Hi everyone! It’s come up that there are a number of people in this community who have, at various times in their life, suffered from mental health woes. I talked with Hannah (okay, emailed) and we thought it might be useful to have “Mental Health Corner” or “You’re Not Alone: mental health version” or “YMFs get anxiety and it doesn’t have to cripple your life” feature. I’m going to post about once a month on a couple of topics in some order like this depending on feedback.
January: Intro/what is mental health, February: General tips to be at the top of your mental health game March: Depression — what is it, how severe is it, how can I fix it? April: Anxiety — what is it, how can I fix it? May: Emotional abuse — what is this, warning signs, coping strategies. June: Mormonism and mental health — myth, truth, behavior, etc.
There are other categories — Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), OCD, etc. Let me know if there is a topic in particular you want to hear about, since these are very broad umbrellas.
For all of this, please email me your comments and questions on what would be useful in this kind of post. If you have an experience on a way that you improved, or you want to briefly describe your experience, send it my way and I’ll see how I can incorporate it in.
Mental illness: What’s going on in my brain?
A bit about mental illness: It’s not your fault. If you are experiencing a mental illness, you did not sin or do something wrong to deserve this. There are things you can do to help your body and brain, but bad people don’t get sick while good people stay healthy.
We notice our mental health when there is a part of our brain that isn’t functioning correctly. Oftentimes various chemicals in a brain are off, for example, your serotonin or dopamine levels, and your neurotransmitters aren’t functioning properly. Many people with depression have a less than normal amount of serotonin, so they would take a common drug in the SSRI category (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor). (For a basic introduction, the National Institute of Mental Health has resources and diagrams here [[[link?]]].) Dopamine levels play a role in things like schizophrenia and Parkinson’s, while glutamate levels contribute to whether obsessive compulsive disorder is a part of your life.
What kind of behavior is common when I (or my friend) am afflicted with mental illness?
But what does this all mean in real life? How does a dopamine level impact behavior? Depending on a type of chemical, our behaviors can dramatically change. For a personal example, in my own case, I was a happy and healthy normal teenager, when within months, I spiraled downward. I became much more anxious about situations that weren’t usually stressful, like school, eating, or petting the dog. I became worried about cleanliness and germs; and not just worried, but I changed my behavior because of it. Some chemicals switched and I became depressed, wanting only to stay in the basement, away from everyone, and not see any friends.
If something traumatic has happened in your life – a death, divorce, or new job or school – this kind of stress could be more expected. However, if you are just going along and you notice that typical activities have become so stress-inducing you are changing your behavior, or wanting to — and it lasts for longer than two or three weeks, it’s time to look for help.
How do I get back to my normal self?
Fortunately, with the right attention, mental health woes don’t have to be a long-term problem. Yes, it can be a difficult recovery, and it takes work, but I promise there are many, many, people who have fought these battles and won — it’s not impossible. And you’re not alone. If you are at BYU, the CCC is free and available. Otherwise, take a look here for medical resources to turn to: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/find-help/index.shtml
I say all of this assuming you are not, right now, planning to kill yourself or thinking of it. If you are, call 911. If you have a friend who is thinking of it, please call 911 for them. In the meantime, please send me questions, comments, or things you would like included as we move forward. As a disclaimer, I am not trained as a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I have spent hundreds of hours on these issues in my own life, and read many materials on the subject. I’m trying to find the best way to tackle a very broad subject for a whole range of individuals (those never affected, those who have been severely hit, those who are wondering if they need help, and those wondering if their friend needs help) so please be patient with me as we discuss some of these together.
How do I contact you with questions or comments?
I’ve set up the email email@example.com, since anxiety in particular has come up in the YMF facebook group, but again, we’re trying to cater to a wide interest. Feel free to stay anonymous if you’d like! Thank you all! -Ellie