Mental health is a topic that is not discussed enough in schools and is often joked about. But it is something we all struggle with. This is everything you need to know about mental health, how to improve yours, and my personal journey of trying to improve mine.
What is mental health?
Mental health is our ability to handle stress, control our behavior, and make choices. When someone has a mental health disorder or mental illness, these abilities can become compromised and affect your day-to-day life. Some mental illnesses are depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and behavioral problems.
"Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act." Mentalhealth.gov
When mental illnesses are ignored and untreated, it can lead to decreased enjoyment in life, substance abuse, social problems, and self-harm. However, feeling down or tired does not mean you are depressed, someone can have poor mental health and not have a mental illness. If you feel that you might have poor mental health, ask yourself these questions:
Have I been feeling sad or down lately?
Have I been worrying excessively lately?
Have I been eating or sleeping too much or too little?
Has it been harder for me to perform everyday tasks recently?
Am I failing to cope with daily problems and stress?
Do I have any thoughts of suicide or self-harm?
More questions can be found at Mentalhealth.com.
If you find yourself answering yes to more than one of these questions, contact your primary care provider to discuss your mental health and how you should properly deal with it.
What causes depression?
Unfortunately, there is not a known cause for depression but life events, genetics, medications, and hormones can increase your risk of having depression. Major or personal events such as moving, losing a loved one, and divorce can contribute to the risk of developing clinical depression. You can also have a higher chance of having depression if members of your family also have depression. Even changes in the body's hormonal balance can trigger depression.
What is anxiety, and what causes it?
Anxiety can easily be classified as an intense and constant worry and fear of everyday situations.
Often, anxiety disorders involve repeated episodes of sudden feelings of intense anxiety and fear or terror that reach a peak within minutes (panic attacks). Mayoclinic.org
Anxiety is common and it is natural to experience it sometimes in your life. However, there are many anxiety disorders such as social anxiety, separation anxiety, agoraphobia, panic disorders, selective mutism, and substance-induced anxiety. These disorders need to be diagnosed by a doctor and, if severe enough, your doctor might recommend you to take treatment to help with it.
Some symptoms of anxiety are:
Constantly feeling that you are in danger
Trembling and an increased heartbeat
Having trouble concentrating
Having trouble sleeping
You should see a doctor if you experience some of the above problems and fear that they might be causing you to have poor health, not perform day-to-day activities and if it is causing you to have suicidal thoughts or actions.
What is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)?
OCD is a mental health disorder that happens when someone gets stuck in an ongoing cycle of obsessions and compulsions. These behaviors generally start as a way to reduce stress and worry. Many people will experience these thoughts and behaviors at some point in their life but it does not mean you have OCD. You must be diagnosed by a doctor to know for sure if you have OCD but you can ask yourself these questions to see if you should contact your doctor to discuss getting a diagnosis:
- Do I doubt uncertainty?
- Am I afraid of "the unknown"?
- Do I go out of my way to make things orderly and symmetrical?
- Do I have bad thoughts about losing control over certain aspects of my life?
- Do I have unwanted thoughts?
- Do I follow a strict routine every day?
- Am I constantly demanding reassurance?
How to improve your mental health
There are many prescription drugs that a doctor can prescribe to you, such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood-stabilizing medications. However, there are many things that you can do every day to improve your mental health:
- Talk to a mental health professional - Even if you feel that your mental health is in good shape, talking to a professional can help maintain your mental health and prevent any future mental health issues.
- Engage in physical activity regularly - Exercise can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve your self-esteem and cognitive function.
- Get enough sleep - Sleeping more will make your mood better and strengthen your immune system.
- Practice gratitude - Remember what/who you are thankful for. Also, start a gratitude journal and write three things that you are thankful for from that day.
- Avoid alcohol, smoking, and drugs - Heavy drinking, smoking, and any digestion of drugs can affect the chemicals in your body and brain.
- Take breaks - While working, many of us get stressed. Taking short breaks while working can give your brain a "factory reset" and give you a chance to distress and focus better.
My ongoing journey
For me, it is easy to hide my feelings and true emotions. I would rather not tell people how I feel deep down than have them know and feel like they have to help me. So, I don't say a lot about how I'm feeling. But recently my life has got a little more confusing and difficult to deal with. So I got thinking, what should I be doing to be happier? How can I improve my life and mental health? Around this time, my family started going to church again and my mom talked more about how I should get closer to God.
When I was younger, I would love the church and would try to go with my friends every Sunday, but I was never close to God. I never actually understood what was being taught during Sunday school. I went because I liked having friends and being part of something with them. So now, as I am fifteen years old, I am trying to learn and understand what the bible says and strengthen my relationship with God (if I've even ever had one).
I have always heard people talking about how they have felt God with them for their whole life and have never questioned it, but all I have ever done is question it. I have tried so hard to feel something so I can finally believe that God is real and he is always with me, but it never happens. So maybe I am struggling a bit with finding my identity and understanding the bible and God, but I am trying and that is enough.
I have also been trying to be less afraid of my emotions and ashamed of myself. I think that in today's world we have become really quick to be ashamed of who we are and what has happened to us, but we shouldn't be. We are not our past, our trauma, or others' assumptions. So, I have been trying to open up more to others and I recommend that others do too. Once you are your true self and not ashamed of it, life does become a little easier.
Some regards if you are reading this
If you just read my article completely, I hope that it is not because you're running off of your last hope for life, love, and happiness. I hope that you know you are not alone and people are going through the same things as you. Your life is so valuable and precious and although it feels like no one cares, someone out there does. Someone always does, they just don't always show it. Now I understand how backward it is for me to tell you to be happier and to work harder on yourself when I, myself, am not doing the best, but I am trying and I really advise you to try too, because I believe that things can get better if we just hold on for a little longer.