May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to spread awareness about the importance of prioritizing and nurturing our mental health. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more critical than ever for our community members to prioritize their mental well-being. To learn more about how we can support loved ones struggling with their mental health and how we can prioritize our own mental wellbeing, Steward sat down with Brienne Wapenyi, LICSW, a licensed psychiatrist at Morton Hospital.
Q: What are some warning signs that a loved one is struggling with their mental health?
A: First, keep an eye out for any changes in your loved one’s typical presentation or mood. For example, if you notice someone who is usually very outgoing is now acting withdrawn, or vice versa, that might be a red flag. Additionally, keep an eye on their habits. How are they sleeping? How are they eating? Are they engaging in substance abuse? These are all helpful indicators. Finally, track these changes over the long term. Everyone has off days, but if you are noticing these changes or habits over weeks or months, this might be a sign that something is wrong.
Q: How can friends or family support loved ones struggling with their mental health?
A: If you are approaching a loved one who is exhibiting worrying behavior, one of the most important things that you can do is validate their feelings and make it clear that their challenges are real and important. Sometimes all we need in this world is a little validation to feel like we are not alone. Next steps might include encouraging them to seek help, helping them research treatment options, monitoring their behavior, and checking in over the coming weeks.
Q: What are some treatment options to get patients the help they need?
A: Treatment options depend on the severity of symptoms. One option for people is outpatient therapy, which involves going to an office and speaking one-on-one with a therapist about their mental health challenges. Another option is medication management, or when a psychiatrist works with you to find the right type and dosage of medication to manage your symptoms. In tandem, outpatient therapy and medication management are proven to work quite well for patients. Other options include partial hospitalizations, which are intended to help patients with stabilization, and inpatient programs for high-acuity patients who might be experiencing suicidal ideation.
Q: What are some small ways we can prioritize our mental health this month?
A: One great, small way to prioritize your mental health is to take five minutes during your work or school day to close your eyes and take some deep, meditative breaths. And, with summer around the corner, get outside–take a walk, enjoy the warmth, and let nature provide you with some good feedback.
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