Know the signs and seek help when necessary
PASADENA—Good mental health is critically important to everyone, no matter what age, sex or race. That’s why it’s important to understand how mental health affects our lives, and know the signs when seeking help may be necessary.
Paying attention to mental health means having a balanced emotional and psychological sense of one’s
well-being, according to Dr. Juan-Carlos Zuberbuhler, a board-certified child/adolescent/adult psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. Feeling mentally fit allows you to notice and enjoy the things in life that bring you joy, and being able to overcome and bounce back from setbacks and adversities.
“Mental health is too often ignored and avoided due to stigmas and fears that our families and societies have placed upon this topic,” Dr. Zuberbuhler said. “Just like you wouldn’t hesitate to call your doctor when you have a cold, you shouldn’t hesitate to tell your doctor if you—or a loved one—suffer from depression or anxiety that affect your personal or professional life.”
According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million—experience mental illness in a given year. Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
A person with good mental health is able to balance mental, physical and social or spiritual spheres in their life. Neglecting, ignoring or suffering in one of these areas will often affect the other spheres, and will likely negatively affect your mental health.
“When you have problems managing your anxiety and don’t seek help, this can lead to chronic health problems such as depression,” Dr. Zuberbuhler said. “It’s important to know that when we experience problems managing our depression or anxiety, they don’t just happen or disappear overnight. They are the product of a series of thoughts and behaviors that bring you down, and that can quickly lead into a downward spiral.”
If mental health is an issue of concern to you, Dr. Zuberbuhler recommended the following:
• Slowly get back into doing old routines you did when you were feeling better. Ask a family member or friend to push you into taking steps to feel better. For example, get a workout buddy or walking friend to help motivate you to become active once again.
• Spend your attention wisely. Ask yourself what you’re paying attention to, and whether it’s helping or hindering you? Disconnect from your smart phone, tablets and computers and connect with real people. Humans are biologically driven to connect with others. Just like you can’t solely live off sweets, your human interactions need to be much more than social media.
• Even though there’s an issue that needs attention, you can still put it to the side and engage in your work or hobbies. Don’t sacrifice your enjoyment while you work on solving an issue elsewhere.
Knowing when to seek help
A key trait of resilient people is that they know when to seek help. If mental health is an issue, you should fight through the stigma that often exists, and let someone you trust know that you’re struggling.
“Don’t forget that your primary care physician wants what’s best for your overall health, not just your physical health, so reach out to them,” Dr. Zuberbuhler advised. “They can refer you to the mental health resources available to you. Many health plans, including Kaiser Permanente, offer health education classes and resources that focus on wellness, and many psychiatry departments are based on self-referral. Your health insurance member services agent can also explain and connect you to your mental health benefits, and get you an appointment. Doing nothing should not be an option, as it will not lead to a good health outcome!”
If you’re too anxious or depressed to advocate for yourself, it’s OK to ask a loved one to advocate for you,
Dr. Zuberbuhler said. Remember that it may take time to feel well again, but as long as you start on an “upward spiral,” you will get well again and learn how to prevent falling back down.
“Another trick is to make ‘approach goals,’ instead of ‘avoidance goals,’ Dr. Zuberbuhler noted. “For example, instead of saying, ‘I need to stop doing this...,’ it’s better to say, ‘I will start doing this....’ The more you want to stop a negative thought, the more it’s likely to persist. The trick is to weaken negative thoughts by focusing on uplifting thoughts and goals.”