Mental Health

Posted by Nurse Linda in Daily Dose on May 06, 2019 # Health

Your mental health affects your entire well-being. Having a life-altering illness or accident can affect your mental status. Sometimes, the effects will become overwhelmingly evident and yet other times, it can be difficult to know when issues might be occurring. It is also difficult to figure out if you are having a ‘down’ day or if depression is present. Last week’s blog contained information about spinal cord injury and depression. This week is an expansion about mental health issues.

There are literally hundreds of mental health diagnoses. It is not so important that you as an individual figure out the exact diagnosis. Mental health professionals can provide expertise for that. It is important that you recognize that there might be a mental health concern and that you take appropriate action. You may improve your quality of life with treatment or you may find out that your responses are typical for your situation. Obtaining strategies to deal with stressors can help you improve your quality of life.

Diagnosis can be a challenge so never deter from talking with your health professional about your mental health. It is a part of your overall health. There are some symptoms that might help you think about your mental health.

Prolonged sadness or depression is just one symptom of a mental health issue. This can manifest as long-lasting sadness or irritability. Often people who are depressed do not realize their sadness as it becomes a part of their everyday life. Other people who are depressed are easily agitated and may lash out. Some have both symptoms. The person may have episodes of extreme highs and/or lows. They may focus on worries, fears, and anxieties that they just cannot stop thinking about.

Extreme changes in behavior is another sign that something could be happening to an individual. Eating or sleeping too much or too little are both extremes of a change that you might see. This is ongoing, not just a night or two of lost sleep or overeating at a holiday meal. Withdrawal from usual behaviors of socialization is another example. Choosing to isolate as a change in normal activity is a sign of mental health concern. Hoarding or an extreme focus on weapons or mass shootings is another alarm.

Physiological changes should be noted. These might include periods of confusion or inability to cope with daily problems or activities, hallucinations (seeing things or hearing things that are not there), strange thoughts or strange thinking and reasoning. If a person suddenly is overly focused on their physical health or feeling like they have some unexplained or unidentified medical issue is a symptom of a mental health concern.

Suicidal thoughts that are expressed or just even privately thought about are significant alerts that a person is having a mental health issue. If the thoughts are expressed, suicide becomes a known issue but when these thoughts are kept to a person’s own mind, it becomes impossible for others to react and help. If you are having suicidal thoughts, talk with someone about them.

Sexual abuse is an issue that creeps up. It is not one that is usually present immediately. Sexual predators tend to groom their targets. You may think a relationship is starting when in reality, the predator is slowly building to meet their own goals. Focusing on pornography to an extreme is another sexual clue to mental health issues.

Substance abuse is an alert to a mental health issue as a person might be using drugs to alter their thinking or to dull the issue that is affecting them. Alcohol abuse or drug abuse of prescription or nonprescription drugs might be used. People will note alcohol and drug use as an issue, but often other substance abuse is overlooked such as prescription abuse, polypharmacy (mixing drugs together for a different effect) or nicotine abuse, caffeine abuse or even sugar abuse. Some of these overuses of everyday substances are overlooked as they are less known as addictions but ones that can certainly affect a person’s mood or behavior with overuse as well as withdrawal.

Treatment is available for mental health issues. When a mental health issue occurs, it is not your fault. The body responds to life’s challenges. Just as your body responded to your spinal cord injury with physical changes, your body also responds mentally. Support of family and friends is extremely helpful but talking with a professional can be a great benefit as they can help you decide how to proceed with treatment.

When you visit your healthcare provider, if you think you may have an issue or not, ask for a quick mental checkup. This can be done right in your provider’s office. There is a series of questions they can ask you to make an overall assessment. It takes about 10 minutes. If there are any alerts that come up in the screening, you can be referred for further diagnosis. Most mental health issues can be treated with medication and counseling (talking with a mental healthcare professional.) Usually, there are not any medical tests or treatments that are invasive or poking and prodding of your body.

Participate in your treatment. Be as honest as possible in reporting your symptoms. Don’t just say what you think the mental health professional wants to hear or think of treatment as depicted on TV. This is usually far from reality for dramatic effect. If you are uncomfortable with a treatment, say so. Ask how long the treatment will last. There might not be a specific answer, but a general timeframe might be provided.

Discuss medications openly. Ask about interactions with your current medications and specify over the counter or other medications you take. Some medications have side effects that you may not tolerate. If so, other medication can be used. Ask when the medication will take effect. Some medicines have to build up in your body to achieve full benefit. It could be as long as six weeks to see an effect. Know that information so you do not become frustrated if you have not seen a change in two weeks.

Counseling can take a bit longer to see results than medication. It may be prescribed in addition to medication therapy or it might be the necessary treatment without medication. Be as open and honest as you can. You might think one way at one session but another way at the next. This is absolutely ok. In fact, it might show progress in your thinking.

Support groups can be an effective method to deal with life’s challenges. If you and your healthcare provider decide this is the treatment for you, find one that is run by a person with an education in group work or one that is authorized by an organization that is monitoring the group. There are many self-built support groups, some are effective, and some can be detrimental. The detrimental support groups are typically founded on false assumptions about mental healthcare.

Be sure to track your progress. Take stock of your mental health last week, last month or even last year. Sometimes people just look at the day and don’t realize the progress made. Finding a balance in your mental health can take time but it should not take forever. If you cannot see progress, ask your confidants if they see changes. Often, individuals are too close to see their own progress. Be sure your mental health professional is discussing your progress as well. You want to be on the right track. If you do not feel you are progressing, it is time for an open discussion about how to ramp up progress.

Just don’t be closed to the idea of treatments. As with all healthcare, ask for the benefits for your condition and the risks to your general health. This is your life, so you want to be in command of it. Coping strategies will also be provided if you should face a challenge in the future.

If you need help, talk with your healthcare provider. If you have an urgent need or cannot reach your own provider, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained crisis workers are available to talk with you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Veterans can call the same number for the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, option 1.

If you think someone is in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone -- stay with them and call 911.

Pediatric Consideration: In children, you might see signs of mental health issues manifest in different ways because their situation is different than adults. Children might begin to do poorly at school, have behavior outbursts, become defiant or belligerent. They may start skipping school or develop projected illnesses to avoid some activities. They may have intense fears and might talk about death and dying. Changes in eating, sleeping and activities may be expressed as with adults. Children might have difficulty in identifying the problem either because they do not have the experience or are intimidated about telling. Enlist the help of your healthcare professional to identify the problem.

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The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.