In 2019, mental health is no joke in the American public school system. Most students have dealt with the side effects of poor mental health and can speak to the impact it takes on one’s life. But are we addressing these problems correctly? Is it enough to simply recognize the problem without providing a solution? Here are a few factors of mental health with possible solutions, provided by an uncertified yet well researched high school journalist.
1.Know the difference between depression and sadness.
Students frequently use the term depression as an adjective- “I’m so depressed,” “This class is depressing,” or “That essay is giving me depression.” Although it may seem harmless, confusing this clinical condition with general feelings of distress can make sufferers feel marginalized or underrepresented.
Sadness is a reaction based emotion triggered by isolated events such as failing a school assignment, arguing with a friend, or losing a loved one. It can be relieved by crying or venting, and prevented by small lifestyle changes. Depression, on the other hand, is a mental disorder lasting longer than two weeks that requires medical diagnosis for treatment. Depression can be recognized by lack of motivation, disinterest in normal activities, changes in sleeping and eating patterns, unwarranted guilt, or irritability.
“Depression is like a weight, it’s always there,” says one Central student when asked to differentiate between the two. “It can make you feel like you can’t do anything right, it just consumes you.” Another student compared it to the weather, saying sadness is “just a feeling that has the ability to pass and change. Climate [depression], however, will stay constant, and occurs at varying degrees of cold and hot.”
Confusing these two states of mind risk misdiagnosis and the erasure of depression as a serious issue. If one fails to differentiate between depression and sadness, they may not be taking the proper steps to heal from either. For example, misdiagnosing depression as just casual sadness increases the chance of falling into major depressive disorder, while misdiagnosing sadness as depression can turn into improper medication and a waste of resources.
2. Ask for help
Whether it be depression or sadness, recovery is always a priority. There are many steps for feeling better after an episode, including crying, therapy, or medication. Be mindful that no two people are the same, and the healing process looks different for everyone.
Because sadness is triggered by isolated events, recovery is very simple when the correct steps are taken, and self help is possible. For temporary relief, methods such as journaling, venting to a close friend or parent, cleaning, occupying yourself, or simply crying it out have been proven to lessen the burden.
“Music really does work wonders for me,” says one Central student. “If I want time to myself, I can blast music in my headphones at home or spend time playing piano. If I want social interaction, I can talk with friends about fun stuff happening in the music world.” The student also adds that it never hurts to take a hot shower to “disconnect from all the stress.” For long term relief and prevention, lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, dieting, and discovering new hobbies are recorded to be helpful.
The healing process for depression is much more individualized and medically specific than the healing process for sadness. While lifestyle changes like diet and exercise can help, to really heal from depression requires medication and counseling as recommended by a medical professional.
“Patients with physical and emotional symptoms for depression appear to be at higher risk of relapse compared with those who have no symptoms,” according to John Greden, M.D. Greden elaborates that antidepressants that include stimulants to reduce physical and emotional stress are the most effective forms of treatment. Antidepressants incorporate serotonin and norepinephrine to reduce symptoms of depression, meaning if the symptoms are not present, the medication will not help.
While it may not be possible to entirely heal from depression without medical help, it is possible to make the struggle easier. Offering a shoulder to cry on is one of the best ways to help a friend in need. For example, one student stated that she does not “usually tell my friends when I’m depressed, but they’ll usually listen to me rant or give me a hug. It helps more than they think.”
If you think you could be suffering from depression, seek help by taking your issues to a trusted adult such as a parent or counselor. They can take the next steps for you and bring you to the people who can help you the most.
3. Surround yourself with positive people
One of the largest factors in happiness are the people you surround yourself with. Having good relationships affects development, mental health, and even physical health. However, being in negative relationships will take a toll on these factors. The first step in getting out of a toxic relationship is to identify the signs.
A toxic friend will not be afraid to call you derogatory names. They’ll lie to you to keep you oblivious to their true motives. They’ll frequently gossip about others, and sometimes, they’ll spread rumors about you. They will be aggressive towards others and sometimes physically abusive. They are extremely narcissistic, and they deal poorly with conflict. They refuse to be insightful and will rarely apologize or admit they are wrong. If you think you are in a toxic relationship, ask yourself if this person makes you feel important. Are you afraid to upset them? Do they make you feel drained or judged? Can you trust them?
After identifying a toxic relationship, the next step is to get out. You can do this by slowly distancing yourself from the person. Try sitting with other people at lunch, and stop seeing them outside of school. Find new people to talk to by trying new activities or even just working with someone new on a group project.
The opposite of a toxic friend, a good friend will help you heal from sadness or depression to the best of their ability. Being heard or having a shoulder to cry on are some of the best things a person can gain from a true friendship. “I usually try to send my friends wholesome memes or tell them how much they mean to me,” stated a student when asked how she helps her friends in need. “I’m always here for them if they need someone just to listen or if they need some advice.” Similarly, another student said her friends “don’t hesitate to validate my feelings. A lot of times, I’m upset about things that other people will tell me I’m too immature or smart to start worrying about, but if I bring it up to my friends, they listen and nod their heads without questioning it.”
4. Seasonal Depression
Half a million people in the United States suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
This is defined by a sudden drop in mood during seasonal changes, and is most common during the transition between summer and winter.
With the warm weather gone and the sun setting hours earlier than normal, the symptoms of SAD have begun to emerge. These include sadness, anxiety, irritability, a loss of interest in normal activities, withdrawal, lack of energy, weight gain, and an increased need for sleep. Much like regular clinical depression, SAD requires a professional medical diagnosis.
Thanks to new studies and recognition as a valid condition, there are now cures for SAD. These can range from normal antidepressants and therapy to the newly researched phototherapy.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based around the idea that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, not external sources like people or events. CBT offers many benefits besides healing from SAD, ranging from identifying negative emotions to overcoming sleep disorders. CBT is good for people in well mental health looking to practice mindfulness as well as people with SAD or clinical depression. (my.clevlandclinic.org)
Phototherapy, or light therapy, is designed to affect brain chemicals linked to mood. During phototherapy, a patient sits near a box emitting bright light meant to mimic natural light. This makes up for the lack of natural light collected in the winter months. Phototherapy has shown to lessen symptoms of SAD in just days.
“Light intensity tended to have different affects on the symptoms of SAD,” according to the psychology department at the University of Hong Kong. “Different intensities produced different effects in reducing the typical symptoms.” This means that based on the severity of diagnosis, doctors can specialize treatment from individual to individual.
Helping yourself and others:
The first step in solving any issue is to recognize the source of the problem. This applies to depression, stress, or even a math problem. With the correct steps, and problem can be solved. It requires just three steps: Recognition, treatment, and patience. By allowing room to heal, a sufferer is setting themselves up for a prosperous life.