5 things to know about mental health – Dr. Bitner
At true. Women’s Health, our goal is for every woman to live her “truth.” My patients often ask me what I mean by the word “truth,” and I tell them it means living your true self and being the best you can be. As we strive to live our truth, we must look at both our physical and mental health.
We talk about our physical health all the time, but it seems that discussions about mental health get put on the back burner. Unfortunately, we can’t live our life to the fullest if we don’t take care of our mental health and learn how to cope with situations as they arise. That’s why it’s important to bring the conversation to the forefront and help change the way we think about our mental health. We all deserve to live our best life, and increased awareness can lead to greater understanding, support and treatment.
Vonnie Woodrick & i understand
I asked Vonnie Woodrick to partner with me on this blog, so my readers could learn from her wisdom and experience. Vonnie is a life coach, and she has professional and personal experience in dealing with mental illness. She started an organization called “i understand” and wrote a book entitled “i understand: pain, love and healing after suicide” to help change the conversation from suicide to that of mental illness. “i understand” is helping people talk about illness and pain to create a better tomorrow.
Vonnie has a very personal reason for caring about mental illness—she lost her husband to the disease 17 years ago. She understands the need to talk about mental illness and take away the shame that is so often associated with it. As a result of her experience, Vonnie has so much useful information to share. She agrees about the importance of treating a person’s whole health—both physical and mental.
When Vonnie lost her husband, she felt very lonely and didn’t know where to turn for help. She found that once she started sharing her story, she didn’t feel so alone because so many others had similar stories. Vonnie also realized that people wanted to hear what she had to say, and that’s when she decided to write her book. Vonnie mentioned one of the most important things is the need to change the conversation around suicide and create a “judgment-free community.”
Where do we start?
So, how can we do this? How can we change the conversation about mental health and start accepting everyone for who they are? It starts with changing the definition of suicide. Here’s how Vonnie describes it on her “i understand” website:
i understand Definition
- A terminal side effect of mental illness.
- The result of wanting one’s physical or emotional pain to end.
6 tips for changing the conversation
Vonnie also had some other suggestions on changing the conversation, offering advice to someone suffering from mental health, or helping someone who has lost a loved one to depression. Here are a few tips that could make a difference:
- Talk about the illness (depression/anxiety) instead of the act (suicide).
- Say, “He died of depression,” instead of “He killed himself.”
- It’s okay to ask, “Are you okay? Are you suicidal?” It doesn’t mean you are putting those thoughts into his head.
- Tell the person he is not a burden to his family—emphasize that your life would be less of a burden with him in it than without him.
- Write in a journal daily—it can really help! It’s also a great way to see how far you have come by looking back through your notes.
- Learn how to cope well during stressful times by believing that you deserve to be happy, keeping a support network around you, and asking for help when you need it!
5 tips to know about mental health
I always like to end my blogs with five important tips, so Vonnie and I collaborated to bring you the following five tips to know about mental health:
- Know that hormones (thyroid, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) and brain chemicals have a close relationship. A drop in estrogen can occur right before your period, during perimenopause or menopause, or during the postpartum depression, causing you to use your brain chemicals (serotonin) more quickly. It’s important to be aware of this relationship and understand why you may be experiencing mood changes.
- Danger signs for mental health: Withdrawing, not doing things you normally like to do, being irritable, falling behind at work, school, etc. If you feel like these things are happening to you, talk to someone! It’s important to recognize the signs that you may be struggling to catch before it progresses. You have to advocate for yourself and take care of YOU!
- Mental health is just like physical health. Our mental health affects our physical health, and there are illnesses with specific causes and treatments. There is no longer a place for shame with mental illness, just like a broken leg or diabetes.
- Change the conversation about mental health. We can do this by taking words like kill, commit, insane, crazy, and mental institution out of our discussions of mental health. It’s time to talk about the “illness” (mental health) rather than the “act” (suicide).
- Care for your mental health. You can do this by prioritizing sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising, and believing you deserve to be happy—because you do! All of these things are vital to your mental health, and they are all part of the SEEDS®. For more information on SEEDS®, check out our website, where you can download a free SEEDS® e-book.
5 questions to ask your healthcare provider
And, finally, please take the following five questions about mental health with you to your next appointment with your healthcare provider:
- What in my personal medical history could predict future mental health concerns? It’s important to get the conversation going with your physician, especially if you are having mental health issues. Be honest about how you’re feeling!
- How does my family history impact my present and future mental health? Family history is one of the most important topics you should discuss with your primary care physician. Be sure to bring it up if your doc doesn’t!
- Where am I lacking in personal care for mental health? Ask your physician what you can do to support yourself better with mental health issues. Make sure you are doing everything you can to stay healthy mentally—find something that works for YOU!
- If I am noticing more anxiety, depression, or any danger signs, what do I do? Ask questions like, “How can I reach you or your team if I have concerns? What is the support you offer me?” Don’t be ashamed to talk about your anxiety and depression.
- What will you do to help me as my healthcare provider? Your physician is there to help you, but you have to advocate for yourself and ask for help. Many techniques may help you feel better, but you still have to put in the work.
Depression is an illness, and it is treatable! You don’t need to suffer in silence or feel ashamed if you are feeling depressed. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide or needing some emotional support, please call the Lifeline Network (24/7) at 800.273.TALK.