Research indicates that around 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of a mental health problem at some point in our lives. We cannot predict who they will be and we cannot identify one single cause but instead it would appear that a combination of biochemical, psychological, environmental and even genetic factors can all play a role in triggering a mental health problem.
The most common types of mental health problems are anxiety related disorders and depression. Many very mild cases of anxiety and depression can be alleviated or even eliminated by learning some simple self help techniques and sometimes it can be a matter of just making some simple lifestyle adjustments. If you are feeling slightly stressed, a bit down in the dumps or a little anxious, then you could try the following to see if they make a difference.
Self help techniques
• Identify any worries you have and speak about how you feel with friends and loved ones
• Cut down on alcohol, smoking, tea, coffee and other stimulants
• Eat a balanced and healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables
• Make sure you are getting enough Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet in the form of oily fish twice a week or fish oil supplements
• Try to relax or even meditate and spend some time each day just for yourself
• Make sure you are getting enough exercise
However, if you are feeling excessively anxious or panicky or worried or if the way you are feeling is affecting your ability to get on with your day to day routines then you shouldn't try to deal with it on your own. In these cases it won't just go away so you should discuss how you feel with your doctor at the earliest opportunity who may decide to prescribe some medication if he or she feels it might help, or in certain cases you could also be offered some form of talking therapy or counselling or even a combination of treatments.
Anxiety and depression can also mask other potentially more serious mental problems so any indication of mental distress should be taken seriously. Without appropriate help and treatment, mental illness can continue for years and the individual concerned will suffer needlessly. So what are the main symptoms to look out for?
Recognising there is a problem
Most of the following symptoms can be experienced by any one of us at times and can be a perfectly normal part of life. It is when the symptoms are prolonged and persistent in that they have continued for more than a couple of weeks and when they interfere with normal routines and day to day living that some form of depressive disorder is indicated and you may need some sort of treatment or clinical intervention in order to help you get back to your old self.
• Persistent feelings of sadness, loneliness or despair
• Feeling tired or lethargic most of the time
• Feeling unworthy and guilty and deserving of punishment or blame
• Sleep disturbances which can either be sleeping too much or not sleeping at all
• Changes in eating patterns and associated weight loss or weight gain
• Loss of libido and lack of interest in sex
• Feeling anxious and fearful most of the time for no apparent reason
• Emotional outbursts or displaying anger and hostility to others without real cause
• Unable to think clearly or have difficulty making decisions
• Talking or thinking about death and suicide
• Attempted suicide
Another more potentially serious type of depressive disorder is bipolar disorder (manic depression) which is believed to affect around 1 in every 100 people. Bipolar is a lifelong disorder characterised by extreme fluctuations in mood from manic episodes or "highs" to depressive episodes or "lows". There is no set pattern and each individual will experience it differently. Some additional symptoms to look out for include the following:
• An increase in energy and activity, feeling restless
• Experiencing excessively high and euphoric moods
• Racing thoughts, talking quickly, jumping from one idea to another
• Experiencing hallucinations or delusions
• Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers
• Poor judgment, spending sprees, unrealistic ideas
• A lasting period of behaviour that is markedly different from usual
• Provocative or aggressive behaviour
• Denial that anything is wrong
If you suspect that you or someone close to you is suffering from any kind of mental health problem then it is important to speak to a doctor. Untreated mental health problems can have a devastating effect on just about every area of life including family, relationships and work, not to mention quality of life in general.
Many people are afraid of admitting that they might have a mental health problem and see it is a sign of weakness. This is simply not the case. People with mental health problems cannot help how they feel and behave, but even in the most serious cases, the right treatment can dramatically improve the symptoms and the illness can be controlled. Mental health problems on the whole are treatable and the majority of people who seek help will find that they can regain control of their lives and go on to make a full recovery.
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