How to recognize mental health warning signs in everyday life

The most common psychiatric disorders in Europe are anxiety, insomnia and depression. In Latvia, the situation is similar and, most likely, the burnout syndrome should also be mentioned. Unfortunately, many do not seek help from specialists, allowing the problem to grow to such an extent that they cannot do without medicine.

On how to recognize the moment when you definitely need to go to a specialist and how to change society’s attitude towards mental health, the psychiatrist, doctor of medical sciences Natālija Bērziņa and the specialists of the Association of Health Centers – clinical and health psychologist Ekaterina Vinteres and gynecologist share their vision Karlina Elksne.

It can happen to anyone

Mental problems are still stigmatized in society, seeking help from a psychologist or psychiatrist is often even considered a sign of weakness: you can’t handle yourself at all!

Psychologist Ekaterina Winter emphasizes: “Just as each of us is not protected from physical ailments, mental health problems can also happen to anyone – in this sense, it is considered normal and should not be ashamed of it. However, there are various prejudices related to mental health problems in the society, which can also hinder the referral to specialists when a person feels that something is not right. However, help should be sought, because similar to physical illnesses, early diagnosis is important in mental health issues as well. When various disorders or conditions are allowed, the consequences can be long-lasting and very serious, such as gastrointestinal diseases in case of prolonged stress, self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse to relieve psychological distress, and in the most severe cases, suicide. The difficulties that people suffer from are different, and therefore the possible consequences are also different. The good news is that by early detection of various disorders, it is possible to treat or manage them, thereby preventing these consequences and improving the quality of life in general.”

Signals that should not be ignored

Mental problems do not start in one day, moreover, they tend to develop under the influence of several adverse factors. For a moment, psychiatric or mental health disorders may not significantly affect life, but over time the situation changes. Psychiatrist Natālija Bērziņa states: “It is necessary to assess the extent to which, for example, anxiety affects daily functioning. If a person feels that he cannot concentrate on work due to anxiety, that it is difficult to fully communicate, socialize, that he lacks energy, has a bad mood, and the quality of life decreases, he should consult a psychiatrist.”

Psychologist Ekaterina Winter encourages you to pay more attention to your feelings and answer important questions: how do I feel; do I have enough resources for daily activities; do I feel rested when I wake up in the morning; can I work fully as before? If there are no affirmative answers to these questions, it should be taken as an “alarm bell”.

“Signals can be very different. What you may notice is nervousness, irritability, and other signs that may indicate anxiety. In the case of depression, there may be alienation, withdrawal, loss of interest. Also, people sometimes tend to self-medicate, for example, by using alcohol or other intoxicating substances. Relatives have a big helping role in noticing changes. If you see any drastic changes in the behavior or personality of a close person, it is worth asking how he feels, whether he is depressed, or whether he is coping with everything,” explains the psychologist.

Gynecologist Karlina Elksne confirms: “Psychosomatic or cases of interaction between psychic and somatic processes are quite common in gynecological practice, for example, when it comes to infertility. Both partners may be examined and found to be completely healthy, but pregnancy does not occur. When a woman is advised to attend psychotherapy, after some time she also becomes pregnant. Therefore, when evaluating physical symptoms, it is worthwhile for a specialist doctor to find out whether they are not the result of a mental disorder.”

The virtual world is a trap for the psyche

Social networks also have a negative impact on people with already existing psycho-emotional disorders, making the situation worse. “The content of social networks, for example, about the life of new mothers, is difficult to apply to reality. If the young woman starts comparing herself and is unable to come close to these standards, she can fall into an even deeper emotional pit,” says the gynecologist and adds that everything is not so simple – emotional states after childbirth have gradations, for example, there is the grief of the first few days after childbirth, which is natural and adequate – a woman cries, she worries, is she doing everything right. “It is not adequate if these complaints persist two weeks after delivery and tend to increase. Then it can be about postpartum depression. The third type of disorder is postpartum psychosis, which manifests itself as self- or others-harming behavior, visual, auditory hallucinations. It is an acute type of disorder that requires immediate medical intervention. They are not common, but they are very dangerous cases.”

Are mental disorders more common in women than in men?

