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Mental health in crisis
And getting personal at the end
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More and more people find themselves in challenging situations they feel powerless to resolve. Turning instead to substance abuse and unhealthy coping strategies that compound their suffering and can bring about total dysfunction. Mental health challenges precipitate violence, destroy families, ruin finances, and contribute to homelessness.
Over time, what starts out as too much stress, anxiety, and confusion can turn into the inability to function, especially in people with a history of trauma, poor role models, and a lack of a support network. Sadly, life is only getting more complicated and difficult to figure out. So, stress abounds on every level.
Hence, anxiety disorders are the most common in the US, affecting some 40 million people 18 and older, representing over 19% of the population. Most people with an anxiety disorder do not receive treatment, even though they are six times more likely to experience a psychotic episode and end up hospitalized.
During the pandemic, the number of people reporting anxiety and depression hit an all-time high, with young people suffering the most. Overall, 57% of adults with a mental illness and 60% of youth with depression do not receive mental health treatment. Just under 11 million people have serious thoughts of suicide. Personally, within my circle of acquaintances and their acquaintances, I know of three people who have committed suicide in the last 12 months.
If you need more details on how bad things are for how many millions of people, check out The State of Mental Health in America report.
At the same time, Mental Health Care in America stands incapable of serving those in need. Here’s the last John Oliver investigation piece in which he describes a terrible reality of insufficient services, underpaid mental health professionals, and insurance companies more concerned with their bottom line than saving lives.
If you feel alone in your struggles, you probably are… Unfortunately, even though thousands or even millions suffer just like you, most either won’t seek help or won’t get it when they try. Either way, too many people are left to suffer without help and alone, many not even realizing that they are in a mental health crisis.
What is a mental health crisis?
A mental health crisis is any situation in which a person’s feelings and actions can lead to them hurting themselves and/or others and/or putting them at risk of being unable to care for themselves and their responsibilities, and unable to function in the community in a healthy manner. People with confirmed mental health diagnoses could be in a higher risk group, but just about anyone can experience a mental health crisis. Sometimes, life becomes too much. Things like the loss of a job, a personal tragedy, a traumatic experience, or a history of violence can trigger one.
Other times, small things add up to a big disaster. Multiple stressors like moving, loss of a loved one, a terrible health diagnosis, trouble at work, or issues with the kids can create a perfect storm straining someone’s ability to maintain control and balance.
Signs that you or someone you know may be experiencing a mental health crisis.
Difficulty or inability to complete personal care daily tasks like getting out of bed, brushing teeth, getting dressed, making food, driving, etc.
Inability to focus and concentrate, to remember, confused thinking, inability to understand others.
Serious suicidal thoughts seeing no other solution to your situation – verbalized or not, sometimes written. Sadly, many times, no one knows but the person thinking it.
Isolating from friends and family, avoiding interactions, extensive seclusion, ruminating.
Having dramatic mood shifts and erratic behavior. The person appears conflicted in their moods and behavior.
Erratic sleeping and eating patterns, excessive or insufficient.
An extreme change in sexual drive and activity.
Excessive alcohol or other substance consumption in conjunction with erratic behaviors or suicidal thoughts.
Irrational and impulsive actions. Once, a person I knew from my local community got up in the middle of her workday, fully undressed, and walked out of the office and into the street, rambling unintelligibly. She walked for quite a while before EMS picked her up and took her to a crisis unit.
Excessive and irrational worry, fear, and anxiety. Inconsolable.
Prolonged irritability, anger, and growing more reckless and violent.
Big changes in school or work performance for the worse.
Frequent nightmares and/or dreams of struggle
What to do about a mental health crisis?
Seek professional help. If you’ve gotten to this point, you absolutely need to find a therapist and possibly medications and supervision.
Check the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s website for local behavioral health treatment resources and 24-hr help hotlines, including suicide prevention and opioid addiction information.
Prevention and education:
The best way to deal with a mental health crisis is not to have one.
Stay physically healthy. This eliminates the stress of dealing with disease and keeps your mind healthy and happy. Physical exercise and a healthy diet contribute to better mood, focus, and sleep. As they say, a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Know your family’s mental health history and try to avoid going down the same path. You may have to be vigilant about not indulging in certain behaviors or proactively running health screenings, monitoring yourself closely, and working with a therapist.
