Summer is upon us, school is out and Ohioans are enjoying fabulous weather, the bounty of farmers’ markets and the joy of outdoor activities. Yet for some, all of the fresh air and fun in the world won’t bring a smile to their faces. If you haven’t felt the depths of depression or the weight of anxiety yourself, you may struggle to understand the impact that mental health issues can have on how a person feels.
At Mental Health First Aid trainings, I help people recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and how to react when someone reveals them. Many of the symptoms are physical – someone who is depressed may feel sluggish, exhausted, sick to their stomach or achy. This sounds a bit like the flu, doesn’t it? A person experiencing anxiety might have chest pain, the shakes or shortness of breath, all symptoms which could easily be mistaken for a heart attack.
How can you help someone exhibiting signs and symptoms like these? If flu-like symptoms last for two weeks or more, it’s time for the person to see a doctor. If it’s the flu, the physician will probably prescribe rest, fluids and medicine. If it’s depression, most doctors will pick up on the difference and be able to provide appropriate treatment and referrals to mental health professionals as well as suggestions for self-help including support groups and good self-care. In the case of a possible heart attack, don’t hesitate to call 911. If the person has never had an anxiety attack before, don’t take any chances. If there is a history of anxiety attacks, then stay calm, encourage slow and steady breathing, and be a reassuring presence to the person until the symptoms abate, normally within ten minutes.
Be alert to behavior that is different from what you’re used to in family members, friends and co-workers. If someone stops taking part in normal activities, wants to sleep all the time, stops taking pride in their appearance or starts showing up late to work or school, take the time to ask if everything is ok. Be persistent and if you’re not comfortable asking, tell someone else about your concerns. Our county’s 211 Crisis Hotline and Information Center is a rich resource that is available 24/7. Call 211 on speaker phone with the person you’re concerned for and explain the situation to a specialist who will suggest some options.
Above all, if there is someone you have a gut feeling about who isn’t behaving as expected, trust your instincts. Don’t take comments that someone makes about feeling worthless or helpless lightly. Reach out to let that person know what you’ve noticed and that you care and are concerned. Help is available and there is no reason for someone to be alone with mental health struggles. Letting someone know you are there for them could be all they need to get the appropriate help.
Mental Health America of Licking County is here to help if you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues. Give us a call at 740-522-1341 or take an online mental health screening at www.mhalc.org. Remember, one in four adults in the United States will have mental health concerns this year. Help is available and there’s no reason to be embarrassed or afraid to ask for it.
Penny Sitler is Executive Director of Mental Health America of Licking County.
Found in The Newark Advocate June 4th, 2016