The Importance of Mental Health

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By: Francesco Yepez-Coello

These past couple of years, it seems that every week there is another tragedy occurring all over the United States. The Washington Post reports that there have in fact been 44 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, which had national coverage. That isn’t to mention the non school related incidents, such as the one in Isla Vista that occurred very recently I’m sure many of you heard about. With story upon story in the news of violent killings, the cycle of violence may leave many of us feeling helpless, and unable to stop them from occurring again.

 

Although the last particular shooting I mentioned has sparked a lot of debate over misogyny in our society, and with good reason, I propose that neither societal structure or regulation of firearms are exclusively responsible. Another giant factor that has lead to senseless violence is that each perpetrator was mentally ill, and there is plenty that each of us can do to ensure not only that we are healthy, but that our loved ones maintain a healthy lifestyle as well.

 

May has been declared Mental Health Awareness Month by Mental Health America, an organization dedicated to helping people achieve mental health by changing policy, educating the public on mental health issues, and providing services that promote wellness to whichever indivual or community that requires them.

 

Although MHA works throughout the year reaching out to populations at risk of developing disorders and link them with professionals who can help, lobbying in Capitol Hill to ensure that laws facilitating the outreach of treatment to those who need it are passed, and the like, in May they make a particular effort of educating the community. Some of the programs they advocate include the “Live Your Life Well” program that summarizes their mission quite well.

 

The Center for Disease Control identified 13 different health concerns early last year they felt were the most critical they were going to combat. Among them are preventing the onset of mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders, as well as putting an end to the violence; two problems they attribute to poor mental health. The Live Your Life Well campaign addresses these concerns by giving these helpful tips based on decades of research on the factors that promote wellness and prevents mental illness:

 

  1. Connect with others: Next time you think of a witty remark or complaint you need to post as a status on facebook, instead of posting it publicly, call up a friend and tell him about it yourself. Better yet, when you call them make plans to hang out and tell him in person. Connecting directly with people builds your relationships and the support group that may give you strength in times of need.

 

  1. Stay Positive: When faced with a problem, think of its solution rather than how difficult the problem is to begin with. Medicine shows a negative response to stress increases the likelihood of heart disease. Don’t give yourself extra problems by ruminating on the original one.

 

  1. Get physically active: Exercising can often be a drag for most of us, but it is actually shown to give us more energy throughout our day instead of wearing us out completely. Next time you have about an hour to kill, hit the gym. Better yet, do it with a buddy, there’s no need to be alone all the time.

 

  1. Help others: Next time you see someone who looks lost on campus, help them find their way. Or if you see someone carrying an absurd amount of books, offer to help him carry some to their next class. You don’t have to join the Peace Corps, but doing small things for people who could use your help will lift both your mood and theirs, readying you for what is next in your day. 
  1. Get enough sleep: I wrote an article about this a while back.

 

  1. Create joy and satisfaction: Most college students I know are constantly stressed by the competitive nature of the job market and the grad school atmosphere. In your busy schedule, remember to make time to do things you enjoy. Read, watch netflix, play video games, whatever you like. But the simple pleasure of the activity will energize you so long as you do not

 

  1. Eat well: Good nutrition has obvious benefits, but it affects your mental health as well. Over or under eating are symptoms of many eating disorders, as well as depression. Next time you have a date, cook for them instead of taking them out to a restaurant. If you get cravings during those late nights after a party, make yourself a burger instead of getting one from the King. Making it yourself will make you question whether you really want it or not anyway.

 

  1. Take care of your spirit: Religion is an important and healthy source of strength for many. Talk to your appropriate religious leader in a time of need, it may help. GMU, for example, has a campus ministry that, although Catholic, would not turn away people of other faiths who are interested in talking to a priest. For all my secular brothers and sisters, do yoga. A powerful spirit will motivate you to accomplish your goals.

 

  1. Get professional help if you need it: It takes courage to admit when you cannot over come an obstacle alone, no matter how trivial or large it may be. If you feel overwhelmed, contact your school’s counseling and psychological services. MHA has a list of easy access tools you can use to find a mental health care provider near you as wellGMU CPS: 703 993 2380

    CRISIS LINK: 1 800 273 TALK

    http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/finding-therapy

 

MHA even made a cute little calendar that organizes each of these tips into short little activities you can do a few minutes a day to promote your own mental health and that of others. Although the month of May is coming to a close, you can apply these lessons to whichever month of the year.

