Happy May! This is always an exciting month as the weather begins to change, kids are almost done with school, and summer is so close we can taste it!
May not only holds excitement and anticipation for the summer season, it also create spaces to have and encourage conversations around mental health. May is Mental Health Awareness month; this month, I’m stepping away from grief specific content and addressing more universal mental health concepts; such as warning signs of mental illness.
Mental Health Warning Signs
Many people will question “What should we look for to determine when mental illness is present?” or (more frequently asked) “How can you tell when someone is struggling?” While there are many challenges that can impact us mentally, I’m going to cover the two mental illnesses most commonly battled.
***The symptoms highlighted below are not intended to be utilized for diagnostic purposes. If you or someone you know is experiencing these (or additional symptoms), please seek professional assistance from a licensed (LMFT, LPCC, LPC, LICSW, etc.) clinician to obtain proper treatment.
Depression impacts 19.86% (which is approximately 50 million) of US adults and 15.08% of US children and the number is said to be "growing". So, it’s worth increasing awareness around its warning signs/symptoms. The most common symptoms are as follows:
Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
Fatigue and lack of energy
Lack of concentration
Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide
***An important note about suicide: if you, or someone you know, has a specific plan to attempt suicide (or in the event in which an attempt was made) please go to the nearest hospital immediately for proper medical attention and psychological assessment. If you, or someone you know, are struggling with suicidal thoughts/ideation please utilize the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (800-273-8255) for support and seek professional psychological help.
Similar to depression, anxiety effects about 40 million adults (18.1%) per year. While highly treatable, only 36.9% of the individuals battling the disorder seek and receive treatment. Working towards decreasing that number starts with knowledge on what to look for and where to find treatment. The most common symptoms are as follows:
Excessive anxiety and worry (no specific threat present; worry is disproportionate to actual risk) more often than not
Inability to control worry
Fatigued or quickly tired
Lack of concentration or feelings of mind going blank
Increased muscle aches or soreness
Clinical Diagnosis vs. Periodic Experiences
With both depression and anxiety, we all can have moments of experiencing the symptoms listed above. However, that does’t necessarily mean we are experiencing clinical depression or anxiety. In order to receive a clinical diagnosis (for any mental health disorder), the symptoms must “cause the individual clinically significant distress in social, occupational, and other important areas of life”. In other words, the symptoms must interfere with/impact your daily functioning. If you believe you, or someone you know, are experiencing these symptoms to this degree please contact a licensed professional to complete a proper assessment.
Mental Health Conversations
When it comes to talking about mental health, I believe there are two obstacles:
Individuals experiencing shame when diagnosed with a mental health disorder, resulting in them not wanting to talk about it or
Family members and friends of an individual displaying symptoms uncertain of how to ask or talk about their concerns.
While the world as a whole is getting better at removing the stigma around mental health, it is still present; requiring us to have the proper tools to continue challenging the stigma and normalizing mental illness.
Individual With Diagnosis
For those of you who have been living with a mental health diagnosis for awhile, just recently received a diagnosis, or are curious if you might fit the criteria for a diagnosis, below are a few tools to assist you in talking about and removing the shame from the diagnosis:
Identify a safe support system: establishing a safe support system allows you to process your experiences in a non-judgmental space while feeling heard and validated
Validate: give yourself validation and surround yourself with external sources that validate your experiences; these experiences will help normalize your interactions with mental illness
Set boundaries around how people talk to you and about the mental health diagnosis
Family Member and Friends
If you are a family member or friend of an individual living with a mental health diagnosis, the best thing you can do to eliminate shame and help remove the stigma is create a space to talk about mental health and illness (for tips on how to talk about grief specifically, read my previous blog Supporting Those Who Are Grieving). You’re taking the first step in beginning to create and establish that space by seeking out the proper tools:
Avoid minimizing the individual’s experience
Be curious: avoid describing the individual’s experience with the diagnosis for them; rather become curious about how they experience the symptoms and their manifestations
Ask about their triggers and what can be put in place to help eliminate triggers (if applicable)
Ask about what helps reduce symptoms
Ask what they need/how you can support
Coping With Mental Health
There are many different ways one may choose to cope with depression, anxiety, stress, or any other mental health diagnosis. Of course, we always encourage whatever outlet of coping is chosen that it is healthy and doesn’t cause more harm than good. A few examples are as follows:
Mindfulness and grounding techniques (Clam and Headspace are two of the most commonly used apps to guide you through various mindfulness and grounding exercises)
Utilize your safe support system
Seeking Professional Help
If you’ve reached the end of this article and are currently thinking, “this information and these tips are great, but I want more” than KEEP READING! Living with a mental health diagnosis can feel very isolating at times. You don’t have to walk this journey alone! Below is a list of professional resources to get you started:
Therapy Search Engines: finding the right therapist can be hard; especially when you’re unsure of where to start searching. Below are some of the most common therapist directories:
Therapy For Black Girls
Holistic Services I’m a strong believer in treating both the mind and body when it comes to our well-being. It is not uncommon for individuals living with a mental health disorder (such as depression and anxiety) to be impacted physically as well. A great way to address and improve these physical manifestations is through holistic services such as (to learn more about these specific services view my New Year, New You! Grief Resources to Help You Thrive In Honoring Your Grief Journey! blog article):
Healing Touch Therapy
***It is always advised to seek medical advice with any sort of abnormal or persistent physical symptom to avoid any medical condition going undiagnosed.
Whether your mental health experiences are healthy, mild, moderate, or severe you all deserve to talk about it! I invite you to play an active part in continuing to remove the stigma of and normalize mental illness. Let’s keep talking!
If you’re curious about beginning your therapy journey, click below for a FREE 20-30 minute consultation with me to explore what your process working with me could look like.
If you’re curious about therapy, curious about myself and my practice, but aren’t quite sure about moving forward yet, click here to learn more.
Here’s to living a better live as your best self.
Brittany Squillace, MA, LMFT