Compared to even a few years ago, many people now have a greater understanding of mental health and are more accepting of mental illness – but we still have a long way to go. There’s still a major stigma surrounding mental illness, especially serious mental illness. It’s more crucial than ever that we realize that our mental health really is no different from our physical health.
If you developed a disease or got an injury, you’d probably have no issues with seeking medical attention. So why is it that seeking a remedy when we’re suffering from mental distress seems so hard? Why is there, so often, this sense of shame tied to asking for help? You’re just seeking medical attention for your brain, and for your mind. Just like you would open up your first aid kit if you cut or burned yourself, you should also seek mental health first aid if you’re suffering from a critical mental health condition.
What is Mental Illness?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, a mental illness is “a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder.” The impact that mental illness has on someone and their life can range from no or mild impairment, to moderate impairment or even severe impairment. Mental illnesses include the ones that most of us are familiar with, like depression and anxiety, and more severe and stigmatized illnesses, like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental illnesses are actually very common. In the U.S., nearly one in five adults have some type of mental illness. In 2020, that number was 52.9 million American adults living with mental illness.
What Are the Signs That You May Need Mental Health First Aid?
Sometimes we may feel uncertain about what actually constitutes a mental health problem. What are symptoms of poor mental health, and what are completely normal thoughts, feelings and physical reactions? Each mental illness has its own symptoms, of course, but there are some common things to look out for. And it’s important to remember that it’s not necessarily about the symptom, but more about how it impacts your life.
Some symptoms of mental distress include:
- Excessive worrying or fear
- Feeling excessively sad for at least two weeks
- Prolonged or recurring feelings of intense irritability or anger
- Feeling tired a lot of the time, or having trouble sleeping
- Unexplained changes in eating habits – eating much more or less than usual or having no appetite at all
- Abusing substances like drugs or alcohol
- Unexplained physical pain – headaches, body aches, stomachaches, etc.
- Other physical symptoms – increased heart rate, trembling, or sweating
- Trouble concentrating
- Repetitive unwelcome or negative thoughts
- Extreme mood changes or rapid changes in mood
- Recurring uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
- Avoiding friends and social activities
- Not enjoying the things you used to
- Delusions or hallucinations, or not knowing what’s real or what’s not
- An inability to recognize or understand your own feelings or changes in those feelings.
- An inability to perform the activities of your daily life, or to handle daily problems or stress
Do You Need Help for a Mental Health Crisis?
What is a Mental Health Crisis?
What is a mental health crisis, exactly, and what are simply normal symptoms of mental illness? Once again, it depends on the impact your condition is having on you, your thoughts and feelings, and your life. While someone else may be able to push intrusive negative thoughts to the back of their mind and focus on their daily tasks, it’s completely ok if you just can’t do that! For so long, our society has encouraged us to be as productive as possible, even at the cost of our mental health, but things are changing. If you feel that mental illness or substance use is taking over your thoughts or causing your work or school, relationships, or other aspects of your life to suffer as a result, then it is a crisis. And if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, it is an immediate crisis – please get help by calling 988 immediately.
Questions to Ask Yourself
If you’ve experienced any of the above situations, especially if they’ve persisted for several days, weeks, or months and have made a major impact on your life, it may be time to reach out for help. If you’re still not sure if you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Are you using substances to cope with stress, anxiety, or something else?
- Has anyone expressed concern over your substance use or other coping mechanisms?
- Are you severely restricting your food intake or participating in other types of disordered eating?
- Are you self-isolating or avoiding friends on purpose?
- Has anyone commented that your mood lately has seemed bad, or merely different?
- Is your performance suffering in school or at work?
- Have you been thinking a lot about suicide or death?
- Have you recently participated in self-harm?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s important to get help as soon as you can. Reaching out to ask for help when you’re struggling isn’t easy – but you are worth it!
Getting Treatment for a Mental Health Condition
Getting Immediate Help for a Mental Health Crisis
So while we all have these types of feelings or experiences sometimes, when they are consistent, recurring, or otherwise have a major impact on your life, that’s when they’d be considered a mental health crisis, requiring immediate attention. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, we urge you to reach out for help as soon as possible. You can call or text 988 for immediate help, or, if you’re in the Region 5 area of Virginia, you can call 757-656-7755 to be routed to someone faster. When you dial 988 or your local crisis line number, you are connected with a trained counselor who will listen, give you advice and comfort, assess the situation, and provide you with answers and solutions, including fast access to local resources, where you can get compassionate and professional help fast.
Making an Appointment for Help for Mental Health or Substance Abuse
If you’ve realized that your thoughts or feelings, or your physical reaction to them, is impacting your day-to-day life in a major way, but you don’t feel that you need immediate help, then you might opt to wait for one of the next available mental health counseling appointments in your area. If you’re in the Region 5 area of Virginia, also known as the Coastal Tidewater Region, help is always available at any of our local community service boards (CSBs). You can find the full list of the Region 5 CSB locations here.
Helping Our Community Members is Our Most Important Goal
Helping our community members and promoting mental health equity are our most important goals, so we welcome everyone in Region 5 to reach out to the nearest CSB for help. Your Virginia CSBs accept all methods of payment and can work with families who may need financial assistance. We never want finances or a lack of any resource to stop any of our community members from getting the help they need, so please reach out to us with any questions or concerns you might have about making your first appointment!
To get help for a mental health crisis right now, call or text 988, or, if you’re in the Region 5 area of Virginia, call 757-656-7755 to get to someone faster.