Mental Health Conditions: Understanding Depression and Anxiety Disorders

Most people believe that mental health illness are rare and “happen to someone else.”  In fact, mental health conditions are common and widespread. Mental health and mental illness are increasingly being used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing. Everyone has mental health, just like everyone has health. In the course of a lifetime, not all people will experience a mental illness, but everyone will struggle or have a challenge with their mental well-being (i.e., their mental health)—just like we all have challenges with our physical well-being from time to time.

When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental well-being: our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections, and our understanding of the world around us. A mental illness is an illness that affects the way people think, feel, behave, or interact with others. There are many different mental illnesses, and they have different symptoms that impact peoples’ lives in different ways.

Most families are not prepared to cope with learning that their loved one has a mental health problem or mental illness. It can be physically and emotionally trying and can make them feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others. If you think you or someone you know may have a mental or emotional problem, it is important to remember there is hope and help.

What Is Mental Health Illness?

A mental health illness is a condition that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought or behavior or both, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental health problem. Some of the more common disorders are depression and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits, and/or social withdrawal.

Mental health problems may be related to excessive stress due to a particular situation or series of events. As with cancer, diabetes, and heart disease—mental health illnesses are often physical as well as emotional and psychological. Mental health illness may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. With proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope or recover from a mental health problems or emotional disorder.

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are a group of related conditions, each having unique symptoms. However, all anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening.

There are many types of anxiety disorders, each with different symptoms. The most common types of anxiety disorders include:

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) produces chronic, exaggerated worrying about everyday life. This worrying can consume hours each day, making it hard to concentrate or finish daily tasks. A person with GAD may become exhausted by worry and experience headaches, tension, or nausea.

Social Anxiety Disorder is more than just shyness. This disorder causes intense fear about social interaction, often driven by irrational worries about humiliation (e.g. saying something stupid or not knowing what to say). Someone with social anxiety disorder may not take part in conversations, contribute to class discussions or offer their ideas, and may become isolated. Panic attacks are a common reaction to anticipated or forced social interaction.

Panic Disorder is characterized by panic attacks and sudden feelings of terror sometimes striking repeatedly and without warning. Often mistaken for a heart attack, a panic attack causes powerful physical symptoms including chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath and stomach upset. Many people will go to desperate measures to avoid an attack, including social isolation.

What Is Depressive Disorder? 

Depressive disorder, frequently referred to simply as depression, is more than just feeling sad or going through a rough patch. It’s a serious mental health condition that requires understanding and medical care. It negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act; it causes feelings of sadness or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed or both. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

Fortunately, there is treatment for depression. At the same time, there is not one-size-fits-all treatment for this condition as each person goes through depression differently, and they all have different triggers. Going out of our way to help someone who has depression is one way of helping them recover from this episode.

How to Love and Care for People with Anxiety and Depressive Disorder

Learn more about your loved one’s condition. Learning about the condition your loved one experiences will help you better understand and support them. We also have to understand that they may not be able to fully verbalize what they are going through, so we cannot expect them to fully tell us what they feel—sometime, they do not even know how and where to begin. Doing some research by reading reviewed articles about their conditions will help you better understand them.

Recognize early symptoms. Depression often has warning signs, such as a low mood, feeling fatigued, or having trouble sleeping. Discuss your friend or family member’s past episodes with them to help them improve their ability to recognize the signs early. Learn about your loved one’s triggers, stressors and symptoms. By being informed and aware, you may help prevent an increase in symptoms. People with anxiety disorders normally have rapid breathing, fidgeting, or avoidance behaviors. Look for these symptoms and discuss your friend or family member’s past experiences with them, so they can recognize the signs early as well.

Play a role in treatment. Increasingly, mental health professionals are recommending couple or family-based treatment programs. And on occasion, a therapist might enlist a loved one to help reinforce behavior modification techniques with homework. Ultimately, the work involved in recovery is the responsibility of the person with the disorder, but you can play an active supportive role.

Communicate. Speak honestly and kindly. Don’t scold or blame people with depression or urge them to “try harder” to “just be happy.” Instead, make specific offers of help and follow through with those offers. Tell the person you care about them. Ask them how they feel and truly listen. Regardless how great our intentions are, trying to fix them the way we think is best may not always be of help. Instead, show them that we are there to listen to them. Sometimes, we may not even need words to communicate with them; our presence and physical touch would suffice to let them know that we are there to help them.

React calmly and rationally. Even if your family member or friend is in a crisis, it’s important to remain calm. Listen to their concerns and make them feel understood—then take the next step toward getting help.

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