Monitoring Mental Health
Author: Lauren Hunsberger | Posted In: Live | June 2020
Two local experts share their tips for addressing emotional well-being. Learn how to recognize and ease anxiety and depression in yourself and others.
The topic of mental health was on the rise long before the challenges of 2020 set in. But now, more than ever, it’s a concern for everyone. Over the years, at Reflections we gleaned a ton of useful information directly from the doctors and counselors that make up our community. So, we compiled a guide drawing from our bank of experts. If you feel like you need help or tips on how to talk to friends and family members who might be suffering, please read on.
The Expert: Dr. Alexander Cohen, a sport psychologist with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and the United States Olympic Committee
The Issue: How to recognize a mental health concern in yourself or others and start a conversation about it
The Audience: Cohen specializes in treating depression and anxiety in men and athletes; however, his sage advice can apply to nearly everyone.
In his own experience, Cohen says the number one barrier in addressing mental health is a hesitancy to ask for help. “There’s often an emphasis on mental toughness, and in general we are taught to suffer in silence,” Cohen says. “In our culture, there are a lot of barriers in asking for help.”
Cohen says those barriers can include a lack of knowledge in regard to accessing resources or a general confusion about what terms like “counseling” mean. But oftentimes the resistance comes more from embarrassment or perceiving mental illness as a weakness.
“It’s just important to have conversations that matter. Call it coaching instead of counseling if you have to,” he says. “We just have to normalize the experience. It’s our responsibility to create a culture where mental issues are talked about as readily as physical injuries.”
“There’s also this ‘should be’ mentality. I ‘should be’ able to handle it. I ‘should be’ tougher than that,” Cohen explains. “I try to show athletes that addressing it is really just another way to build strength. The goal is to help athletes overcome mental illness much in the same way they recover from a physical injury. It should be no different.”
How to Spot Mental Health Issues
Look at patterns of thought and behaviors. Typical symptoms can include:
- A change in eating or sleeping habits
- Withdrawn behavior or isolation
- Excessive irritability, fear or worry
- Self-harm or self-destructive habits
- Talk of death or dying
How to Address Concern
If someone talks to you that means there is a level of trust. It’s important to respect that when having conversations about mental health.
- Try and make them feel safe.
- Validate their response from a place of compassion and care.
- Just listen; you don’t need to solve or fix the problem.
- If you’re the one approaching them, give examples. For instance: “You haven’t been eating or sleeping the same.”
- Provide resources or information if you can.
- If they reject help, don’t take it personally.
- Ask questions about their personal safety. If they say anything about harming themselves, seek emergency help right away.
The Expert: Dr. Mehri Moore, founder of THIRA Health
The Issue: How to ease severe anxiety and depression
The Audience: Moore specializes in depression, anxiety among women with disordered eating. But, her basic principles and practices are accessible to anyone.
To address anxiety and depression, Dr. Moore suggests focusing on three pillars. The first is nutrition. While food might seem like trivial thing to focus on during stressful times, it’s not at all. There is a direct connection between mood, health and nutrition. If you’re lacking in energy, start by feeding your body properly. Limit sugar, alcohol and processed foods when possible and fill up on whole foods instead.
The second pillar is community engagement. This seems like an extremely difficult task during a time when we are limiting social engagements in an unprecedented way. But, thanks to technology, there are still myriad ways of connecting with your people. You’re probably sick and tired of zoom calls and text messages, but try not to ignore those who reach out and don’t hesitate to check in on those most vulnerable—all parties will leave the interaction better off.
The third pillar is a practice derived from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). “DBT is a form of behavioral therapy that is combined with elements of eastern Zen philosophy. It’s dialectical because these two elements of change and acceptance are at play simultaneously,” she says. “It’s an evidence-based form of therapy, and it’s been very effective for people with mood dysregulation.”
While DBT is most effective under the guidance of a professional, there are elements you can use right from your living room. The practice involves mindfulness and encourages people to express themselves using different mediums—such as art therapy and other nonverbal modalities.
“Art gives people a meditative space to focus on being present and using feelings and emotions to express intimate and personal experiences, whether it’s trauma-based or shame or guilt,” Moore says. The fine arts are one way to do this, but she also advocates the use of drama, music and movement to aid in healing. “Having all the senses participate in is just as important as changing behavior and cognition.”
If you or a loved is suffering, reach out to these resources. All of them are available online from the safety of your home and range in specialties: