About Mental Health Conditions
About Mental Health Conditions
Mental health conditions/mental illness is a medical condition just like asthma or diabetes. Like these conditions, it is often long lasting or never really goes away. Unlike diabetes or cancer there is no medical test that can provide a diagnosis of mental illness, but getting a diagnosis is a useful step in receiving effective treatment and improving your quality of life. Mental illness primarily affects the mind, emotions, way of thinking and behavior. Often this can also lead to physical issues like soreness, stiffness, lack of sleep, too much sleep and more. It is possible that people may struggle with their mental health for their entire life but there is hope. Just like any skill, it must be practiced repeatedly to get stronger and better at it. This is also true for mental strength. The more you work on it, the better you get.
Mental illness can make people struggle with functioning around friends, family, work, or activities. For people with mental health struggles, the easiest task could be overwhelming. Some mental health conditions can lead to inpatient (overnight or longer stay in a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric unit of a general hospital) or a hospital visit. So, it is important to stay educated and supportive. As with other serious illnesses, mental illness is not your fault or that of the people around you, but widespread misunderstandings about mental illness remain. Many people don’t seek treatment or remain unaware that their symptoms could be connected to a mental health condition. People may expect a person with serious mental illness to look visibly different from others, and they may tell someone who doesn’t “look ill” to “get over it” through willpower. These misperceptions add to the challenges of living with a mental health condition. Most mental illnesses won’t go away on their own and can lead to serious problems if left untreated.
Who Does it Affect?
Mental health struggles can affect anyone. Mental health conditions do not discriminate. It does not matter your race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender, it can happen to anyone.
Mental health conditions are common. Each year:
nearly one in five (19 percent) U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness.
one in 24 (4.1 percent) has a serious mental illness*
one in 12 (8.5 percent) has a diagnosable substance use disorder.
* Examples of serious mental illness include major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. (credit: www.psychiatry.org)
What Causes It?
Mental illness can be caused by a lot of stress, trauma/traumatic events, genetics, brain injuries or defects, and/or substance abuse. Sometimes it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what causes it and that might be part of their healing journey.
What Does it Look Like?
That is another thing that can be hard to pinpoint. Some illnesses can share symptoms like stomachache, headache, or body aches. Here are some common symptoms of mental illness:
- Feeling sad or down
- Confused thinking or not able to concentrate
- A lot of fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
- Extreme mood changes of highs and lows
- Stop talking and hanging out with friends or family
- Sleeping too much or too little, or having trouble sleeping
- Not keeping up on hygiene
- Not grounded to reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
- Not able to handle daily struggles without irritability like simple chores
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people
- Drinking alcohol or abusing substances often
- Eating way more than normal or very little
- Excessive anger, hostility, or violence
- Suicidal thoughts
How Can I Help?
- Seek Help
If you’re a teen, you can reach out to your school’s guidance counselor, a teacher, relative, or friend. Books and educational videos can also be great resources. Adults may want to find a therapist who specializes in trauma.
Internal Family Systems or IFS, is a type of treatment that focuses on all parts of ourselves, including the unhealthy behaviors and thoughts that “kept us safe” throughout traumatic childhoods. For example, I had to play the family mediator and be perfect. These were necessary behaviors when I was young, but they aren’t vital for my survival anymore.
- Take Care of Yourself
Self-soothing is very individualized. Enjoying a delicious meal, listening to your favorite song, sipping tea in fuzzy pajamas, or finding a fun hobby you can commit to weekly are all self-soothing activities.
- Engage in Healthy Relationships
Healthy relationships have an equal balance of power. Try to engage with people who make you feel safe and respected, who listen well, and are emotionally available.
- Calm Mind, Calm Body
The mind-body connection is real. Studies show that negative thoughts or feelings can create changes in our brain chemistry and even affect our immune, digestive, and other physiological systems. There are a variety of mind-body practices to choose from to calm an anxious mind, including meditation and yoga.
- Finding and Coping with Triggers
Everything may be going smoothly and suddenly, you find yourself furious, panicky, or tearful and you don’t know why. Your physical body may be reacting to a trigger from your young childhood, even though your current situation is not life-threatening. Connecting with others, using grounding techniques, noticing, and observing feelings without judgment — these are all techniques that can bring you back to the present moment of comfort and safety.
