Monday, November 23, 2009

De-bunking Myths about Depression

Depression is a serious mental health issue. It can make it difficult, if not impossible to leave the house. It can result in loss of connection to family, friends, employment, and the things that used to be pleasurable. In the most severe situations it can result in suicide. Often depression is not recognized and people do not receive the help and support they need. It is important to challenge some of the myths that currently exist about depression.

Myth #1: Depression is a sign of weakness.
This could not be further from the truth. Depression strikes people from all walks of life. It is not something that just hits one type of personality. In truth, people who have struggled with depression are some of the strongest people you will meet. To simply get out of bed, bathe, get dressed, eat, and get out of the house can take more effort than those who take these actions for granted. Instead of judging people who are facing depression and telling them to “just get over it”, the more compassionate and helpful approach is to consider what they have had to carry to get from where they started.

Myth #2: If you are a spiritual/religious person, you will never face depression.
This is also not true. There have been throughout history, wonderful people of faith who have had to endure serious bouts of depression. Faith does not erase depression but for many people it gives them encouragement to keep trying to press forward.

Myth #3: Therapy is for rich people without friends and medication is a crutch.
These unfortunate myths keep many people from getting the support they need and deserve. Mental health rights are for everyone, not a select few. There are many counseling agencies that provide free and low-cost mental health support. Additionally being a friend is not the same thing as being a therapist. Being a therapist is a professional caring service based on education, experience, and a desire to help others. It is not just based on one person giving their opinion or advice in the moment but based on key concepts that have been found over many years of study to be helpful in improving the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

In terms of medication, some people have such severe symptoms of depression that they are left unable to fight for their lives and emotional well-being. Medication should not be used as a substitute for dealing with your life issues but it can definitely be a source of help by reducing the symptoms enough for you to be able to work on the challenges before you.

So here are a few facts.
Some of the symptoms of depression are:
• difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
• fatigue and decreased energy
• feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
• feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
• insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
• irritability, restlessness
• loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
• overeating or appetite loss
• persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do
not ease even with treatment
• persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
• thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts

Some strategies to help combat depression are:
• Therapy
• Medication
• Eat a healthy diet
• Exercise
• Spiritual Practices
• Expressing your feelings through art or to someone you can trust
• Relaxation
• Avoiding or reducing things that are causing you stress
• Challenging negative thoughts by looking at the evidence
• Building supportive relationships

If you or someone you care about is facing depression, know that you don’t have to carry it alone. Resist the shame and be willing to reach out for help. You are worth fighting for. Your mental health needs to be a top priority.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Healthy Sexuality

Your sexuality is connected to not only your body but also your mind, heart, and spirit. There are a number of tips to help you build a healthy sense of your sexuality. The first thing is to recognize that your sexuality is a natural and beautiful part of who you are. Some people have been raised to believe their bodies and their sexuality are their enemies or are evil, dirty, and bad. Others may have had past experiences of sexual violation, abuse, or assault. These experiences can create serious barriers to healthy intimacy; you have to work to break the mental trigger that makes an automatic connection between sex and shame. The truth is that your body and sexuality are sacred, beautiful aspects of who you are.

Another challenge is when people based on past experiences have come to believe that sexuality is merely a means or tool for them to obtain attention or resources. When sexuality is associated with game playing and manipulation it robs you from a having a truly fulfilling experience. Access to your body should not be the price you must pay for housing, shoes, money, or a return phone call. Your body is a temple and should be respected as a part of you while recognizing that it is only a part of you. When you or others reduce your worth to your sexuality alone, so much more is diminished and ignored.

An additional challenge is the fact that some women based on negative past experiences have concluded that sexual intimacy is something that women simply have to endure and that it is only for the enjoyment of men. This is far from the truth. The pleasure of intimacy and affection are available to men and women; even if you have not had the experience of fulfillment, know that with time and care you can enjoy your sexuality.

Another myth is that remaining committed to one person sexually is either impossible or has to be boring. The truth is with a foundation of trust, comfort, respect, and love, you can experience the freedom of creativity and spontaneity that makes intimacy exciting, fun, and nourishing for your body, heart, mind, and spirit. Instead of taking each other for granted and falling into a routine, begin to think out of the box. Shake things up. Do something new.

So in summary to embrace your sexuality in a more healthy and growth-promoting way:
• Resist the negative myths and associations connected to your sexuality
• Choose to celebrate healthy sexuality instead of carrying shame
• Remember that your sexuality is a part of you but not all that you have to offer
• Don’t use sexuality as a tool, weapon, or strategy for manipulation
• Hold on to the belief that sexuality can be enjoyable even if you have yet to experience it that way
• Be willing to explore the ways intimacy can be most fulfilling for you, recognizing that we are all unique
• Consider the ways commitment can open the door for creative, enjoyable intimacy

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Your Faith & Your Mental Health

Many people report using religious or spiritual practice as a way to cope with stress. Spiritual and religious involvement can include but is not limited to prayer, religious service attendance, watching religious programs, reading/studying religious texts, religiously motivated artistic expression, and religiously motivated volunteerism/service/activism. Spirituality refers to the internal reflection and path of growth through prayer, meditation, and contemplation. Religion involves membership and participation is a community of believers who share a set faith. From a mental health perspective, there can be benefits from both the individual time of spiritual practice as well as the connection to a faith-based community.

The benefits of religious and spiritual practice are reported by people at all different stages of life. For teens, religious involvement is associated with decreased criminal activity, substance use, and high risk sexual activity. For college students, involvement with campus ministries has been found to be associated with more effective coping, less doctor visits, and higher scores on measures of psychological well-being. Among older adults, religious involvement has been associated with better physical health, lower depression, and greater social support. In addition, across the lifespan, a number of positive relationships have been associated with prayer. Specifically both younger and older people who engage in prayer increasingly report better health, less hypertension, less stress, more positive feelings, less depression, and a greater capacity to handle stress.

Along with the blessings that come directly from taking time to center on our spirits, there are a number of ways through which religion and spirituality may benefit us. Religious teachings can encourage a positive, optimistic world view, a meaning and purpose to life, and a sense of hope and empowerment. Through prayer and other religious activities people may feel they can affect the outcome of their lives and in this way not feel powerless or helpless. There is also the sense of social support that can be provided by members of the religious community.

It is important to also be aware that religion and spirituality can be associated with negative outcomes. The major distinction between positive and negative religious coping is one’s understand of the nature of God. Having an understanding of God as a source of love and affirmation is immensely more health promoting than adopting an understanding of God as the cruel punisher who is out to condemn you.

At the same time, we see opposing responses to mental illness on the part of religious organizations. There are numerous examples, historically and currently, of religious communities exhibiting the greatest compassion and care for those suffering with mental illness. On the other hand, there are also many examples of religious organizations and leaders condemning and even demonizing those facing mental health challenges. We have to choose the positive over the negative.

Holistic health requires that we see the connections between mind, body, and spirit. We need to invest time, energy, and resources in caring for the health of our total beings. Most importantly adopt spiritual practices and beliefs that are edifying and not destructive. Invest time in caring for your soul, nourishing your spirit, and restoring your mind. Seek wholeness!