Build a support network of trusted individuals to share life, increase joy, and create a sense of fullness around you.
Find healthy solutions to deal with stress. Nature wins every time for me. Hiking, the beach, gardening, and whatever outdoor activity you can incorporate into your day are a plus! Sunshine makes people happy. Or hit the gym, play team sports, or get involved with a creative hobby.
Talk to people like me, so you don’t get to the point of having to talk to medical professionals. Most people see therapists when they feel that something is wrong but don’t know what to do to prevent themselves from getting there in the first place. Working with a life coach is another good way to maintain your life, relationships, and sanity. People have talked their way through marriage problems, family issues, life and retirement planning challenges, and general life conundrums with me. Unfortunately, friends don’t always have the skills or the impartiality to give good advice or help you organize your thoughts. Therapists often look for what is wrong. I see myself as a support for my clients in sensitive situations, helping them uncover and utilize their strengths and resources.
Having a team of professionals to support your mental health self-care is the only way to go. Your personal trainers, fitness instructors, yoga and meditation teachers, life coaches, support groups and programs, massage therapists, health care providers, etc., can help you with different aspects of your existence and keep the stresses of your life from growing out of control. Add to the team professionals who can relieve you of some of your responsibilities – delegate to accountants, housekeepers, financial advisors, career planners, and other professionals who can take loads off your shoulders. Especially, the loads you don’t really have the skills or the time to deal with.
Acquire the skills you need to do better in society and in relationships. A lot of frustration comes from feeling inadequate or not knowing what to do, how to act, and what to say. Learn to communicate better and express your needs better. Learn to listen well. But also learn about your limits and boundaries so you don’t overextend yourself or get yourself into situations you can’t manage without damage to your peace of mind.
And whatever you do, don’t take things personally.
The more you do for your mental health, the better you will be. Not just preventing a mental health crisis but also shaping your life into more of what you want it to be.
I fall on the introverted side of the scale and tend to mind my own beeswax. I’ve had times in my life where I felt absolutely strained by what was coming at me. All those times were in my youth, so I feel very sympathetic to young people entering the world of chaos, competition, confusion, and too much of everything – information, distraction, things to be had, things to be experienced, and things to ruin one’s life. Luckily, I’ve had the support of people around me who meant well, did well, and mentored me well. They helped me through the darkest of times. Also, luckily, I realized early on that me, myself, and I need to figure this out, or else I’d be living the same problems on repeat.
Over time, I’ve distilled my personal mental health care regiment – healthy and clean eating, lots of exercises, yoga, sunshine, friends, doggie, and lots of interests. I have hobbies, curiosities, and creative outlets to keep me excited about one thing or another pretty much all the time. I’ve also learned that I easily overdo my engagement with the world. I bite more than I can chew. I can be too busy.
I moderate this tendency by planning my days and scheduling fun and healthy activities like dancing, hiking, and traveling the same way I schedule appointments with clients. What gets scheduled gets done!
I also make time to vegetate quietly in my own company, plus Lulu, of course, on regular bases. Sometimes I listen to music while doing my nails. Other times, I listen to the birds outside while chilling on the couch, the waves on the beach sitting on a log, or the silence through the earplugs while writing something goofy. Alone but not isolating, I recover the energy I expand so I can have more to give!
I also don’t drink or do recreational drugs. I stay away from pretty much all medications unless needed to save my life. I keep my biology clean, so my mind can sparkle.
Most of all, I try to do things I won’t regret, as regret robs the heart of the future by burying it in the past. No regrets means fewer things to be depressed about. The news is plenty good for that. So, I live without a TV, and I spend more time learning things I can use to improve my understanding and life and less time obsessing over things outside of my control. Whenever I fall off this wagon, I feel heaviness and sadness that brings me down. When I catch myself there, I go to the gym, invite a friend to a hike, or bake bread! As I re-establish control of my focus, I begin to feel better immediately!
I am sharing all this, so you know that a happy and healthy life is possible regardless of where you come from. Even the effects of trauma can be managed successfully with lifestyle changes, good choices, and skills. I should know. I’ve had plenty of it growing up. But I choose not to identify with it or to allow it to define me. I figured, why should I? There’s more to life than the past and most of it is in the present and in the future 😊
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