Pay attention to Mental Health warning signs and make the turn!

You’re driving down a road and suddenly see a sign indicating a sharp turn. Do you slow down? If you don’t you risk going over a steep cliff. It doesn’t mean you “will” go over the cliff…it’s importantly a warning sign to prevent an accident or death.

I’ve been a person in the past who ignored the warning signs for my mental health. At almost every turn I went off a steep cliff, nearly resulting in a pre-mature death while lost in the wilderness during a psychotic episode.

I don’t recommend ignoring the warning signs.

The one major warning sign for all mental health conditions (a.k.a. – mental illness) is the interruption of sleep. Have you ever had so much stress when you laid down to sleep the thoughts raced in your mind? Your sleep was interrupted and resulted in you feeling horrible the next day.

Chronic stress impacts are sleep habits. According to the National Institute of Health, “Sleep is important to a number of brain functions, including how neurons communicate with each other. Recent finding suggest sleep removes toxins in your brain.”

After years of ignoring warning signs I’m now hyper vigilant. If I forget every other warning sign, the fact I focus on my sleep–how little or how much–keeps me mentally healthy. If I sleep too much, it’s a good sign I’m cycling into a depressive episode and I use every coping mechanism possible to pull myself out before it gets severe.

If I sleep too little I risk having a hypomanic or manic episode. Hypomania is my warning sign. Allowing too many days without sleep revs my brain so much I can’t think straight and my thoughts race like a runaway train. I do everything in my power to prevent this from happening.

You don’t have to have a mental health condition to have poor mental health.

Coronavirus is impacting our mental health in ways that are known and in ways not yet known. Tom Insel a leading researcher and former head of the National Institute of Health notes deaths by suicide, opiod addictions and significant increases in depression will happen as a result of this pandemic.

This is a warning sign.

If each individual person knew the warning signs for mental health, we could change the curve of what is predicted. Mental health is about thinking, emotions, behavior and how we interact with others as a result of all those things.

Paying attention to our behaviors can give us warning signs. An extra glass of wine on occasion, no big deal. An entire bottle on more than one occasion, red flag. Did you know two glasses of wine a day put a man and one glass for a woman put you at risk for developing a substance use problem?

Self-medicating with drugs and alcohol is very common. I’ve fallen into the trap of drinking too much alcohol, before I even knew self-medication was a “thing.” I pay close attention to what I drink, when I drink and how much I drink if I consume any alcohol at all.

Drugs were never something I was into. Taking prescription drugs to manage a condition is one thing, using them inappropriately is another. These are all warning signs.

My suggestion is to search for positive coping tools, like mindfulness, exercise, proper sleep, meditation, reaching and connecting with a friend.

Most importantly: Get real with how you feel.

And if you aren’t feeling mentally healthy reach out for help. As my Aunt Mary Francis always used to say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” To this I say, “Amen!”