It is enough to show a pain in the body that most people run to the doctor. But it’s hard to see the same urgency when it comes to a psychic illness, because it’s not believed to be life-threatening. It’s just not like that.
“There are many causes of serious illness and death that have some behavioral component, such as consumption of substances that worsen physical health, self-injury and suicide”, points out Jocelaine Silveira, professor of psychology at UFPR (Federal University of Paraná). That’s why it’s so risky to leave mental health in the background.
The first mistake is to separate body and mind when assigning severity to diseases. This doesn’t make sense, because health is like a big avenue with several intersections that are part of it, which are the psychological, biological, social, environmental and spiritual aspects. “There is a biological background that interacts with the psychological, with the collective and with the environment. In this way, mental health can be affected in different ways, and that is how mental health problems begin to happen”, summarizes Jair Borges Barbosa Neto, professor of medicine at UFSCar (Federal University of São Carlos).
In other words, the organism is one. A simple annoyance or a situation that the person interprets as a threat to survival triggers various physiological responses. In the same way that the excessive stress we experience at certain times in life can cause physical problems, such as recurring headaches or other more serious ones. This is why underestimating psychic illnesses or leaving their cure to time is not a good idea.
Another mistake is that most emotional ills tend to come in sneaky and subtle ways — except when the person is experiencing a traumatic event or has a more serious mental disorder diagnosed early in life. Suffering gradually sets in and, often, the damage is only noticed when there are no more conditions to solve the problem in a simple way, as in the beginning. Especially if it’s a more serious mental illness.
The limit of each
People do not always stop seeking help because they ignore their own suffering, but because they think that what they are feeling is normal. And sometimes it is. Life is made of ups and downs and we all get sad, anxious, distressed, stressed, discouraged or worried at times. But even if all this affects us, we try to find a way to get back to being well.
“Our culture leads us to believe that we need to be happy at any cost. And any sign of unhappiness or negative feelings means that we are sick and that we need to be treated”, observes Neto. An emotion or another out of place can even be helpful as it can lead us to make positive changes. It turns out that not everyone can deal with discomfort, especially when they go through great frustrations, situations of violence and significant losses.
By trying to be stronger than they are, many people end up getting sick. People with depression, for example, gradually disconnect from the world, so gradually that not even the family notices.
Pay attention to what you’re feeling
It is not easy to see where normal emotional distress ends and mental disorder begins. This is because, unlike physical illnesses, we are not trained to identify the symptoms of psychic ones. Silveira gives a hint to see more clearly this frontier, which is subjective. “The dividing line is when the person loses contact with himself. Losing more and more awareness of what he is doing wrong.”
Another indication that something is not going well is when the person tries to mask the emotional discomfort with things that bring momentary relief, such as food, internet, games, shopping, alcohol and illicit drugs. That’s why it’s so important to pay attention to feelings and name them. When we look at our internal state, it becomes easier to see if these feelings are causing a lot of suffering or lasting longer than we can handle.
Some questions can help us make this self-assessment, such as:
- Have I been feeling well lately?
- I’m suffering a lot?
- Can I do what I like?
- Do I handle my daily obligations?
- Do I feel a malaise in the body because of emotions?
- Do I have people I can count on?
- I need help?
- When I’m alone, do I feel uncomfortable?
- Do I try to escape this annoyance by distracting myself all the time?
Signs There’s Something Wrong With Your Emotions
- Change in sleep and appetite
- Presence of ruminations (feeling consumed by one’s own thoughts and judgments)
- Willingness to give up commitments
- Desire to break interpersonal relationships and isolate
- intense suffering
- Pain that is not intense but lasts a long time and does not improve
- Harmful behaviors (such as use of alcohol, drugs, internet, gambling, etc.)
- Not taking care of everyday activities
- Thinking about harming yourself or others
The risk of letting time pass
These symptoms often get mixed up. Sometimes they are too annoying and then they get softer, giving the impression that they’ve gone away. But the fact is that one tends to make the other worse and so they grow, like a snowball. That’s why it’s so risky to expect them to disappear over time. This attitude can have numerous consequences, such as harming oneself or others, having deteriorated interpersonal relationships, not being able to carry out daily activities or taking care of oneself, and not being able to solve problems.
In addition, the person begins to experience longer and longer dysfunctional periods. “The passage of time may not represent an improvement. In fact, it may get worse. Sometimes the person remains as he is, but the more likely it is to increase the severity of the problem”, emphasizes Silveira. But that is not all. The greatest danger is, during a crisis caused by a difficult situation, the person thinks about committing suicide or hurting someone. Sometimes she makes a mistake before realizing it wasn’t what she wanted to do.
by this, all caution are little. “An important tip is that any idea of death should be taken seriously. People who are thinking about taking their lives need to seek help, especially from health professionals”, warns Neto. And remember: even seemingly harmless symptoms have enormous potential to decrease quality of life.
when to seek help
There is no rule to know when is the right time to seek help. But it is important to be aware of the first signs of emotional discomfort, to observe how they evolve and when it is no longer possible to deal with them. For this, it is worth talking to trusted people, because those who are outside the situation can see it better. If symptoms are persisting or getting more intense, do not delay going to the doctor’s office or psychological help. In these cases, treatment is essential, often with the use of medication.
It helps the person regain autonomy and make better decisions. Attention to mental health needs to be redoubled in times of intense and long-lasting stress, such as the new coronavirus pandemic, which has left many people shaken.
“With effective care, difficulties can be faced. So the tip is to seek care inside and outside you, with people you trust, in religious entities of your choice and also with health professionals”, recommends Neto. If possible, invest in early treatment, because it can save you from loss and suffering.
Lifestyle makes the difference
Depending on the mental illness and its intensity, adjusting your lifestyle can be a way to leave suffering behind. “If people take better care of their body, mind and their interactions with other people, as well as the environment in which they live and how they interact with this environment, this change will certainly have some effect on mental health”, says Neto.
It includes eating healthy, exercising, improving sleep habits and eliminating substance abuse.