After 15 months of dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we all need to focus more on our mental health. May is Mental Health Month, with a theme this year of learning to cope with our emotions, mental health triggers, and dealing with the unexpected.
Ashtabula County Medical Center Psychiatrist Samar El-Sayegh, MD, said, “We all face short periods of anxiety or depression. However, if these last for an extended period of time, then we need to seek help. As a society, we need to recognize that chronic anxiety or depression is an illness. It is a medical condition that can be diagnosed and treated.”
More than 19 million American suffer at least one depressive episode each year and chronic depression is a growing disability for those ages 15 to 45.
Our anxiety can be triggered by stress or grief, but even more common situations like meeting new people or being in an unfamiliar location. Depression can also be caused by isolation or major life changes like moving, graduation, changing jobs, or conflicts in our relationships.
Dr. El-Sayegh said, “The good news is, whether you suffer from anxiety or depression, there are treatment options to help relieve symptoms. When you see a mental health professional, we develop unique treatment strategies to help you cope with your emotions. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is tailored based on the individual situation.”
ACMC Pediatrician Sathish Adigopula, MD, said we also need to be on alert for signs of anxiety or depression in children.
“Depression may show as unusual sadness, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, decreased anticipation, weight changes, changing sleep patterns, harsh self- assessment, feeling worthless, or thoughts or attempts at suicide,” he said. “Feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious, or angry may be signs that they would benefit from additional support in these difficult times. Even younger children and toddlers may show signs of stress with milestone regression, increasing fussiness, worsening tantrums, etc. Disruption of daily routines and social isolation may lead to self-injury, substance abuse, or overeating, which increases the risk of obesity and physical health problems.”
What can parents do?
Dr. Adigopula suggested they take time to sit down and explore how the children are doing. Find time when you are not likely to be interrupted and talk to them about their feelings and plans.
“It may need some prompting,” he said. “Also, follow simple steps to cope with stress including taking breaks from the news and social media to try to connect with others. We need to take care of our bodies with simple exercise and connect with community or faith-based organizations for outside-the-home support.”
Treatment options considered include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Only by talking with a mental health professional can an individualized treatment plan be developed.
Dr. El-Sayegh said our friends or family may notice the warning signs of anxiety or depression before we do. Signs include:
- Social withdrawal or loss of interest in former activities.
- A lack of productivity at school or work.
- Problems with concentration or memory.
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells, or touch.
- Illogical or irrational thinking about a situation.
- Fear or suspicion of others.
- Dramatic changes in appetite or sleeping habits.
- Deterioration of personal hygiene.
- Sudden shifts in feelings or emotional outbursts.
Individuals may also experience:
- Feelings of being disconnected from yourself or your surroundings.
- Feelings of inadequacy or inferiority.
- Feelings of hopelessness or intense guilt as you sense an inability to cope.
“If we experience anxiety or depression, even if we do not have all of the signs or symptoms, we can seek help. Learning what triggers our emotional responses can be a very positive step to improving our mental health,” Dr. El-Sayegh said.
If you need to talk with a psychiatrist about anxiety or depression, ACMC providers offer telehealth visits as well as in-office visits. To schedule an appointment, call 440-997-6969.