Hello badgers!

Today marks the first official day of Wellness Week 2015 here at Brock. Each year we look forward to this week-long program packed with informative, fun and de-stressing activities that focuses on your overall mental health. As we know, it is important to find balance in all aspects of our lives: socially, physically, spiritually and mentally. This can be challenging at times, especially times like these, when exams are right around the corner. We all struggle with keeping that balance and maintaing a healthy lifestyle, but for some, it is much more challenging due to mental health issues.

Mental health issues are very common and according to Mental Health First Aid Canada, 1 in 3 people in Canada alone, will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime. There is still a lot of research being conducted in order to better understand what causes mental illness. However, it has been established that genetics, chemical imbalances in the brain and childhood trauma are all factors. Also, stressful events like a death can trigger mental illness in a person who is more vulnerable to mental health problems.

It is important that we better understand the difference between experiencing natural responses to stressful situations versus having a legitimate mental health illness. Not only will you be able to better recognize the signs of a mental health disorder, but you will also be able to provide compassion, support and the appropriate resources to those living with a mental health disorder.

The following information is a small introduction to mental health problems, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders and psychotic disorders. The information was compiled from multiple sources including: Mental Health First Aid Canada, Brock University’s Mental Health Services, and HelpGuide.org.

If you’re interested, please do take the time to read more on mental health!

Depression

Depression is one of the most common mood disorders and can have a major impact on a person and their lives. A person is considered clinically depressed when they are sad, lose interest in activities and show any additional symptoms for longer than two weeks.

Signs and symptoms of depression

  • Emotion: Sadness, anxiety, sense of guilt, anger, mood swings, lack of emotional responsiveness, helplessness, hopelessness, irritability.
  • Thinking: Frequent self-criticism, self-blame, worry, pessimism, impaired memory and concentration, difficulty making decisions, confusion, thoughts of death and suicide.
  • Behaviour: Crying spells, withdrawal from others, neglect of responsibilities, loss of interest in personal appearance, loss of motivation.
  • Physical: Chronic fatigue, sleeping too much or too little, overeating or loss of appetite, constipation, weight loss or gain, irregular menstrual cycle, loss of sexual desire, unexplained aches and pains.

Treatment 

  • Counselling
  • Drug Therapy
  • Hypnosis
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Herbal supplements

Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you notice that your mood begins to change during a specific season, like autumn and winter, you may have seasonal affective disorder. The temperature drop and reduced daylight hours can cause SAD, sometimes referred to as “the winter blues”. It can occur in the summer time as well but is less common.

If you feel this is the case for you, just know that like the seasons, this too will pass. In the meantime do what you can to keep your spirits lifted!

If you’re interested, check out a blog post I wrote last school year on beating those winter blues! 

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Bipolar Disorder

People who have bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings (depression and mania) for extended periods of time.

Signs and symptoms of mania in bipolar disorder

  • Emotion: Elevated or elated mood, irritability.
  • Thinking: Grandiose delusions, rapid thinking, lack of insight.
  • Behaviour: Lack of inhibitions, rapid speech.
  • Physical: Increased energy and overactivity, needling less sleep than usual.

Treatment 

  • Counselling
  • Drug Therapy
  • Exercise
  • Support groups
  • Meditation

Anxiety Disorders 

Everyone feels anxious at times and is a natural response that we all experience. However, anxiety disorders are when people have excessive levels of anxiety and fear that interferes with their daily lives. It differs from normal anxiety as it is more intense, longer-lasting and makes it difficult for the person to function for things like work, relationships, etc). According to Mental Health First Aid Canada, anxiety is Canada’s number one health problem.

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Signs and symptoms of anxiety

  • Emotion: Fear, sense of impending doom, crying spells
  • Thinking: Excessive inappropriate worry, decreased concentration, speeding or slowing of thoughts
  • Behaviour: Easily distracted, irritability and trouble sleeping
  • Physical: Heart palpitations, rapid heart rate, chest pains, hyperventilation, shortness of breath, dizziness, headache, tingling or numbness, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle ache and tension, sweating, chills or hot flashes

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is  when you experience exsessive and overwhelming worry, even if there is little or nothing to trigger the anxiety. The anxiety and the symptoms can be present for up to 6 months.

Social Anxiety Disorder

Social anxiety is the constant fear of being criticized or judged by others. People with social anxiety tend to avoid situations that involve socializing or “performing” in the fear that they will embarrass themselves. For example, someone with social anxiety may avoid asking questions in class or attending parties. Those with social anxiety may also have difficulty making friends and maintaining friendships.

