Welcome to the second article in our seven-part series paying tribute to Mental Health Awareness Week and promoting various sides of mental health.
Everyone has their own perception of mental health. And somehow, if we’re not well-informed about mental health, it’s easy to think of it in terms of the worst case scenario, which is someone psychologically unstable and a danger to everyone and themselves. Mainstream media plays an unfortunate part in this stereotype, with many films and TV shows emphasizing the psychotic side of mental health. It’s funny how most stereotypes of common subjects can be traced back to film or TV (especially soap operas).
But these extreme depictions can distract us from the variations in the way mental health impacts each and every one of us. For the most part, people who struggle with poor mental health (PMH) are not dangerous, rather, “silently overwhelmed”, I suppose is a term you could use. People who, outwardly, may not show any signs of PMH, but rather hide it behind a pit of emotional turmoil bubbling inside them.
Sometimes, people may feel emotionally disconnected with aspects of everyday life, unable to derive meaning from accomplishing tasks or pleasure from extracurricular activities. For some, even getting out of bed feels pointless, as if they cannot summon the energy to do so. Or, maybe they do feel that connection and it is so overwhelming that it overrides their own mentality, leaving them with a need to block everything out.
People with growing volumes of anxiety can also be prone to sensory overload. It doesn’t have to be an extreme like a painful aversion to bright lights, but senses can be heightened when you’re feeling on edge for whatever reason. Even a knock on a door can be enough to make you jump out of your skin.
Now, although there are specific, diagnosed cases of mental health, such as generalized anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar and schizophrenia which are pre-primed with a series of traits, there are a series of everyday circumstances that exacerbate these conditions and leaving people more mentally vulnerable. The various factors include:
- Stress – either from a single big issue, or a gradual pile-up of smaller issues
- Bereavement – losing a close friend or family member that has been
- Lack of Daily Stability – If you’re not financially independent, out of work or even homeless, this will dramatically impact your anxiety due to a general need for these common staples of day-to-day living.
If left unchecked, these factors could slowly develop into a mental disorder like depression or anxiety. The process may be gradual, sometimes taking weeks, but will gradually build with an individual likely to bear it all underneath the face of functionality until they no longer feel like they can. If you were to picture a build-up of poor mental health, imagine a glass of water slowly filling until it reaches the top and begins over-filling.
The problem is, as said earlier, there’s a particular perspective of mental health. And some people may feel that whatever you may be feeling isn’t necessarily serious unless you’re practically a volcano of erupting emotions.
And that is why we need early intervention. If we think someone is struggling to cope for whatever reason, we need to be on the lookout for any of these early warning signs. We also need to be aware of all the various support services out there so that if a moment comes when you feel they will need you in the future. Rather than dealing with the fallout from the erupting volcano, we need to stop that volcano from erupting altogether.
Some of the early warning signs of poor mental health may include:
- Withdrawing from social interaction
- Increased use of drugs, alcohol or caffeine
- Frequent headaches
- Unexpected displays of emotion
- Constantly tired
If you know someone who exhibits any of these signs, it is essential you identify the cause of it.
And this early intervention dates all the way back to childhood years. As children, we’re all shaped by our environment, which impacts how we see the world. A child could easily experience or develop feelings that complicate their mental health if they have been the victim of physical, verbal, emotional or sexual abuse. Traumatic experiences as a child could result in someone developing Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder later in life.
Even if they haven’t been exposed to traumatic events, children are still at risk of some form of PMH. As they grow into adolescence, they can become very self-conscious, sometimes about their weight or other aspects of their physical appearance. Eating disorders are among the most common disorders a young adult can experience. Priory Group listed 1.6 million UK residents as being affected by an eating disorder, with only 11% of those numbers male and the most commonly affected age group are 14-25 year olds.
The most notable eating disorders include bulimia, in which people force themselves to throw up after eating food for fear of gaining weight. There is also anorexia, in which people will refrain from eating for alarming intervals, sometimes going with entire days without food or drink. Research has shown that anorexia has one of the highest mortality rates among psychiatric disorders, with 20% of anorexia sufferers dying prematurely from their condition.
One of the key ways to begin early intervention is to identify whether a children shows any sign of risk factors, such as living circumstances, relatives or friends with mental health problems, difficulties in education. If a child or teenager shows any of these signs, even if there are no present signs of mental discomfort, that isn’t to say they won’t manifest later in life. Children need to know that that mental safety net is there for them to fall back on if they ever need it.
Emotional pain can be difficult for children. Teenagers can struggle with complex periods of heightened emotional stress, and may not have a healthy outlet in mind to properly deal with it. This can in turn, lead to self-harming. The method may vary from cutting to burning, as will the place they will frequently harm such as an arm, leg or the torso, but in many cases, self-harm and the physical pain that accompanies it is unintentionally used as a substitute for emotional pain.
Of course, the worst case scenario, and the culmination of all mental pain, is suicide. People feel so broken by their circumstances, finding themselves in a dark place with no way out except to take their own lives. Today, the Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2017 registered 6,188 UK deaths by suicide, with the highest demographic being men aged 40-44. Female suicide rates were also listed at their highest in a decade.
Hence why we need early intervention. Just because a person doesn’t show extreme signs of mental health, it does not mean that circumstances could push them in that direction in the foreseeable future.
Now, early intervention is an all-encompassing term. It could mean therapy, medication, psychiatric care, protective friends and family. The support needed may vary from person to person, but they need to know that it is there.
Now, early intervention is not necessarily a cure-all. Ensuring someone gets help early does not mean they will never struggle with a mental disorder ever again in later life. But, at the very least, you’re helping them acquire adequate coping strategies to deal with these emotions should they arise in the future.
And early intervention doesn’t have to come from the trained professionals. Family members can try and support each other, friends can reach out to them, providing a shoulder to cry on, if need be, employers can incorporate support into their healthcare plans, schools can ensure the availability of counselling. We can all provide some form of early intervention. And maybe, we can alleviate years of mental strain.
If you feel you need someone to confide in regarding your own difficulties with mental health, please visit the Samaritans official website: www.samaritans.org
If you found this piece useful, why don’t you check out the other articles in the Mental Health Awareness Week Series: