Prior to the pandemic, the U.S. was already facing a mental health crisis. According to a 2019 study, one in five adults and one in seven children and teens are diagnosed with a mental illness. It's no surprise that in 2020, we saw a dramatic increase in those numbers. As Americans struggled with isolation, economic downturn, political uprisings and racial injustices, the rates of anxiety rose 93% with a 62% increase in depression.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to increase awareness of mental health, destigmatize mental illness and advocate for policy change so care is more accessible. While these conversations are crucial to creating lasting change, it's equally important for us to reflect on our own mental health.
Here are five areas that may be red flags.
1. Appetite and Sleep
Have you noticed any changes in your appetite? Not eating as much or eating past your natural fullness? We’ve all reached for that second bowl of ice cream or worked through lunch, but are these behaviors becoming a habit? And how have you been sleeping? Snoozing past your alarm every day or can’t get to sleep most nights? Appetite and sleep are largely affected by the stress hormone cortisol. When our cortisol is too high, our bodies cannot go into rest and digest. This keeps our bodies from absorbing nutrients and doesn’t allow us to get proper sleep.
Everyone has bad days. Yes, even Beyonce. Does it feel like you’re having more bad days than good? Are you more irritable with your partner and losing patience quicker with your kiddos? You may even be experiencing forgetfulness or struggling with attention. When your body isn’t getting enough rest and nutrients, it throws your entire system off. All of these are cues something could be wrong.
Are you a runner, but haven’t run in months? Have you been biting your nails more often? Can’t sit still or stop fidgeting? We engage in these behaviors to calm anxiety and depression. When our behaviors change, it can point to an increase in stress.
Outside of COVID social distancing practices, do you find yourself withdrawing from others? When friends and loved ones reach out, do you lack the energy to respond? We all have different social batteries — like how extroverts are recharged by social interaction and introverts recharge with alone time — but we all need connection and share a sense of belonging. Withdrawing from loved ones can be a sign of depression or anxiety.
5. History of Anxiety, Depression or Trauma
If you have a history of mental illness, you may already know the warning signs. This can be incredibly helpful if you are paying attention. Check in with yourself regularly. Do you have a history of early childhood trauma or past trauma? Individuals with a history of trauma are more likely to struggle with mental illness.
Given that this previous year itself was a traumatic event, it's a good idea to check in with yourself, even if you aren’t noticeably experiencing any of these struggles. Checking in with yourself regularly is essential to practicing self-care and prioritizing your mental health.
Kami Ball Tran is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor and National Certified Counselor. Contact The Healing Place Therapies today to learn how they can help you on the journey to mental and emotional wellness.