Karlina Elksne disagrees with this assumption

writes, believing that women only seek specialist help more often and their problems are diagnosed. “In my opinion, it is men who are more at risk at the moment. Women are not afraid to ask for help, they are more open to both self-help mechanisms and specialists. Yes, a woman’s menstrual cycle can affect hormonal fluctuations and hormones affect the whole body, including the brain. However, premenstrual syndrome should not be confused with depression, it is something else. If a woman is disturbed by hormonal fluctuations, then it can be considered a disease and she should first talk about it with her gynecologist.

Psychiatrist Natalija Bērziņa reveals: “I talk a lot with women about mental health and hormonal fluctuations. At every stage of a woman’s life – during pregnancy, postpartum or perimenopause – there are risks of anxiety and depression.

A person (regardless of gender) usually comes to a psychiatrist when they are already worried, hopeless, when they do not understand what is happening to them. Men are more often diagnosed with such disorders of the anxiety spectrum as, for example, social anxiety, just as in women, depression or, for example, somatoform autonomic dysfunction are also found in men. True, men are often uncomfortable talking about it, because prejudices and upbringing interfere.”

The psychologist confirms that women seek help more: “Women think a lot about their mental health. It also happens because women feel responsible for their children, they want to be good mothers, and as soon as they feel serious signals, they look for ways to help themselves. The dynamics of counseling are usually very good, the woman finds internal resources, ways of self-help. If the psychologist does not see the symptoms of a serious illness, they are referred to a psychiatrist. It is possible to improve the emotional state.”

Burnout syndrome has no gender

One of the problems that people of working age have to face, in particular, is burnout syndrome – a disorder that can significantly reduce the quality of life. It must be recognized that an important factor in burnout is precisely the work environment and relationships – if nothing changes in it, the risk of employees burning out remains.

Ekaterina Winter says: “Burnout is not only related to work, you can also burn out in the family, in partnerships. For a woman, burnout is a serious threat, because she has to fulfill many social roles – in so many areas of life, a woman tries to be successful that sometimes she doesn’t have time for herself at all.”

Signs of burnout syndrome are a depressed mood, loss of interest in the work being done, irritation, cynicism, isolation from colleagues, lateness to work or living only at work, work does not give satisfaction, somatic symptoms also appear, such as constant muscle tension, back pain. Co-workers or family members can also help you spot symptoms. If a person begins to give up social activities and this continues, if the usual pleasures have decreased, he is not interested in a hobby, there are problems with sleep, a sense of guilt that does not match the situation, he should be encouraged to go to a specialist. It should be noted that burnout is a risk factor for the development of depression and that anxiety, which is so common, goes hand in hand with depression.

“Mental health issues are very serious and real. It is not something that can be dealt with by ‘just getting by’. If a person has a broken arm, we won’t say: what are you whining about, take it and save it. No! We know it hurts, that it takes time. Likewise with mental health – colleagues, friends, relatives should be offered help sensitively, non-judgmentally. The simplest question we can ask is: Can I help you? If the answer is yes, find out how we can be helpful and help in the way he needs, not in the way we think is right. We must also remember that we can only offer a hand to the other person, but we cannot make them take it,” says the psychologist.

When do you need medication?

Psychiatrist Natālija Bērziņa states: “Medications should be used only if a disease has been diagnosed. A doctor does not prescribe antidepressants for depression, which can happen to anyone. Everyone can have it sometimes.

What else can be done – try to show the resources that are currently available to a person. If the relatives feel that something more is happening than just normal depression, they should be invited to consult a specialist. And if depression or anxiety is diagnosed according to the diagnostic criteria, the psychiatrist can offer drug therapy that can alleviate the symptoms, reduce the intensity of the disorder, and therefore can also temporarily improve physical sensations, the course of chronic diseases, reduce pain or migraine symptoms.

Antidepressant taken in the right dose and for a sufficient amount of time (correcting side effects if necessary) is very helpful. However, it should be noted that all the above points are extremely important.”

How to change attitudes towards mental health?

It should start with realizing the unity of psyche and body and recognizing both as equal, therefore deserving of equal attention and care.

The psychologist says: “A person is not only a physical being, but also an emotional one.

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