Panic Disorder with or without Agoraphobia

Agoraphobia is the excessive fear of having a panic attack or symptoms of a panic attack without having access to help or where escape is difficult.

A person who suffers from panic disorder will have reoccurring and unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks vary in symptomatic response but it tends to feel like a heart attack, peak around 10 minutes and can last to up an hour. Those who have panic disorder experience severe impact to their day-to-day lives.

Specific Phobia Disorder

A person with specific phobia disorder has a persistent and intense fear of an object or situation. For example, spiders, heights and flying are a few of the most common phobias. These fears are unreasonable, cause high stress and people will actively avoid situations where these fears might present themselves.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder has two main features:

Obsessions are intrusive and disturbing thoughts, impulses or images that suddenly appear in the mind and cause anxiety.

Compulsions are behaviours, mental acts or rituals (such as washing, checking, counting and hoarding) that are performed in order to reduce the anxiety that is triggered by the obsessions.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder occurs after a person experiences a distressing or catastrophic event. The event may involve that person directly or they may have witnessed it. Symptoms can include re-experiencing the trauma though nightmares, flashbacks and memories and avoidances of situations that bring back memories of the incident.

Treatment

  • Counselling
  • CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy)
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Drug Therapy

Check out: The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety

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Schizophrenia

According to Mental Health First Aid Canada, schizophrenia is a biological illness that affects that brain and has specific symptoms due to the changes in the brain. Not everyone experience schizophrenia the same way. Some will have more extreme symptoms for longer periods of time than others.

Signs and symptoms of Schizophrenia

  • Emotion: Depression, mood swings, anxiety, suspicious of others, irrational, angry or fearful responses to friends and family.
  • Thinking: Difficulties with concentration, unusual perceptual experiences (a reduced or greater intensity of smell, sound or colour), difficulty controlling thoughts.
  • Behaviour: Sleep disturbances, withdrawal from activities, deterioration in studies or work, deterioration in personal hygiene.
  • Physical: Loss of appetite, weakness, pains, bizarre odd sensations, reduced energy and motivation.

Treatment 

  • Counselling
  • Medications
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders causes extreme behaviours, feelings, and attitudes regarding weight and good. There are three types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder. All three have similar symptoms with some differences. Those with a eating disorder tend to use restricting food as a way to feel more in control of insecurity, frustration or anxiety.

Signs and symptoms of eating disorders

  • Emotion: Low self-esteem
  • Thinking: Obsession with food, weight, restricting calories or body image, critical of appearance
  • Behaviour: Wearing clothing that hides body, avoiding eating with or in front of others, social withdrawal, denying there is a problem.
  • Physical: Excessive exercise, inducing vomiting, loss of menstrual period, use of diet pills, laxatives or diuretics.

Treatment 

  • Counselling
  • Nutritional guidance
  • Hospitalization

Borderline Personality Disorder 

For those living with borderline personality disorder, it is like everything feels unstable: their relationships, their moods, their behaviours, and their thinking. Those with BPD tend to be sensitive, have strong reactions to small things and have difficult controlling their emotions and thoughts.

Signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder

  • Emotion: Feeling abandoned or lonely, unstable sense of self, unstable mood (mixture of depression, anxiety, rage and despair), feeling of emptiness, difficulty controlling anger.
  • Thinking: Suspicious or distrustful of others.
  • Behaviour: Impulsive behaviours, suicidal behaviour.
  • Physical: Self-harm.

Treatment 

  • Counselling
  • Drug Therapy
  • Mindfulness techniques
  • Exercise

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I know this was a lot of information thrown at you at once but I hope this gave you a small but better understanding of just how many mental health disorders are. We truly should take the time to educate ourselves on mental health and the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is evident that even with the varying degrees of symptoms in mental health disorders, there are still many similarities between them. It is also important to know that someone can be living with more than one mental health issue. If you or someone you know is living with a mental health disorder, please trust that there are so many people and resources out there that can help you. We need to end the stigma associated with mental health problems and we can only do that by taking the time to truly understand them.

Check out all of the amazing events that are happening this week and remember to take care of yourself!

Resources 

Brock University’s Mental Health Services
www.mentalhealth.brockubeta.ca

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA)
www.cmha.ca 

Canadian Psychological Association
www.cpa.ca 

National Network of Mental Health
www.nnmh.ca 

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
www.camh.net