When we think about perfect health, an image that comes to mind is often someone in optimal physical shape. But what you see on the outside often doesn’t reflect the complex inner world of a person’s being. Mental health is everything beneath the surface, but it can have real impacts on your risk of physical health conditions. Chronic mental health problems can even shorten a person’s life expectancy and knowing which ones to watch out for and how to get help if you have symptoms is crucial to living well.
Just like any type of preventative care, education is the best line of defense. The more you understand the nuances of mental illness, the less likely you are to ignore symptoms or avoid getting help. Stigma prevents millions from getting help, and harmful stereotypes generally stem from a lack of understanding.
Research shows that mental health struggles are anything but uncommon in America. In any given year, around 1 in 5 U.S. adults 18 and older suffer from a psychological condition. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that an estimated 51.5 million U.S. adults (20.6 percent of all Americans) suffer from any mental illness. This means that there are millions of people struggling, whether they recognize their challenges as medical or not. To help you better care for yourself and others, let’s examine two of the most common mental illnesses and their warning signs.
Everyone gets nervous from time to time, but an anxiety disorder interferes with a person’s ability to cope in their everyday life. Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, and phobias can make even simple tasks unbearable. Living each day with anxiety is exhausting, and it can lead to social withdrawal, avoidance, and an increased risk of substance misuse.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reveals that around 40 million adults 18 and older (18.1 percent of the population) experience an anxiety disorder every year. Factors such as genetics, upbringing, life events, and personality all influence a person’s risk level. Being raised by an anxious parent has been found to elevate a person’s risk of anxiety. It’s also not uncommon for someone with this type of mental health disorder to also suffer from depression.
How to Prevent Anxiety
While every anxiety disorder is different, recognizing your emotional and physical symptoms to certain stimuli is crucial. For example, do you find your heart pounding and hands shaking at the prospect of talking to someone? Are you kept up all night long running through worst-case scenarios or being gripped by a horrible fear something bad is going to happen to you or your loved ones?
Self-awareness helps you identify the impacts of anxiety more clearly, which you can begin to address with the help of a therapist. If you are able to alleviate your symptoms alone, that’s great. But working with a professional is often the best way to get a better understanding of your symptoms and build the best coping skills to ward off future problems.
You can also do practical things to ease your anxiety. For example, you may often worry about what will happen to your family if you die. This is normal, but for someone with a disorder, it can cause them to become paranoid about their health and unable to function normally in everyday life. Rather than letting your fear stop you from living, you can do things that protect your family’s future if you were to pass away suddenly. Getting life insurance allows you to protect their financial security in the event of your death. You can also buy whole coverage, which generates a cash value, and learn how to sell your life insurance policy for cash later. This allows you to get a greater sense of control in the present while also alleviating certain fears about the unknown future.
Depression is often used in common day language as a way to describe a low state. Someone feeling bad or particularly let down about something may say they’re depressed, but there’s much more to it than simply feeling sad. Sadness, disappointment, despair, and grief all have their place in the human experience. They also have concrete triggers and eventually pass with enough time and the right resources.
Someone who is diagnosed with major depressive disorder has a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and meaninglessness that pervades their life. High-functioning depression may mask itself differently, and someone can mistake their low-grade symptoms as something else entirely. They may even not pay much attention to them at all and figure that this is just what life is supposed to be like. The main symptoms of major depressive disorder are:
- Ongoing feelings of sadness that do not ease for at least two weeks
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Sleep disturbances including insomnia and frequent waking
- Changes in appetite that range from rarely eating to binge eating
- Delayed reaction times, slower thoughts and speech
- Difficulty remembering things or concentrating on tasks
The full list of diagnostic criteria is outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, Fifth Edition. This is the standard tool used by mental health professionals to diagnose individuals with psychological conditions.
How to Prevent Depression
In a 2020 survey published in Jama Network Open, researchers found that symptoms were three times higher than they were in past years. They also identified risk factors that increased a person’s likelihood to experience symptoms, including having financial insecurity and high-stress levels. Other risk factors include family history, lack of social support, living in an unstable or unsafe environment, and trauma. Even good or bad life events can trigger depression. You may think that having a baby is the most joyous occasion in someone’s life, but millions of women have struggled with postpartum depression.
Being mindful and gentle with yourself is one of the best ways to catch symptoms early on. A 2013 study in the Medical Journal of Australia revealed that eating poorly and lack of exercise are major contributors to the disorder. This is why changing nutritional habits and introducing physical activity into a person’s life are often incorporated into treatment plans.
Mental illness can affect anyone at any time, so it’s important to recognize the signs and stay educated. The sooner you reach out for help, the better the outcome will likely be. Having a supportive social group and knowing your options for care should the need arise are two valuable resources. Remember that there is always help available to someone who wants it and that psychological wellbeing is just as important as physical health.