One in four people suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. That person may be a close friend, relative, acquaintance, or maybe you are the one suffering from anxiety or depression. The important thing to know is that you, or your friend, are not alone.
The month of October is an awareness month for many things, including breast cancer, SIDS, domestic violence, etc. The first week, however, is dedicated to Mental Illness Awareness. Mental illness affects millions of individuals which in turn can affect their families and friends.
What exactly is mental illness? It encompasses a wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behaviors. These conditions include anxiety, depression, dementia, Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, PTSD, OCD, and others. It can lead to difficulty functioning during social, work or family activities.
How can you help? The short answer…be aware that those suffering from a disorder need understanding and care, not judgement. Long term elevated stress is detrimental to most of us, but can be negatively life changing for those suffering from a mental illness. Individuals may feel hopeless and alone; provide them with empathy and consideration or referral to a professional, when appropriate.
What can you do? There are some things you can do for your own mental well-being.
- Exercise. Exercise has been shown to raise endorphin levels which contribute to a feeling of happiness. Endorphins are hormones in your body that make it function properly. After moderate to rigorous exercise they are able to activate opiate receptors, giving you that amazing, healthy feeling.
- Relaxation. Engaging in relaxing activities such as meditation, yoga, reading, etc. contributes to coping skills when dealing with stress. Without those coping skills your stress hormones and blood pressure stays elevated, your muscles stay tense and can contribute to pain, and you experience fatigue.
- Nutrition. There are some foods that have been known to help.
- Cold-water fish. Consuming higher amounts omega-3 fatty acids found naturally in cold water fish (like salmon, sardines and herring), seaweed, flaxseed and walnuts has been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Studies have shown that certain parts of the world, like Iceland, have very low rates of depression and seasonal affective disorder even though it is gray and gloomy often. Residents of Iceland tend to eat higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and engage in physical activity.
- Limiting alcohol intake
- Nuts and seeds. So many to choose from: pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin, sesame, and more! They are a good source of magnesium, fiber, and omega 3 fats.
Other dietary habits that may help prevent depression and similar disorders are avoiding excessive alcohol intake, staying hydrated, eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (oats, barley, rice, etc). Black coffee and dark chocolate, in moderation, have also been shown to decrease risk for depression. Try to avoid foods that are fried, highly refined and full of added sugar. These cause extra stress and oxidation in the body.
In closing, it is important to know that just like some physical ailments require a visit to a professional, so do mental ailments. If you or someone you know struggles with a mental health issue, be kind and supportive. You can do your part by fighting the stigma that is attached to mental illness and provide hope.
For more information please visit: http://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week
Article by Cathleen Malone, UWGB Dietetic Intern