Mental Illness Awareness: What Does it Mean For You?
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has designated October 2-8th this year as Mental Illness Awareness Week. In addition, October 6th is National Depression Screening Day. The purpose of such awareness campaigns is to educate the public about support, outreach, and advocacy for those with mental illness as well as for the individual’s family and loved ones. In order to see what activities or events are being promoted for this week please refer to the NAMI website and the Screening for Mental Health link. In addition to these broad based approaches to promote awareness it is also important to embrace awareness and mindfulness of your mental illness or mood disorder within your personal life. In this post I am going to narrow the topic of mental illness awareness as to what it means for you as an individual.
I am going to be honest with you all. I am not very fond of these “awareness” days, weeks, and months because I always feel like it is not enough. People who have a mental illness or mood disorder are not just dealing with it for a single week or month. Many of us have been battling depression or other disorders for years. For those of us who suffer from depression it is like “Tell me something I don’t know.” Yes we are aware. But is this always true? Despite the fact that we may be diagnosed with depression, are we always cognizant of those early warning signs that the depression may be coming back? Despite all my years of therapy and my clinical knowledge of depression and mental illness, I have had times where I am seemingly immune to recognizing the signs of my own depression. It is called denial.
I recall a very difficult episode of depression in my early twenties when it took a friend to tell me that I was depressed. “You have such a flat affect, “my friend bluntly told me. “Are you sleeping-you look tired.” And then, “Are you eating? You look like you have lost weight.” I was going through the motions of trying to be “normal” and I thought I was passing the appearance test. Yet I was nowhere close to fooling my friend. When I came to work one day and broke down crying he called a local therapist, handed me the phone and said, “You are going to therapy.” I had to have someone tell me that I was depressed.
Many of us have a built in resistance when it comes to acknowledging that we may be veering towards depression. I sometimes think, “Oh I can handle this.” Or “I don’t want to bother anyone with my troubles.” We may label our feelings as inconvenient or burdensome. We may be reluctant to reach out for help for fear of rejection or that we will be dismissed and told to “buck up” or “Snap out of it.” I have felt this way many times. In the end I pay a heavy price for ignoring my early warning signs and symptoms by sinking even deeper into my emotional well. I can tell you from experience that mindfulness (knowing your personal signs of depression) can avert a serious depressive episode. If you have any type of illness whether it is diabetes or depression, it is critical that you are aware of any symptoms indicating that your illness is getting worse. The time to act is early on when things are more manageable.
We all like to think of ourselves as independent. But the truth is that we are inter-dependent. We do need others. We do need support. If you are experiencing signs of depression I am advocating that you reach out and get the help you need. You win no awards for being a martyr who suffers in silence.
There is much information about the signs and symptoms of depression and I am going to be sharing links to articles on this topic at the end of this post. But the thing is everyone is unique in how they experience depression. For one person an early warning sign can be eating too much and for another, they may have no appetite for food. Some people sleep excessively when depressed and some suffer from chronic insomnia. There are as many variations of depression as there are individuals. One way to assess your depression symptoms is to track them. You don’t need to be obsessive about it. There are very simple ways to have a concrete record of your mood. Health Central offers Mood 24/7, which is a free text messaging service that you can use to track your mood and share the results with your doctor (if you wish). There are also plenty of mental wellness apps out there for your iPod, iPad, or mobile phone to assist you in keeping notes about your mood and depression symptoms. A simple written diary or notes on a calendar can work as well.
In honor of mental illness awareness week I am asking if you would share your depression symptoms with us.
What are your personal early warning signs and symptoms that you may be depressed?
For more information about depression symptoms, awareness, and mindfulness please refer to the following Health Central posts and resources: