Don’t be afraid to seek help if needed
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Everyone occasionally feels blue, upset, worried or “off” emotionally.
Feeling in a funk for a couple of days does not necessarily mean you need professional mental healthcare.
A chat with a friend, taking time to rest or indulging in a favorite hobby may restore your normal mood. But just as physical healthcare providers check for vitals like breathing, pulse, temperature and blood pressure, a few mental health vital signs can indicate something serious is going wrong.
“If you’re not eating well, either under [or] overeating,” said Andrew Mattle, licensed mental health counselor and director of CMH Counseling in Buffalo, as one example of a mental health vital sign. “Or, if you’re not sleeping well or having increased struggles at work.
Withdrawing can represent another vital sign. Holing up to sleep or engage in activities that are mind-numbing or distracting can indicate an issue. While everyone needs some “me time” to rejuvenate, this goes beyond a typically helpful among of alone time.
Dropping typical self-care is only one sign. Someone who normally dresses nicely looks fresh out of bed, for example. Housekeeping and car care may drop off. Formerly enjoyable hobbies may be forgotten, especially if they involve other people.
“Communication with others can become difficult,” Mattle said.
While many of these factors can present while grieving, a persistent down mood—especially for no apparent reason—they can also indicate help is necessary. Mattle said that a period of grieving differs in that it is situational. Once the person heals from the loss, they start feeling and acting like themselves.
Most people have felt down about the changes occurring during the pandemic and have acted in ways they might not normally but employing a healthy coping mechanism can help mitigate that effect. For someone requiring professional care, that mental health first aid isn’t helping much anymore.
“For some people, it’s not situational,” he said. “It’s long-term. Maybe it ebbs and flows but it’s always present.”
Self-medicating with substances to numb the effects of mental health problems indicates a problem. These include alcohol, illicit drugs or misused over-the-counter or prescription medication.
Feelings of satisfaction with life may be absent. As most regular activities have resumed, some people may wish that they could continue isolating at home. The levels at which people feel comfortable socializing and interacting varies. However, it should not curtail necessary interactions or harm healthy relationships. If mental health struggles interfere with tasks of daily living, such as shopping at the grocery store or maintaining desired relationships, such as meeting a friend for lunch, professional help is warranted.
Andrew Wilton, licensed clinical social worker in private practice in West Seneca said that people should be able to answer positively to the question, “Are these areas of my life going the way I want them: family life, social life, work life?”
He added that thoughts of self-harm or harm to others can indicate a mental health emergency and the need to call a hotline, 911 or admitting to an emergency room.
Another important mental health vital sign is excessive fear and/or worry. While current events certainly have challenged mental health for the past two years, if healthful coping mechanisms are not keeping anxiety under control, Judith Hoeflschweiger, licensed clinical social worker at Employee Resources, Inc. in Buffalo, said that outside help can make a difference.
“Especially in the past two years, people feel anxious, disjointed and overly cautious because they’re now unsure of their environment,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing where you’d find a therapist, social worker, psychologist or addiction counselor possibly.”