Mental Health for Each of Us

We appreciate the time taken by Joann Weston, MA, LPC, a licensed professional counselor at Eaglecrest Counseling Center in Springfield, Missouri, to help us begin a conversation about mental health, as well as offer ideas on how we can support, love and encourage those who have been diagnosed with depression.

We hear about “mental health” often. Will you please help us better understand what it means? 

“Mental health” does not mean “mental illness.”

Mental health encompasses our psychological, emotional, and social being. It plays a significant role in how we think, what we feel, and how we act and make decisions. Mental health is also an important part of overall health and well-being.

Often times, when mental health is discussed, there is a misconception it is all together separate from physical health. It is as if mental health has nothing to do with an individual’s body. However, nothing could be further from the truth. 

Humans are multidimensional beings: mind, body, emotion,and spirit. These dimensions do not exist in a vacuum. They are inseparable and are a gestalt, an organized whole that is more than the sum of its parts. What impacts one dimension most assuredly impacts all dimensions. 

For example, when people experience depression for prolonged periods of time, they will often experience somatic (body) pain. When people suffer with chronic physical pain, they will often experience significant depression. As a result, their overall health and well-being and quality of life becomes poor, which exacerbates the depression-pain, pain-depression cycle.

It can be scary when a friend or loved one is diagnosed with depression. What are some ways in which we can support, love and encourage those we care about? 

Unfortunately, there has been, and continues to be a stigma associated with mental health and mental illness. Oftentimes, the stigma prevents people from seeking help, which results in more suffering for those afflicted. We must recognize a diagnosis of depression is not an identity. Depression is an illness like diabetes and can be managed with medication, therapy, and lifestye changes.

Individuals who struggle with a diagnosis of depression can be supported and encouraged in many ways and are not limited to the following examples.

• Talk to them. Let them know you are there for them and that you care. Share your concerns and ask specific and open-ended questions without being pushy or judgmental.

“You seem a little down. What’s on your mind?”

• Validate their thoughts and feelings.

“That’s really hard. I’m so sorry you are going through that.”

• Help them find support

Sometimes, people are not aware they are suffering with depression, or they may be afraid or unsure of how to ask for help. Ask them if they would be interested in counseling.

Encourage them to make a list of questions and concerns to help them select a therapist who is right for them

Encourage them to continue therapy.

• Depression drains energy and on bad days they may feel so bad they want self-isolate and not leave their home. 

Encourage them to keep their therapy appointment. 

Offer to drive them to their appointments.

• Set healthy boundaries.

Let them know you when are available to talk (after work, school, meetings).

If they have concerns about contacting you, help them develop a contingency plan. Help them locate a crisis phone number.

• Practice self-care.

Sometimes, spending extended time with a loved one who suffers with depression can take a mental and emotional toll. Make sure you make time to rest, restore, and recharge yourself.

• Offer loose invitations.

People who feel depressed often decline invitations or cancel plans, which can result in guilt. A pattern of canceled plans can lead to fewer offers and cause more self-isolation.

You can encourage them by continuing to invite them to outings and activities.

• Learn more about mental health and depression on your own.

Ask them about their particular diagnoses and the symptoms they experience.

Research symptoms, causes, treatments.

• Be patient.

A diagnosis of any type can be life changing, and there is no quick-fix treatment. Therapy and medication will take time and does help. People with any type of illness will have good days and bad days. Try not to become impatient or frustrated with them.

Some people may be more apt to care about mental health for others rather than themselves. Why is it important for me to consider my own mental health, and what are some ideas to make sure it is healthy?

Mental health is important to everyone. Poor mental health will result in poor physical health. Caring for our mental health is only part of living a healthy life. It includes self-care for all dimensions of the personhood, mind, body, emotion and spirit. Proper nutrition and hydration, exercise, quality sleep, times of solitude, maintaining a good work-life balance, active participation in faith beliefs, developing and maintaining healthy relationships, good social interactions and activities, setting healthy boundaries, developing encouraging support systems, learning new things, education, laughing often, leisure time, volunteering and serving others, and seeking care when distressing symptoms develop are ways to have good mental, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual health and well-being and the best quality of life possible.

Is there anything specific you want to say about anxiety, depression or mental health? 

Everyone experiences anxiety and depression at some point in life.

