Coping with mental health difficulties looks entirely different from person to person. That being said, mental health is important to everyone’s overall well-being. Everyone will experience difficulties with their mental health at some point in their lives. However, it is important to recognize when these difficulties become a constant that causes issues throughout various settings of your life.
Once you begin to notice these changes in emotion, thinking, and/or behavior, it may be something more serious that needs to be addressed. Internalizing disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, are common diagnoses with individualized symptoms to watch out for.
Depression can often be the most difficult to distinguish as an actual diagnosis. There are many imprecise uses of the word “depression,” which can cause confusion as to whether someone’s mood and symptoms are a diagnosable problem. Everyone has days when they feel down for one reason or another, but when it becomes an enduring feeling of sadness accompanied by a loss of interest in pleasure, you should be cautious that it may be something more serious.
The DSM-5 states that Major Depressive Disorder is diagnosable by experiencing five or more listed symptoms for at least a two-week duration. Moreover, such symptoms are causing clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. These are a few components to be aware of in regard to “depressive” symptoms.
- Emotional: Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, feelings of worthlessness and excessive guilt
- Behavioral: Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities, feelings of agitation and restlessness
- Cognitive: Recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation with or without a specific plan, diminished ability to concentrate, indecisiveness
- Somatic: Decrease or increase in appetite, weight gain or weight loss, insomnia or hypersomnia nearly every day
In the case of anxiety, it is important to realize that anxiety can just be a normal reaction to stressors, and is experienced to some degree by everyone at certain times. Moreover, anxiety can actually be helpful in situations, providing us with a useful sense of urgency in the face of danger. However, there are four main aspects of anxiety to look out for to distinguish whether or not what you’re experiencing is a cause for concern.
- Autonomy: When your anxiety starts to show up on its own without any recognizable environmental trigger
- Intensity: When your anxiety begins to exceed your capacity to bear discomfort and is disproportionate to the situation at hand
- Duration: When your anxiety is persistent, rather than transient
- Behavior: When your anxiety impairs coping and results in avoidance and or withdrawal
These four aspects are more thoroughly defined in the DSM-5 under the diagnostic criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. At the end of the day, it is important to notice when anxiety starts to cause problems in your day-to-day life. Anxiety will come and go, but when it shifts from something that protects and pushes you to something that pulls you away from your life, it should not go unnoticed.
Like many mental illnesses, anxiety presents in a multitude of forms and often co-occurs with depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD, like depression, is another term that gets thrown around loosely.
“I’m so OCD- I have to have everything organized all the time.”
“You’re such a neat freak! You must have OCD.”
While obsessive cleanliness can be a compulsion associated with OCD, there is much more to the disorder that people should be aware of before jumping to conclusions about what their behaviors may mean. According to the DSM-5, the two main things to look out for when it comes to OCD are the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions. These two aspects can be tied together, or completely disconnected, depending on the individual case.
- Obsessions: Unwanted and intrusive thoughts, urges, or impulses
- Examples: Fear of being contaminated by germs, intrusive violent thoughts, excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky (superstitions)
- Compulsions: Repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly
- These actions or mental thoughts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety, distress, or some dreaded event or situation.
- However, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way to preventing or neutralizing said fear or are clearly excessive.
- Examples: Excessive checking of things (stove, locks, car), tapping, counting, constantly reordering spaces or cleaning, repeatedly checking in on others to ensure that they’re safe
OCD is a complex disorder with additional specifications to it that should be further looked into if you or someone in your life appears to be dealing with any type of the obsessions and/or compulsions listed above.
Though seeking treatment from a professional is suggested when it comes to all three disorders, there are certain coping mechanisms that can help an individual experiencing such symptoms.
- Support System: Surrounding yourself with people you feel that you can count on and openly talk to about what’s going is very important to avoid isolation.
- Exercise: Being active can relieve stress, bring more energy to you throughout the day, and help with your sleep schedule.
- Sleep Hygiene: Following important suggestions about proper sleep hygiene can help relieve typical sleep disturbances associated with mental health problems.
- Creative Outlets: Whether it’s journaling, painting, or listening to music, it is very helpful to have some sort of outlet to help you step away from whatever stress or bad feelings you may be experiencing
Depression, anxiety, and OCD are three different disorders. However, all of them have treatment plans. While there are many factors that can contribute to mental health difficulties — genetics, trauma, negative life circumstances — no matter the cause, poor mental health can have an extremely detrimental effect on an individual’s mood, thinking, and behavior.
It is always good to be conscious of what’s going on with your mental health, and what certain symptoms may mean.