Just as we visit the doctor for a regular physical check-up, it’s also important to check in on our mental health and emotional well-being.
Health includes both mind and body. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Overall, the aspects of good mental health include stable mood, good energy level, ability to interact with others, clear thinking, adequate sleep, healthy appetite and the ability to get things done.
Taking time for personal self-care may help to prevent minor concerns from becoming more serious. Ask yourself, what have I done this week to take care of my physical, social, emotional or spiritual needs? If your answer is “nothing,” make a pact to begin to attend to your need for life balance.
I’ve been under a lot of stress, am not sleeping well and in a bad mood lately, but how do I know if it is a more serious depression? We all go through times of stress, and when stress is prolonged our body and mind can begin to feel the effects of burnout. It’s important to pay attention to early warning signs of stress and take preventative action. In figuring out the difference between routine stress and a more serious mental health disorder, we would look at the specific list of your concerns, such as sleep disturbance, sadness or loss of interest in activities and ask some key questions: How long has this been going on? How intense is this? How many symptoms are you experiencing? And what impact is this having on daily life? If the stress symptoms are short-term (two weeks or less), lower intensity, fewer in number, and you generally are managing OK, then we would focus on developing a basic stress management plan and suggest some simple steps to get you back on track.
I have some really bad days and it worries me; is there some kind of test I can take to see if I’m OK? If you are worried about major shifts in your mood, thoughts or behaviors, it’s very important that you consult with a mental health professional and/or your physician. Serious mental illnesses have specific signs and symptoms, much like any other disease. These symptoms can be identified and effectively treated. A confidential assessment can be done by a mental health professional in a private setting. In addition, during a medical check-up, your physician can rule out physical illness that may be a contributing factor, such as thyroid problems. A routine blood test, however, will not diagnose conditions such as major depression, anxiety disorders, or other serious conditions. Ignoring your concerns will most likely make you more miserable and cause further problems in your daily life. If you ever feel out of control or at risk of causing harm to yourself or others, share that with someone and seek immediate help by contacting your local mental health crisis line, calling 911 or going to the emergency room. The most effective approach to feel better is a combination of both medication and professional counseling. Remember that help is available and you are not alone.
Susanne Ringhausen, MA, LCPC, CEAP, is director of psychological services and EAP counseling at OSF Saint Anthony’s Health Center. For information, call (618) 474-6240.