Mental health has been the topic of increasing concern and attention over the last few years. We at Birmingham Family Physicians recognize the importance of mental health and want to educate our patients on how to manage their care. Dr. Gordon Parker, who specializes in psychiatry explains more about mental health and what you can do to maintain a healthy life.
Mental Health: It’s Not Just for Crazy People Anymore!
Did you know that mental illness has been around since the time of Hippocrates? He was known as the father of Western medicine and he noticed patterns in his patient’s suffering from “madness.” In fact, some historians believe bipolar disorder is named after him because people suffering from this disease would alternate between euphoric happiness (mania) and deep depression. While treatments have certainly come a long way, mental illness is still thought of as “crazy” and people who suffer from it are often stigmatized. It’s not just for unkempt whackos anymore, however. Mental health issues affect us all and if we’re going to start talking about it more openly, we need to know what some of those issues are. Some common mental illnesses include:
• Anxiety disorders such as panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive disorder
• Major depressive disorder (this has symptoms similar to those experienced by patients with chronic physical pain)
• Schizophrenia, which can cause hallucinations and delusions
• Bipolar disorder, such as the mood swings experienced during PMS
There are many other types of mental health disorders that we could talk about, but the basic idea is that they all share something in common: they affect your thoughts and behavior. It’s just like diabetes: you may not know anyone who has it, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t others out there with it. We think people should be able to talk more openly about their mental health issues without fear of being judged or ridiculed. Mental illness is a serious business and lack of awareness contributes to an ongoing problem.
Treatment Is Available!
The good news (or bad news, depending on how you look at it) is that mental illness has a biological basis in the brain. What this means is that it’s not your fault you have these problems and there are good treatments available once you know what you’re dealing with. Some medications, such as antidepressants, may be helpful for certain kinds of depression while therapy may help you learn to cope better when experiencing anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other issues. Sometimes, multiple treatment types need to be tried before finding one that works best for a patient.
The important thing is that we recognize how widespread mental health issues really are among the population and help everyone get whatever they need to improve their quality of life. We don’t always think about our own mental health needs because we’re busy taking care of everybody else. If you feel like you could use some help, please seek out the appropriate professionals without shame or anxiety. It’s time to stop thinking of mental illness as something that only happens to someone else and start taking care of our own brains.
How do I Help Myself?
This is something everyone should ask themselves. What can you do to help yourself feel better about your mental health? Here are some easy starting tips that may be helpful:
• Practice yoga or meditation (our office offers these services through the Wellness Center)
• Get enough sleep (rest helps your body heal)
• Eat healthy foods (your brain needs protein and vitamins, too!)
• Drink less caffeine or other stimulants
Yes, You Can Help Someone Else!
If someone close to you has mental illness issues, they need your support more than ever. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from these problems are often made to feel ashamed about them and try to keep them hidden (which makes them worse). With the right approach and compassion, though, you can make life easier for someone dealing with these kinds of challenges:
• When talking with a loved one who has a mental illness, do not minimize what they’re going through
• Instead, focus on supporting them and their journey toward better health
• Do not make any major decisions for someone else without consulting them first (this also means you shouldn’t keep secrets from people if they would want to know about something)
You Can Also Help by Getting Educated!
Finally, the important thing none of us can forget is that we should never stop learning more about this stuff. If you or someone close to you needs help with a mental health issue(s), the best way to get it is by reaching out for assistance. Mental Health America has a 24-7 helpline here and there are tons of other resources online that can help you find out where to go.
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