, them to seek a diagnosis from a professional.
- Discuss healthy self care
Professional attention is best, but helping someone create healthy self care habits can be extremely beneficial. Encourage walking, exercise, healthy foods, and being open with their feelings.
- Aid in finding professional help
Finding help can be a scary and vulnerable thing to do. If you’re able, offer to help them look for a doctor or therapist in the area.
- Set boundaries
It’s important that your loved ones know they can talk to you about their mental health. However, it’s best to set boundaries for both of your sakes. For them, you need boundaries so that they know they can talk to you when they need to, but that they don’t become dependent on you as an emotional outlet. They should instead seek professional help and work to incorporate healthier activities. And for yourself, it can be taxing for your own mental health to always listen to other’s suffering.
As we leave Mental Health Awareness Month, we can practice being more open to understanding mental health conditions. We can practice to become a person that loved ones can speak to and be vulnerable with so they can begin their recovery process. And we can remind them, or even ourselves, that seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness but an act that takes considerable strength. We can reclaim our mental health and we can reclaim our lives.