martes, 7 de agosto de 2012

Mental Health Check-up ► American Psychiatric Association

Mental Health Check-up

08/02/2012 08:00 PM EDT

Source: American Psychiatric Association
Related MedlinePlus Page: Mental Health

Mental Health Check-up

Many people go through their entire lives never encountering a mental health professional. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are mentally healthy, for the absence of illness does not necessarily equal health. Unfortunately, in our society we place a lot of emphasis on treating illness and much less on what it takes to stay healthy.

What is mental health? You can probably find many different definitions, but I would like to suggest one characteristic which I think is critical to the foundation of good mental health: knowing yourself, ie. being self-aware. I often tell my patients with depression and anxiety that they are in a position to be some of the most mentally healthy people around, because their illness has forced them to grapple with unhealthy patterns and learn new skills to cope with the stresses of everyday life. And in the process, they have come to know themselves much better. One of my professional goals is to bring the same skills that we as psychiatrists use in the office to people who would never come through our doors because they are not identified as being "mentally ill." They may be functioning and getting by, however, they are missing out on living life at the level of their "best self."

Topics to Consider in a Mental Health Checkup
While not exhaustive, the topics on this list are meant to provide a starting point to help you examine how you’re doing emotionally and mentally. If any of these items raise a red flag for you, If you are concerned that you may have anxiety, depression, or another mental illness, be sure to talk with your doctor.  
See Healthy Minds Blog post on tips for finding a therapist.

How are you sleeping at night? Is it restful, or does it leave something to be desired? Poor sleep can often be a sign that there is something troubling you emotionally. When under stress or dealing with a more serious mental illness, many people find that they cannot fall asleep as quickly as they used to. Excessive worry or a feeling of not being able to “turn off” their mind can make getting to sleep difficult and some people find themselves waking up frequently throughout the night.
For some, insomnia can be put to rest with simple sleep hygiene measures such as limiting caffeine in the evening and creating a bedtime ritual. For others, common over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids such as Tylenol PM, Benadryl, and herbal medicines like melatonin can be helpful if used in limited quantities and for a limited amount of time. [Note: although they are advertised under many different brands, most OTC sleep medicines have diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl) as their active ingredient. Make sure to read the labels so you don’t take medicines you don’t need and to decrease your risk of unsafe combinations.] It’s always a good idea to first check with your doctor before beginning any OTC sleep regimen to make sure there are no harmful interactions with other medicines you’re taking.

Tension, Anxiety
Are you feeling tense and wound up all the time? How about nervous and anxious? Is it hard for you to unwind at the end of the day? We live in a fast-paced society and stress has become a common part of our everyday lives. If, however, you are finding that you’re unable to take mental breaks during the day where you can feel totally relaxed and worry-free even for a few moments, then that could indicate that your stress is approaching dangerous levels. Relaxation is a skill that many of us have to learn and practice. There have been some great previous posts with relaxation tips as well as ways to cope with anxiety and stress.
Tuning InIn general, how “in touch” do you feel with yourself? Do you feel like you’re experiencing emotions and you don’t know why, like being angry or crying “for no reason”? It’s not uncommon to get so busy that you don’t have time to process everything that is happening on an emotional level in real time. However, taking some time to write in a journal or talk to a friend can be critically important to good mental and emotional health, particularly when you find yourself in periods of great transition or change. The danger of being out of touch with yourself emotionally is that you may respond to difficult situations in ways that you later regret (such as impulsively sending off an angry email to your boss, or taking out your frustration on your kids). It is also difficult to advocate for yourself and your needs when you don’t know what those needs are. Being able to take a moment and identify that “I feel angry because _____.” or “I am hurt because _____.” can take you a long way in staying in touch with yourself.

Avoidance — Do you feel like you’re avoiding yourself? It may seem like a funny question, but if you find yourself going out of your way to keep from being by yourself, then that could indicate that there is something you are trying to avoid emotionally. Many people find that their feelings of anxiety or worry are intensified when they are alone, and so they find ways to distract themselves by staying busy. We can often be unaware of this subconscious strategy to protect ourselves from painful feelings. If you think that this describes you, when you have a moment, go to a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted and sit quietly for a few minutes. How do you feel? Take a moment to write it down. If you find that even the thought of spending quiet time by yourself makes you tense, write that down as well. The goal is not to avoid your problems, but to find effective ways to deal with them.
Eating Habits — Has your appetite changed? Are you eating too much or too little? And what are you eating? If you find that you’re craving foods that are high in carbohydrates (sugar) and fat, or that you’re eating larger quantities than usual, it could be a sign of emotional eating as a response to stress. While temporarily satisfying, high sugar and fatty foods ultimately zap your energy and leave you feeling lower. Not to mention that the added pounds can become an additional source of stress.

Adapted from a series of APA Healthy Minds blog posts from By Gina Duncan, M.D. in September 2010


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