May is designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Mental health is classified as the ability to effectively function in daily activities, according to psychiatry.org. Mental illness, on the other hand, refers to a class of over 300 diagnosable disorders that can limit the ability to function socially, or in work and family situations. While mental health awareness is something that should be discussed year-round, it’s something that’s significantly more important to bring up in light of recent world events that have had an impact on all of us. Constant exposure to news, inaccessibility to activities and people that bring us joy, disruption of regular routines; all of these can have a severe impact on mental wellness.
Being cognizant of my own outreach (including speaking publicly about my own mental health challenges, which include depression and anxiety) I wanted to discuss ways that you can help people close to you (friends, family members, partners, other loved ones, co-workers) that you suspect may be struggling with issues related to depression, anxiety, addiction, suicidal ideation, or anything that might fall under the wide umbrella of mental illness.
While there are usually external signs that someone is dealing with a physical illness, those signs don’t often exist when someone is dealing with a mental health issue. Additionally, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness that results in many people deliberately hiding their symptoms from loved ones or even refusing to acknowledge their symptoms to themselves.
That said, there are behaviors that can give you an idea that something might be wrong. I am not a mental health professional, but I believe that if you suspect things may not be alright with a loved one, you should be empathetic and extend your support to this person. Here are a few things to look for if you think a friend, colleague, or loved one might be struggling.
1. Someone Tells You They’re Struggling
The most obvious way to tell that someone you’re close to is experiencing struggles with their mental wellness is for them to tell you so. If someone confides in you that they are struggling emotionally or that they are feeling hopeless or suicidal, take them seriously, even if the person later tries to shrug their comments off as a joke. Continue to converse with them and try to find out what’s going on. Be there for them unconditionally. Everyone’s feelings are valid, no matter the circumstance.
If, in the process of trying to support a loved one, you find yourself overwhelmed, don’t abandon them. Find other people close to this person and connect with them. The more support, the better. Ask them if they are seeing a therapist and/or a psychiatrist. If so, suggest that your loved one contact them (and try to follow up). If not, recommend that your loved one schedule an appointment. Local therapists can easily be found by using ZocDoc, psychologytoday.com, and/or their insurance company’s website. Many health insurance plans have options for mental/behavioral care, and providers may also work on a sliding scale in order to accommodate patients who are not as financially advantaged.
2. Behavioral Changes
Does your normally bubbly and outgoing friend suddenly appear sullen and withdrawn? That may be a sign that they are struggling personally. Other behaviors to watch out for include changes in grooming habits (for example; a formerly fastidious-appearing person becomes slovenly), noticeable weight gain or weight loss, excessive sleep (or its opposite, insomnia), or detachment or disinterest in hobbies or work.
3. Substance Abuse
Increased use of alcohol or drugs may also be an important sign to watch out for; especially as alcohol is a depressant and can contribute to increased feelings of disconnection or worthlessness. If you can’t speak to your loved one in person, perhaps schedule a coffee date or a video chat.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing that you can do for a loved one is take them seriously. Be communicative, let them know that they are seen and heard by you, that they can confide in you, and that you will not judge their situation. Let them know that you want to help them, and then follow through on helping them, while of course taking any steps necessary to ensure their safety and yours.
Here are a few other tools you can use for information about how to help a friend dealing with an emotional crisis.
For Signs To Look For In A Friend
This article from MentalHealth.gov goes into even further detail about signs to look out for if you are worried that someone you know is dealing with mental wellness issues, in addition to offering some advice on how to talk to loved ones about mental health. The article also contains the number to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and a link to services available in your specific area.
For Tips On Conversing With Loved Ones About Mental Health
Seize The Awkward is a campaign designed by The JED Foundation, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and The Ad Council that offers ideas for how to have conversations with a loved one regarding their mental health.
If you have been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or a related mental health challenge, this article from WebMD gives pointers on how to “come out” to friends and family.
For Managing Personal Depression, Stress, & Anxiety
The Mayo Clinic put together a list of helpful hints to manage depression, stress and anxiety in the time of COVID-19.
For Managing Mental Health Challenges At Work
How does one manage mental health challenges within a professional environment? This article from NAMI talks about how to succeed at work.
For Musicians And Artists Specifically
The need to address mental health in the music industry is critical — today and everyday. The Orchard wrote about how to prioritize your mental health and wellness, as well as organizations available for music industry professionals.
The truth is that mental health challenges are more prevalent than we often realize, and there is no need to feel alone or ashamed. According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness, and 1 in 25 U.S. adults experiences serious mental illness. NAMI also states that depression is the number one cause of disability in the world.
If you are dealing with mental health challenges, trust in those who care for you and be honest with them about how you are feeling. Trust yourself and be real with yourself about how you are feeling. If, in this particular moment, you are worried about starting a relationship with a therapist, you can try apps like Talkspace, which allows you to access mental health professionals via text. Of course, regular exercise, self-care, proper diet, and even meditation apps like Headspace can be very helpful in conjunction with talk therapy and/or medication.
The most important thing, however, is to not suffer in silence. You are truly not alone, and you might be surprised by how many of those close to you can not only help you, but might also be able to relate to what you’re going through. Stay safe and stay healthy!