Promoting Our Own Mental Health

Sound mental health is as important as good physical health for optimal overall well-being.  Everyone agrees that a strong mental constitution is a vital factor for living potentially to the fullest.  

What Mental Health Means

Wikipedia defines mental health as “the psychological state of someone who is functioning at a satisfactory level of emotional and behavioural adjustment.  From the perspective of positive psychology or holism, mental health may include an individual’s ability to enjoy life, and create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience.

Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illnesses or disorders.  It encompasses the abilities of an individual to:

  • think, emote, and relate well with others
  • realise their potential
  • be productive in the community
  • cope well with life’s stresses
  • enjoy life
  • be reasonably independent

To put it simply, the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud defined mental health as the ability “to work and to love.”

Managing Sanity

Since every stage in life brings major changes, we need the psychological resiliency to meet the challenges life metes out.  Our mental health is challenged by adversity and also by the response of our own genes and brain chemistry.  Because anyone’s mental health can be risk at some point in life (from trauma, sudden change of fortune, etc.), it is important to be aware of the early warning signs of mental health deterioration.

Early warning signs such as those listed below should prod one to get immediate help:

  • Loss of interest in learning or doing anything
  • Pulling away socially
  • Sleeping too much or hardly sleeping at all
  • Low energy; chronically fatigued or exhausted
  • Feeling lost, helpless, or hopeless
  • Experiencing unexplainable aches and pains
  • Feeling of detachment from self and others; emotional numbness; indifference
  • Severe mood swings
  • Irritable, confused, angry
  • Worried, scared, forgetful, anxious
  • Inability to perform normal tasks
  • Thoughts of self harm or inflicting harm on others
  • Persistent thoughts that play in the mind over and over

Early psychological intervention increases the chances of an individual’s full recovery.  

Strengthening Your Mental Health

As important as it is to strengthen or maintain our physical health, our mental health also needs constant upkeep.   

strengthen mental health

Value Yourself

We may be kind and understanding to others but we usually tend to be hard with ourselves.  Tone down your self-criticism and treat yourself with the same kindness and respect.  Aim for personal growth by allowing yourself new experiences and learning new things.  Becoming an expert in your hobby, learning a new language, or challenging your intellect with puzzles can help you build different facets of yourself, making you a more interesting person.

Valuing yourself like this helps fortify your self esteem which goes a long way to promoting your mental health.

Take Good Care of Your Body

The mind and body are intrinsically connected.  If the body weakens, so does the mind and vice-versa.  In order to bolster chemicals in the brain that are responsible for making us feel good, good habits that promote physical health promote mental health as well:

  • Regular exercise — increases the production of endorphins and serotonin, both “feel good” elements that lower depression and encourages positive perception
  • Enough rest or sleep — sleep deprived individuals are more prone to developing anxiety and depression.  Lack of sleep also significantly decreases one’s cognitive abilities thereby impairing memory, focus, problem solving, and the like.
  • Avoiding vices such as alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking
  • Eating a nutritious, balanced diet — a diet high in sugar, processed food,  or sodium can be detrimental to both physical and mental health over time

Learn Stress Management   Mental-Health

As stress invades life, almost daily for others, one must learn how to deal.  Anger management, work-life balancing, time management, and such must make their way into your skill set so you may manage the degree of stress that comes your way.

In addition, try to find humour in your mistakes.  Laughter can boost your immune system and reduce stress.  

 

Give of Yourself

Helping others and realising you have made a difference, no matter how small, in a person’s life, increases your sense of self-worth which in turn strengthens your mental health.  Positive social connections help improve mood, emotional resilience, and confidence.  The best form of social interaction is one’s giving of himself…time, effort, money, goods, etc….to others.  The act of generosity stimulates the pleasure areas of the brain because it makes us feel relevant, useful, and needed—factors which improve the way we see and feel about ourselves.

Cultivate a Support Group

People who have strong familial or support connections often exhibit good overall health.  Your mental and emotional well-being can be maintained well over time if you have people you can trust, talk to, and be of help as well.  Widen your circle of friends by joining a club, gym, or cause.  Spending time to cultivate positive relationships within the family and among friends is always a wise investment of your time.   

Because your happiness rests on your mental well-being, it is vital that you take steps to safeguard and maintain it.  When you feel you need help, seek it out and get it.  This is not a personal sign of weakness but of strength.  With appropriate treatments and care for mental disorders, you can make a full recovery to live your life to the fullest.

 

Mental Health During Pregnancy and Postpartum

pregnant-depressed-women1

Pregnancy is a life changing condition.  Physically and mentally, there are many changes that happen with new life growing within.  These changes during the perinatal and postnatal periods often put new mothers and mothers-to-be at high risk for developing anxiety and depression.  Less common but worse conditions may include bipolar disorder and postpartum psychosis.

Women may develop a mental health problem during pregnancy or may have a recurrence of such a problem if she had such issue before pregnancy.  Women on medication for some mental disorder may have to stop taking their prescriptions when they get pregnant.  Unfortunately, they form a high risk group for recurring symptoms.  Seven out of ten women who stop their antidepressant medication for instance fall back into depression or anxiety during their pregnancy.

In the U.K., about 10-15 out of 100 pregnant women become clinically depressed or anxious.  The cause is not singular but it is usually a mix of factors and it can happen to anyone.  These factors may depend on:

  • Degree of recent or ongoing stress in one’s life such as a death of a loved one, divorce or separation, etc.
  • Attitude toward pregnancy.  The thought of raising a child, for instance, may put undue worry on a person especially one with a difficult childhood.  Changes in weight and shape may take an emotional toll especially if the mother has an eating disorder.
  • Whether one is on treatment or medication.  Stopping treatment could make one fall ill again.
  • Type of mental illness one has experienced

Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

As pregnancy and post pregnancy are times of great changes, depression symptoms may not be so easy to identify.  Depression signals may come when there are big changes in everyday routines or habits such as short sleeping hours, increase in appetite, etc.

If you are experiencing some of these symptoms for more than two weeks, get some help:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, emptiness, sadness, and other feelings of inadequacy
  • Very low moods; extreme sadness
  • Feeling numb
  • Easily irritated, angry, or resentful
  • Unfounded fears for the baby or of motherhood
  • Loss of interest in things that were normally enjoyable
  • Withdrawal from social contact
  • Not taking care of self
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration and decision making
  • Harbouring thoughts of harming the baby or one’s self; thoughts of suicide
  • Decreased energy; extreme lethargy

Anxiety is a common partner of depression.  When experiencing these symptoms, you need to see your GP or health professional who may test your degree of depression and anxiety using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale (EPDS).  The EPDS is a questionnaire which assesses your feelings if these fall outside the normal range and into the depression/anxiety scope.  This test may be conducted twice during pregnancy and once after childbirth.

Seeking Help

A pregnant woman, who has had prior history of mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anorexia, or severe depression, must make a wise decision to talk to her GP.  Consultation with a specialist, even if she feels very good about herself and her pregnancy at the moment, is important because there is a high enough risk for her mental illness to recur during pregnancy or after childbirth.  One needs a care plan drawn up by a GP in order to head off or at least lessen the effects of the illness.

Medication During Pregnancy

Since many pregnancies are usually unplanned, some women may be under medication at the time of conception.  If you are under medication but suspect a pregnancy, do not stop medication suddenly but go see your doctor immediately.  He will assess whether to change or gradually take you off your medicines.  Stopping medications suddenly can quickly cause a relapse of your symptoms or cause undesirable side-effects.  If the doctor sees no harm to the foetus with the drugs you were prescribed with, he may insist that you continue with your medicated treatment.

While many medications are unsafe for pregnancy, selected antidepressants such as a few serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are considered safe for pregnant women.  These few have not been associated with birth defects and pass at very low levels through breast milk.

The decision of your doctor on whether to continue or not to continue medication may rest on the ff. factors:

  • the likelihood that you may not be able to take care of yourself when off medication
  • your tendency to turn to drugs or alcohol because you feel unwell without medication.  This tendency is harmful for both you and the developing foetus.
  • your tendency to develop postpartum depression which will affect your nurture and care for your baby
  • you are at a high risk for a relapse.  A relapse may require more medication, usually a higher dose or a supplementary drug, both situations that can be very harmful to the baby.
  • if talking therapies are not enough to mitigate your mental health issues.  Mental health problems like depression must be addressed because these can cause a host of problems from low birth weight to infant development.

Talking Therapies

Talking therapies or psychological treatments may be imperative treatments for pregnant women afflicted with depression or anxiety.  Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for one can help you cope with your feelings by changing the way you think and behave.  Talking therapies help people identify the problem and ways to change their thinking and behavioural patterns so that the effects of the triggers are significantly lessened.  Some people may do away with medication and get by very well with talking therapy alone.

Talking therapy may be done as a one-on-one consultation or as a group event.  This type of therapy may also be conducted online as e-therapy through e-mail or video sessions.

postpartum blues

Alzheimer’s Disease : The Most Common Form of Dementia

 

alzheimer's diseaseThe term Alzheimer’s Disease often strikes dread in anyone given such a diagnosis… and with just cause.  Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease of the brain with no definite cure yet in sight.  This mental disease is fatal.  Alzheimer’s causes dementia, a set of progressive symptoms marked by memory loss, difficulties with problem solving and vocabulary, and other cognitive issues.  At present, there are more than 520,000 people in the U.K. who are afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

This degenerative neurological disease gets its name from its discoverer, Dr. Alois Alzheimer.  Although its greatest risk factor is old age with the majority of patients at 65 or older, Alzheimer’s is not a natural offshoot of aging.  The disease can manifest its symptoms in people belonging to the 40 or 50 year old age bracket.  Aside from advancing age, other high risk factors include:

  • Hereditary propensity for acquiring the disease
  • Previous severe head injuries
  • Lifestyle factors and health conditions also associated with cardiovascular diseases — smoking, bad diets, and sedentary habits that cause obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and hypertension
  • Down’s syndrome

What precisely causes Alzheimer’s is not known.