- Let Self-Compassion Replace Self-Judgment
As a young child, shame and self-judgment probably protected you when you couldn’t protect yourself. Thank your shame for protecting you and ask it to please step back. Your early childhood was not your fault. It is now safe to love yourself. Go ahead and compassionately do so.
- What do I do in a Crisis?
If your parent is in a crisis, contact a trusted adult, tell them what’s happening and that you need help. If your parent is threatening to hurt themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US) 800-273-8255. If you are in another country, crisis numbers for you may be different.
I Am Feeling Upset, How Can I Take Care of Myself?
Think about what brings you calm and happiness. Some people like to listen to music, some draw or paint. Do things you love and that make you happy. Get a comfort food or a comfort drink like hot cocoa or tea. Practice some breathing techniques or grounding exercises.
Grounding exercises are things you can do to bring your mind into your present body instead of being stuck in your head. It uses your senses to bring back focus. If one doesn’t work, move to the next sense.
Some examples would be:
Touch: Grab your favorite fuzzy blanket, something you like to feel on your skin. You can also put your hands under running water. In the moment, focus only on what it feels like. Keep doing this until you feel better.
Sight: Look at something in the area you are in and focus on it. Look at the texture, the shape, what you imagine it feels like. Look at every little detail.
Sound: Listen to your favorite song/music, ASMR videos online, meditation music or even a clock ticking. Focus on the sound, the melody, notes, the rhythm, and repetition.
Taste: Eat or drink something and think about all the different flavors. Is it sweet, salty, or savory? Is it sour? What is the temperature?
Smell: Find something that smells nice. It could be a candle, lotion, or essential oil. Lavender can be particularly calming.
Understanding Your Parents Behavior
When you have a parent with mental health struggles, you may not know how to handle it. It can be hard! It might leave you feeling sad, angry, worried, embarrassed and most of all helpless.
Things to remember:
Learn about what is happening:
Hopefully YouTalk will help you learn a little bit more but feel free to do your own research! The more you know, the more you can understand. This can be helpful for both you and your parent.
What Do I Do When My Home Life is Affecting My Grades?
First off, if you’re not ok, you don’t have to act like it. It is ok to not be ok. Sometimes what happens at home might affect you negatively and make it difficult to concentrate in school. Maybe your parent said something that hurt your feelings, you didn’t get enough sleep, or you’re worried about them. There may be even times you can’t focus on assignments or you might be being bullied.
It’s never too late to ask for help. The best thing you can do is talk about it. Many teachers will give you extensions on homework if they see you’re struggling and you tell them what’s going on. You can even talk to a teacher or the school guidance counselor when you feel down. If you’d like, you can ask them to talk to your parent for you so they know how you feel.
It is not your fault
You are not responsible for why your parent is acting the way they are or because they have a mental health condition. It is also not your responsibility to make them well either. The most important thing is to be patient and supportive.
Talk about it to them. It isn’t a bad thing to tell your parent what you are noticing and how it makes you feel. They may feel hurt because they are hurting you, but it helps them become more aware of their actions. The best time to bring it up is when things are good at home. When they are more levelheaded, they can think more clearly on what you’re saying. If you feel like you can’t talk about it to them, reach out to a trusted adult, friend, school counselor, or your favorite teacher. It is important to not let it bottle up, you want to keep your own mind healthy too.
You aren’t alone. 1 in 5 young people live with a parent that struggles with their mental health. It is a lot more common than you might think. If you need to vent, try talking to your friends about it. There might just be one of them that can relate.
Dealing with stigma
Unfortunately, stigma is a real thing. When someone treats you differently or makes you feel ashamed because of your parent’s mental health struggles, they are stigmatizing you. This often happens because people listen to rumors or don’t know. That is why it’s important to learn about what is happening. If the person is super negative and you don’t feel safe, just walk away. But if it’s a close family or friend, you can choose to stand up against it and share some of the things you’ve learned. Knowledge is power.