However, anxiety and depression do not necessarily mean a person who experiences these conditions has mental illness. There are events in life which will naturally provoke emotional and mental distress. Any type of change can cause an increase in anxiety and depression for anyone. Moving, financial issues, loss of a job or career, lost relationships, a major injury or health problem, death, graduating high school or college are examples of situations that typically provoke an increase in anxiety (stress) and depression that would not automatically be diagnosed as mental illness. 

However, if the distressing symptoms become overwhelming or debilitating and last significant periods of time, they would be considered a disorder or illness. Such can be professionally managed with therapy and medication.

There is good anxiety and bad anxiety.

When a person experiences imminent danger, an emotional structure of the brain determines there is a life-threatening situation that sets in motion the survival mechanism known as the Fight/Flight/Freeze Response. This response shuts off the logical, thinking brain and triggers the release of hormones into the blood stream to provide energy for a person to fight off an attack, run to a safe place, or a person could freeze and become unable to move, as if they are paralyzed in a sense. 

Three of the hormones released into the bloodstream for energy are: adrenaline, glucose and cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

As soon as a person gets to a safe place and the danger is over, the survival mechanism automatically shuts off and stops producing the hormones needed for energy.

In a situation where there is a life-threatening emergency, the Fight/Flight/Freeze Response is acute, short-acting and functions as designed to keep a person alive. 

However, when a person remains in a state of overwhelming anxiety for an extended period of time, it becomes chronic anxiety and often causes depression. Chronic anxiety and depression significantly impact, and potentially impairs the physical body. 

When a person has experienced overwhelming anxiety for weeks, months, or years, energy hormones can become destructive and toxic to the body. As long as the brain senses danger, even when there is no danger present, adrenaline, glucose and cortisol continue pumping into the blood stream. The anxiety response begins in the brain and communicates with the rest of the body through the spinal cord. The spinal cord is comprised of multitudinous number of nerves. Nerves carry messages to the rest of the body. When anxiety becomes overwhelming and chronic, the constant presence of the hormones and hyper stimulation of the nerves can result in serious health problems. A great deal of research has linked destructive, chronic anxiety to many health problems and disease, such as, high blood pressure, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcers, hypoglycemia, diabetes, hair loss, unexplained rashes, insomnia, migraine headaches, muscle spasms, auto-immune diseases (Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Thyroid disease, among others), and various types of cancers.

Mental health must not be thought of as separate from physical health. To do so is at minimum, a disservice to society as a whole and devastating to individuals specifically. 

Everyone needs help navigating life sometimes. Mental health therapy helps people find their way through difficult, stressful experiences in life, as well as helping individuals manage serious mental illness. Everyone can benefit from mental health therapy.

AND ONE MORE: Counseling is often covered by insurance. However, some people do not have that option. Are there low-income options? Or, how do those with no income or low income receive help?

Counseling services are often covered by insurance and most employers offer insurance benefits. More and more, employers also offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). The EAPs often cover counseling services, which are separate benefits from insurance coverage. EAP services are at no cost to employees. They typically cover six therapy sessions for any one mental health or life issue, annually. However, some EAPs will cover more than one issue per year. For example, Jane Doe could receive six therapy sessions at no charge to help her with anxiety. If she were suffering with another issue, say depression, grief, or marital problems, she could request another six sessions for these or other issues within the same benefit year, again at no charge.

There are other options for financial assistance that cover therapy services. Many private professional counseling offices and community agencies have a sliding fee schedule, which are based on income.

For individuals who may be underemployed or unemployed, there are community counseling agencies that will help individuals file for Medicaid benefits and provide therapeutic services.

There are also some private organizations that provide financial gifts for professional therapy on a case by case basis. Additionally, there are numerous nonprofit groups with nonprofessional support that can help with specific issues.

For example, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is a national grassroots mental health organization dedicated to providing services to anyone suffering with mental illness. Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death (M.E.N.D.), is a nonprofessional, faith-based support group that provides help and healing for families who have suffered the loss of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death at no charge. Another nonprofessional, nonprofit organization, Celebrate Recovery, is a 12-step, faith-based program that helps individuals heal from a variety of life problems. There are many more such organizations within the Greene County area.

Please know, the information provided above is not an exhaustive list.

Joann Weston, MA, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor with Eaglecrest Counseling Center in Springfield, Missouri. Her specialty is cognitive behavior therapy. She works with adults 20 years old and older who struggle with life stress and others with more serious mental health problems. 


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