Symptoms

Alzheimer’s develops gradually through the years, with its symptoms progressing from mild to severe.  The disease attacks the brain’s cognitive and emotional functions thus compromising reasoning, focus, memory, emotional, and spatial abilities.  Alzheimer’s signals its early onset with the following signs:

  • Memory problems: Lapses in memory such as forgetting the names of certain places and people with whom one has frequent contact with.  Patient may also have difficulty remembering recent events and conversations.  The patient can also misplace important things like keys and documents.  Memory loss is to a degree that usually interferes with daily life.
  • Mood changes:  As the disease starts affecting parts of the brain that control emotions, patients may feel anxious, depressed, irritable, suspicious, or confused.  They are not themselves.  Small deviations from routine or their comfort zone can upset them at work and at home.
  • Problems with communication and language:  People with the disease often forget some terms or object names.  During conversations, they may find themselves unable to remember the right word or phrase and get frustrated just trying to express themselves.

As Alzheimer’s progresses and more brain cells get damaged, the symptoms worsen.  The patient may exhibit:

  • Increased memory loss:  At this stage, the person is more forgetful than ever and may ask for information repeatedly.  Toward the advanced stages, he may stop recognising familiar faces of family and friends.  It could be very painful for the spouse, children, or close friend if the patient forgets who and what they are to him/her.  The patient may also find himself increasingly misplacing his things.  He may feel anxious and be in denial about this disability that he may turn suspicious and accuse others of stealing his lost items.
  • Deterioration of problem-solving and reasoning skills:  Focus deteriorates and so do the abilities to follow instructions, think logically, and calculate everyday mathematical problems like balancing budgets.
  • Disorientation / confusion:   The patient may forget familiar routes so that he may not even know where he is or he arrived at a place.  He may also lose track of time, dates, and even seasons.
  • Decline in visual and spatial relationships:  People with Alzheimer’s may have problems determining depth, size, distance, colours, and contrasts.  This can interfere with driving skills and the ability to operate equipment.
  • Decline in verbal and written skills:  As the disease progresses, vocabulary becomes affected so much so that in the effort to express themselves, they call things by different names.  For example, they may call the TV, a moving picture box; a key may be called a lock stick.  The patient may also have a difficult time following conversations and may talk about something far from the conversational topic.  They may also keep repeating themselves because they have forgotten that they had already mentioned what they want to convey twice before.
  • Increasingly making poor choices and bad judgements:  Alzheimer’s patients are great targets for scammers, unscrupulous salespeople, and the like.  Because of their declining cognitive skills, patients are apt to fork over large sums for things they do not need or give consent to things they normally would not have.
  • Worsening moods:  Patients can become increasingly depressed, fearful, panic-stricken, confused, and paranoid from the results of cognitive decline.  Losing one’s memory and perception can be very scary for a person so he is apt to be embroiled in very negative emotions.  In some cases, patients can hallucinate or have delusions.
  • Withdrawal from society:  Cognitive decline brings about a decreased interest in hobbies or activities previously loved.  It also brings about deterioration in one’s social skills and even self-care abilities such as personal hygiene and remembering important events.  As such, the patient withdraws from social company.

As all these symptoms point out, Alzheimer’s changes a person’s character and personality as it erodes the brain cells.  The average life expectancy after diagnosis is 8-10 years.  In aggressive cases, disease can run the course of 3 years.  In slow progressing cases, a patent could live 20 or so more years.

How Alzheimer’s Works

ALZHEIMERS_DISEASEWhen Alzheimer’s starts attacking the brain, it may take a decade before a person experiences any symptoms.  Alzheimer’s first attacks the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memories.  Abnormal deposits of proteins create tau tangles and amyloid plaques that destroy the neurons.  As these deadly proteins spread, they cut neuronal connections, leaving once healthy neurons to die out and parts of the brain to shrink.  As disease progresses into its final stages, the brain should show extensive damage, enough to have shrunk it significantly and fatally.

 

What Can Be Done?

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease but there are medications and therapies available that could slow down the progression of the symptoms.  A healthcare professional such as a GP or psychiatrist and social care services can work out a long-term health and social care plan which should cover the following:

  • What support the patients needs to help them remain independent for as long as possible
  • What physical changes are needed in the home to support patient independence or making his home easier to live with
  • Financial assistance needed

Patients and their caregivers should look into therapies such as cognitive stimulation which helps improve and stave off declines in memory, language skills, and problem solving skills.  Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT), arts therapy, and meditation can significantly help manage emotional problems such as depression, hallucination, paranoia, and the like which Alzheimer’s is apt to compound if left to run untreated.