By Clint Fletcher
The insidious nature of negative mental health effects like depression and anxiety makes them harder to identify before they start wreaking havoc on our well-being.
October is National Depression Education and Awareness month, and there couldn’t be a more important time for an emotional checkup than the latter half of 2020. With all the turmoil this year has brought, an inevitable wave of mental health issues followed for Americans. According to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the amount of people suffering from depression has tripled since the coronavirus pandemic began. Young adults between age 18 and 24 were hit the hardest, with 1 in 4 reporting suicidal thoughts because of the COVID crisis.
While most of us don’t hesitate to check in with our doctors for physical health, emotional checkups are harder to integrate into our regular healthcare routine — maybe because we don’t know we need them. The insidious nature of negative mental health effects like depression and anxiety makes them harder to identify before they start wreaking havoc on our well-being. To top it off, the pandemic has become a seemingly reasonable excuse for us to not reach out for help at all. Once we’re isolated at home with depression having set in, it becomes even more difficult to tackle. But knowing what to look for ahead of time may very well save your life.
Be Aware of the Signs
It’s important to remember that depression is classified as an actual disease rather than a state of being. It’s caused by a decrease of key chemicals in the brain that would normally help stabilize or improve mood.
If you’re trying to determine whether or not you or a family member is depressed, be on the lookout for:
- Increase in sleep hours
- Drop in self-esteem
- Loss of interest in hobbies
- Thoughts of worthlessness
- Bad memory
Nearly 50% of those that suffer from depression also have an anxiety disorder.
Even more common than depression in the United States is anxiety. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States every year, roughly 18% of the entire population. Out of those 40 million people, less than half receive treatment. Nearly 50% of those that suffer from depression also have an anxiety disorder. If you have reason to believe a loved one is suffering from some kind of mental illness but you’re not sure which one, pay attention to these warning signs of overlapping issues from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- Risk-taking behavior
- Weight loss or gain
- Suicidal thoughts or plans
- Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
- Big mood or personality changes
- Overwhelming fears or worries
- Sadness/withdrawal beyond a couple of weeks
- Physical symptoms (difficulty breathing, racy heart)
October also brings us National Depression Screening Day, which coincides with World Mental Health Day on Saturday, October 10. Mental Health America has a fantastic online depression screening tool that’s free, confidential, and anonymous. In addition, here are some other helpful mental health screening tools across the web:
- MWA Early Intervention Brain Health Screening Tool (PDF)
- Help Yourself, Help Others
- Here to Help Mental Health Screening
- Mental Health Screening.org
- University of Washington Screenings
- Butler Hospital Mental Health Screenings
Just like with physical health, maintaining good mental health takes work, but it’s well worth the effort. Once you discover an issue, the next step is to take action. Taking advantage of these tools on a regular basis can help ensure your ongoing mental health.
Therapy – With the exception of recovery meetings for those with addiction problems, therapy will always be the No. 1 most effective emotional checkup. Hammering out your issues under the guidance of a trained professional brings tremendous emotional benefits that have the potential to be life-altering.
Support groups – For those in addiction recovery, this may mean routine recovery meetings of some sort. For others, it could mean something different entirely. No matter what you’re suffering from, there’s a group of people with similar issues waiting for you to join.
Staying connected – Connection is the key to staying emotionally healthy. There are plenty of ways to hook up with like-minded people, whether online or in person. Yoga classes, meditation groups, book clubs … discover your favorite hobby and run with it. Find your people and watch your mental health soar to new heights.
While emotional checkups are important for just about everyone, they’re especially important for those with addiction issues. Whether you’re beginning your recovery journey or you’ve been sober several years, emotional maintenance is absolutely required for sobriety. Addicts don’t need any help from COVID. We were already experts in isolation to begin with. Our heads attack us with negative thoughts constantly, and we have to connect daily or weekly with other like-minded people to quiet our minds. If you’ve been in recovery for a while, congrats! Keep up with your meetings and therapy sessions. And if you think your depression or mental health issues may be tied to alcohol or drug addiction and you need help, treatment is just a phone call away.