Exercising and eating nutritious food are keys to staying healthy, but an oft-overlooked factor is just as important — taking care of your mental health.
In fact, 40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder, and more than 16 million suffer from depression, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Despite these disorders affecting so many, it’s easy to miss the signs.
“We have this stereotype of what anxiety and depression is,” says Daniel Champer, clinical director at Intermountain, a Montana mental health services provider. “Our stereotype of an anxious person is Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, and a depressed person is Eeyore. But that really isn’t the case.”
Depression and anxiety are different, but people often suffer from both, so learning the signs is an important part of getting help.
“You’re looking for a deviation from usual behavior,” Champer says.
If you notice these behaviors in yourself or others, including children, they could be signs of depression:
· Pulling away from family and friends or reaching out less often
· Feeling less enthusiasm for normal activities or lower reward for loved activities
· Having decreased energy
· Avoiding or making excuses
As for anxiety, these are signs to look for:
· Being hyper-aware of worries
· Dedicating more time and energy than usual to a topic
· Feeling energetic or hyper, having an elevated heart rate or temperature, or moving rapidly or repetitively
Most people experience some level of depressed mood and anxiety every day, Champer says.
“Without (those two emotions), we aren’t motivated to do anything,” he says. “We assume people who are healthy never feel these things, but that is wrong. Those who are healthy have a way to cope with that feeling when it happens.”
For people who need additional support, healing is a process, not a quick fix.
“People might see anxiety and depression like something which can be medically fixed – like a broken leg for instance,” says Janna Williams, Intermountain Communications & Marketing Director. “They want to know how to fix it. But it doesn’t work that way in the realm of mental health. Our brains aren’t bones or muscles or ligaments, they heal differently.”
When your loved ones are dealing with anxiety and depression, Williams and Champer recommend simply being with them, rather than trying to fix them. That sincere affection may motivate them to work through emotions with you.
You could try sharing undistracted time, when you both talk about anything, not only what’s bothering them. Just talking can be therapeutic.
“We don’t naturally verbalize feelings as humans; we feel feelings,” Champer says. “We have to be aware of what we are experiencing. Be aware of when you are feeling the feeling that you’re feeling.”
Many people find that speaking with a mental health provider helps regulate their emotions. Champer recommends interviewing therapists to find one that fits your or your loved one’s style and personality, as different providers use different clinical approaches.
For example, Intermountain uses a relational model that relies on helping people through strong connections.
“What we’re looking at is the heart of the matter,” Champer says. “You’re seeking out help because something isn’t right in your life. We look at why it isn’t right and work out a plan together.”
Everyone needs help at times, so keep talking to the people you love, and connect with mental health resources that will support each individual. For more information on resources that can help you and your family, visit Intermountain.org or call (406)442-7920.