“Looney bin.” “Insane asylum.” “He/she has a screw loose.” “It’s all in your head.” “Worry wart.” “Nervous Nelly.” These are some common terms and phrases I’ve heard used to describe a mental health institute or someone dealing with a mental health struggle. They don’t sound particularly positive, do they? They infer that the place where one may receive treatment is for someone who is crazy or that a person struggling with anxiety has a personality that is defined as such. During the Corona Virus outbreak, I’ve even seen a “You are in a Mental Hospital. Pick Your Crew to be With You” where Facebook selects friends to fill in areas such as “Licks the Window” and “Kicks the Nurses” and I cringed. I’ve also heard people say that it is a choice to be depressed. Let me tell you-if I could choose, I would never put myself through that turmoil-ever.
Let’s break down a few contributing factors to one’s mental health. I am not a professional by any means, so you can take what I say with a grain of salt, but I’ve been around the block a few times in my personal experiences. My mom shared with me that she read a book in which the author stated that the brain is an organ in your body and should be treated as such. If I may interject-one of the most important organs, don’t you think? Just as one would get Dialysis to aid the kidneys if needed, one would logically take medication if needed to aid the brain in treating things like depression, anxiety, or mood stabilization. This is my personal opinion, as I have been greatly helped by taking medication.
In the brain, there are neurotransmitters, which are chemicals responsible for carrying signals to other cells. Neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating things like heart rate, breathing, sleep cycles, digestion, mood, concentration, appetite, and muscle movement. Epinephrine, Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and Serotonin are three types of neurotransmitters that can play a role in things like anxiety, depression, and mood regulation (medicalnewstoday.com). When these neurotransmitters become unbalanced, often due to prolonged stress, a mental health struggle can be the result. Things like depression can also be hereditary.
When I consider the above, this makes sense because when I have struggled with depression or anxiety, I have experienced a racing heart beat, shallow breath, disrupted sleep, poor digestion, unbalanced mood, poor concentration, and poor appetite. I am almost always triggered by prolonged stress and depression runs in both sides of my family. One other interesting thing to note is that the effects of chemotherapy on the brain have not been studied. I experienced severe depression for the first time after my third round of chemo. It’s liquid poison entering one’s body, so there’s that.
Anyway, the two points I want to get across in this post are:
1. Mental health struggles are more common than you may realize.
2. Let’s not make it hard for people to admit they need help and to seek it.
Just to break it down and to show how common mental health struggles are, I found a current statistic from Medical News Today (last reviewed January 11, 2020) that states, ‘“Anxiety disorders affect 40 million people in the United States. It is the most common group of mental illnesses in the country. However, only 36.9 percent of people with an anxiety disorder receive treatment.”’ This means that less than half of people who need help are getting it! I was also told by my psychology professor at Iowa State that depression is among the most common mental health struggles and one of the most treatable.
So this leads us to question, why aren’t people seeking treatment? Could it be that they are afraid to be labeled? Could it be that they feel ashamed to ask for help? I think it could be.
It’s sad to note that suicide is this nation’s 10th leading cause of death and ‘while thousands of people die by suicide each year, millions think about it. In 2017, 10.6 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted it, according to the CDC’ (usatoday.com).
What if some of these people could have been helped simply by making a doctor’s appointment and taking medication? I can say that as a result of my bipolar diagnosis, I have been at very low points where everything in my life looked grim and I didn’t think I was ever going to return to a state of normalcy again. I can also say that with the help of a little pill, the chemical imbalance in my brain has been realigned and my entire outlook has changed on more than one occasion.
I don’t want to discount my faith and say that I owe everything to medication, because God has definitely orchestrated how I have received help in my time of need, but I am saying that people should not overlook or discount its benefits. God most definitely can work through doctors to help heal us. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of courage.
While I have not personally felt anxious during this pandemic, I know that many are and the barrage of news doesn’t always help. My advice would be to limit your news intake to every few days and to be in prayer if you do experience anxiety. I will leave you with two of my favorite verses on this topic:
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
1 Peter 5:7
Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.