Hannah’s Guide to Mental Health

Turns out a huge part of being an adult is learning to take care of yourself.

And I’m not just talking about working out, or making yourself tea when you’re sick.

I’m talking about mental health.

Unfortunately most people don’t learn great coping skills or how to deal with their emotions growing up. I’m hoping that changes soon, but for now many teens entering adulthood are ill-equipped to deal with their own mental health. Not to worry – there are a TON of resources available to teach you about it! You just have to be willing to learn.

But what I want to go over specifically is this idea that you have to be unable to get out of bed, or having daily panic attacks, in order to need to worry about your mental health. This simply isn’t the case. Just like keeping up with exercise, you need to keep up with your mental health to ensure a healthy lifestyle. These are just a few ways to check in with your mental health, like keeping a journal or seeing a therapist (covered in an earlier post!). But the most important part that I feel our generation struggles with is realizing and accepting that you need to work on your mental health at all.

The most common mental health problems young adults have are with depression and anxiety, so those are the issues I’ll be talking about today.

First I want to talk about the warning signs of depression:

-loss of interest in activities

-feeling tired, change in sleep patterns

-hopeless outlook

-irritability

-trouble concentrating

-changes in eating habits, exercise, weight

-changes in emotion; numbness

-excessive thoughts about death

You’ve probably heard most of these. When you picture people with depression, you likely think about characters in movies or TV shows with depression, whose signs might be very outward and obvious; quickly brought on and quickly solved.

However, that’s often not the case. In reality, these symptoms can have an incredibly slow onset. So I want to mention a few specific ways in which these symptoms manifest that can feel sort of “normal” (like you’re just in a funk of having a bad few weeks, or are just a little more stressed than usual), but actually aren’t:

-time feeling like it’s passing more slowly than usual; life is in slow motion

-feeling like significant events (such as birthdays, weddings) pass by without feeling any different before and after – everything just feels the same

-feeling like you just no longer enjoy your previous interests and passions (and even relationships), but you can’t find something new that you enjoy

pushing friends away – starting to feel as if you don’t like any of your friends

trouble imagining the future – the feeling that you will never accomplish your dreams

-feeling like sounds and bright lights bother you, and you would rather decrease the amount of stimuli

perfectionism and “tough love” on yourself when you don’t achieve your goals

Similarly, when it comes to anxiety, the symptoms are below (there are many different types, but these are some general ones):

-numbness, tingling

-hot flashes

-nausea

-feeling detached from the world

-trembling

-sweating

-heart palpitations

-trouble concentrating

-irrational or intrusive fears; excessive worrying

This one can be even harder, because everyone knows what it’s like to feel stressed or nervous. It’s normal, and even healthy in some cases. It’s incredibly subjective: it all depends on if you feel your anxiety is hindering your life or not. There aren’t necessarily “lesser known” symptoms here, and it’s also a little easier to be aware of than depression. But the simple rule is this: if it is making your life more difficult, or you are constantly feeling it before regular tasks (and not just things like auditions or first dates), then it might be time to get help.

As with any illness, the best treatment is prevention, and noticing any decline in health and addressing it before it gets too serious makes a huge difference. It’s easy to say “I’m fine now, if it gets worse I’ll get help” – but the reality is, it only gets harder to get help the worse you feel. You might feel like you’re not “worthy” of getting help because your symptoms aren’t serious enough, or like maybe you’re not depressed at all and are just going through some personality or life changes. But hear me out – even if those things were true, what harm would it do to go to therapy, or start saying some of your thoughts out loud to see if anyone is feeling the same way?

Say it with me: mental health is just as important as physical health, and we all need to be more vigilant in keeping ourselves healthy.

More on how to do so in a later post!

Hannah’s Guide to Therapy

While there are lots of ways to improve your mental health, such as practicing gratitude, exercising, eating and sleeping well, helping others, and talking about your feelings with a friend, I’ve found the most effective way to maintain your mental health is through therapy. This is because therapists are trained for this very purpose – just like seeing a chiropractor for back problems, or a dermatologist for skin problems! You also do not need to have a diagnosable mental illness to go to therapy; therapy can help with lots of things besides treating mental illness! Some of these include learning self-love and confidence, improving relationships, setting goals, and aiding in transitions and big events.

But I’ve already talked about the why: what about the how?

Unfortunately, finding a therapist and/or psychiatrist can be very difficult, especially if you are dealing with something like depression or anxiety which makes it difficult to reach out and find places. While most health insurance does cover psychiatric help, it can be hard to find someone in your network; and even if you do, they might have an expensive co-pay or not be accepting new patients. 

IF YOU HAVE INSURANCE:

Go to your insurer’s website and search for therapy/pschiatry/pschologists and you will see a list. It’s best to call places, but many also have emails. You can also go to your GP and describe the feelings you’re having, and they can usually refer you to someone. For short-term cases, they can also prescribe things like antidepressants. So if you’re unable to find a new doctor on your own, going to a doctor you already know is a great option!

IF YOU DON’T HAVE INSURANCE OR CAN’T USE IT (i.e., you are insured under your parents and they can’t know):

One great option is churches: it depends on the church, but a lot of churches have counseling available, even if you’re not a regular attendee of the church or even Christian. It’s free, so if you’re really in a bind, this is a great option. Just make sure you’re comfortable with the people you’re talking to.

Another option is university psychology departments. Therapists have to train somewhere, and many colleges will have students take on clients with the assistance of department heads or a licensed psychologist. Your sessions will probably be recorded or with multiple people, but the same privacy rules apply. Many of these are cheap and/or often sliding scale for income.

If you’re at a university, then there should be a specific center for mental health. While there are not always a lot of appointments, they can usually refer you to someone else. There are also often student groups aimed at helping those with mental illnesses, or putting out resources online to help students. UCLA’s Depression Grand Challenge is a great example.

If you are not yet comfortable talking to someone in person: websites like 7cupsoftea and Talkspace are great online chat options. There are also free hotlines that can be found here.

Group therapy is also a great cheaper, easier option. Many universities and therapists have groups available that are much cheaper and more consistent. There’s a great list of support groups in the US here.

Opening up to family and friends is also a great first step if you feel comfortable. But I do want to mention that they should not be your only crutch if you are dealing with something serious. They are not properly qualified to help you; plus they can feel a lot of pressure if they feel they’re the only thing keeping you healthy. That is not a healthy or sustainable relationship to have, and both of you will be better off if you are seeking professional treatment in addition to speaking with them!

Remember: there is NOTHING WRONG with seeking help! In fact, it’s incredibly brave.