Mental Health Awareness and Screening for Depression

I’m writing this post because in the last week we had depression screening day and mental health awareness day. October is mental health awareness month. However, throughout the year it feels like every day is some kind of focused awareness event, and quite honestly, I can’t keep up. Perhaps it’s just that technology is making all these events easier to document and track or maybe its my involvement in the community expanding my awareness. But the fact remains, it can feel overwhelming sometimes – jumping from one topic to the next – leaving me to wonder if it’s really effective or if we are just constantly going from one to the next, too busy keeping up to absorb the meaning of the day. These days can be good for awareness, but not so much for individuals.

Often times we see the quote “Mental health is health”, which is true, but also health is health. Everything is connected. We need to break out of the silo mentality when it comes to mind body health. Gut health is mental health. Physical health is mental health. Eat healthy or go for a run and you will be in a better state of mind than otherwise. It takes balance to be healthy. We can’t to go to the gym, have a terrible diet, and then expect optimal performance – mental or physical.

Ups and downs are a natural part of life and they serve a purpose. No emotion is inherently good or bad.

Mental resilience, or a strong mind is important to have. For me it is a choice to identify with a disease vs. having a strong mind. Do I get depressed? Sure, I’m more susceptible than most people. Life is not perfect, but that’s a part of it. Sometimes I think it is all pointless. Things don’t always go according to plan. We experience pain. Relationships drift apart. We feel lost. Possessions are temporary. People die. People should be screened if they experience any of this and don’t feel a little depressed. I’m going to do you a favor and say you don’t need to go anywhere. Take a pause and check in with yourself. This is the best screening possible. You know if you feel happy or not – if you feel fulfilled or not, if you feel sad, or stressed, or overwhelmed. And if you’re not sure, then that means it’s time to take a pause and check in. Ultimately it’s up to us to be accountable for our health.

So what do we do? First off, lets not get ourselves more down about feeling down. It is common for us to intensify undesirable emotions because we are so focused on them. We get so focused on our depression or anger that it makes us more depressed or angry! Ups and downs are a natural part of life and they serve a purpose. No emotion is inherently good or bad. Once we accept, that, we can use our emotions to our advantage. For example, feel down/depressed allows for greater introspection – to look within and re-evaluate our needs/actions.

  1. Take inventory
    • Take note of one word describing how you feel right now.
    • (Optional) Do a stress inventory. Stress is the top contributing factor for most chronic disease, immunity, mental health imbalances, and overall well-being. Sometimes we don’t recognize how much stress we are experiencing. This can help to put what we are experiencing in life into perspective.
  2. Practice mindfulness! Gratitude and positivity are two easy exercises. Remember that the mind is a muscle. The more we practice positive thinking, the easier it becomes. When we practice mindfulness it also increases our emotional intelligence and stress management skills.
    • Note down 3 things you are grateful for.
    • Practice re-framing negative thoughts into positive ones. Gratitude and humor are 2 easy ways to do this.
  3. Exercise – This is talked about all the time so I won’t go into too much detail here. Something as little as going for a walk can make a huge difference in how you feel. Do what feels good – yoga, calisthenics, cardio, weights – it all helps to get more blood flowing which means more oxygen and nutrients for the brain and body.
  4. Eat Healthy – Diet is huge but not for the reasons you might think. Yes, you want healthy toxin-free building blocks to support a healthy brain and body. But more importantly the gut produces most of our “happy molecules”, the hormones and neurotransmitters that help us to regulate our emotions and feel good. The gut really is the 2nd brain (or the 1st brain according to some people!)
  5. Find your passion – If you feel like you are not reaching your full potential or unfulfilled in any capacity, on a day to day basis then it means you are not putting energy towards things that make you happy. Find a hobby, join a club, build relationships – do what you need to do to feel fulfilled.