 

There are even multiple groups that promote an open dialogue about mental health on a smaller scale. Pennsive is a blog in which U Penn students can anonymously share mental health stories in a safe, non judgemental environment. GMU students are developing their own blog of a similar nature, with posts coming soon! Active Minds chapters all over the nation advocate mental health, with GMU’s own former chapter president Melissa Simkol posting daily throughout May in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month on the group page on facebook.

 

Dealing with stress is important. It isn’t just people who are “ill” who should mind their mental health, but all of us. If we do not learn how to cope with the stresses of every day life or worse, we may not be equipped to face these challenges and still be able to lead a productive and meaningful life. For some, they are overwhelemed to the point that they resort to violence. Pass the calendar or the list of Live Your Life Well tips on to a friend- little by little, our community can become a brighter, healthier one!

 

“The Bizarre And Horrifying Autobiography Of A Mass Shooter.” Weblog post.Buzzfeed. N.p., 25 May 2014. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/jimdalrympleii/the-bizarre-and-horrifying-autobiography-of-a-mass-shooter?bffb&gt;.

 

“Mental Health America.” Mental Health Support. Mental Health America, n.d. Web. May 2014. <http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net>.

 

Strauss, Valerie. “At Least 44 School Shootings since Newtown — New Analysis.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/02/13/at-least-44-school-shootings-since-newtown-new-analysis/&gt;.

 

United Sates of America. Center for Disease Control. CDC Blog. Center for Disease Control, 18 Jan. 2013. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://blogs.cdc.gov/cdcworksforyou24-7/2013/01/cdc-looks-ahead-13-public-health-issues-in-2013/&gt;.

 

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Eating Your Stress Away

overeatingBy: Miranda Lapides

The closer midterms were approaching last week, the more I was reaching for my notes and textbooks sprawled out on my desk before me. I also found myself going for midnight pizza at Pilot House and a slice of my favorite pistachio cake at IndAroma I know I did not need. We’ve all been guilty of snacking more during difficult or stressful times, but what makes our bodies crave these foods that are rich in fat and sugar? People throw around the term “comfort food” but fail to realize the science behind it.

When you are feeling stressed or in danger, your body produces a hormone called cortisol, also known as “the stress hormone.” This hormone causes temporary changes in the body such as an increase in heart rate, attentiveness, and energy. This emergency response system helps the body be more alert during times of stress, and it eventually has the ability to turn itself off once the stress is gone. When cortisol is sent back to the brain, it stops the body’s production of the hormone.

But what happens when it seems as though the stress cannot go away? This is known in the psychology world as “chronic stress.” When this occurs, the emergency response system does not turn itself off and can negatively affect the body. It does not stop producing cortisol, which can lead to the body using up too much energy to protect itself in times of stress. This excess of energy leads to anxiety and hyper alertness. This is where food comes in: treats high in sugars and fats give your body the energy it used up to combat stress. Fat is pretty useful for the body in numerous ways, one acting as a signal to the brain, telling it to turn off the stress response. Otherwise, the body uses up all of its energy which it needs to survive.

Snacking may help the body adjust to stress, but eventually it leads to overeating and health problems. Overeating leads to weight gain and depression, which could create a vicious cycle of more stress. Women are more likely to turn to food to handle stress while men are more likely to drink alcohol and smoke. Women are also more likely to engage in emotional eating, which is when one becomes dependent on eating to satisfy more than hunger.

The good news is that it is easy to overcome problems such as overeating, emotional eating, and stress altogether. First, it is important to be aware and realize that you are overeating due to stress. Ask yourself some questions such as: Do you eat more when you’re stressed? Do you eat to feel better? Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel out of control around food? If you have answered “yes” to at least some of these questions, you may be overly dependent on food in times of stress.

To stop overeating and beat stress, exercise. I can’t stress how important it is not just for your body but also for your mind. Personally, spending even as little as twenty minutes at Skyline on the elliptical machine makes me feel better. Take up yoga or meditation. There are free classes provided on campus at least once a week. Healthy activities such as these activate the same pleasure centers in the brain that cause us to crave food.

Stress is inevitable in college. While you’re hitting the books for your exams, try to not let it get to you. If you feel it creeping over your shoulder, be aware. If you’re craving sweets, don’t be afraid to reward yourself every now and then because you deserve it. Make sure to not overdo it, though, and replace sweets with healthy snacks if you must. Good luck, fellow Patriots!

Sources

Marano, H. E. (2003, Nov. 21). Stress and eating. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200311/stress-and-eating.

Smith, M. & Segal, J. (2013). Emotional eating. HelpGuide.org. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/life/emotional_eating_stress_cravings.htm.

(2012). Why stress causes people to overeat. Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved from http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2012/February/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat.

Will you be feeling SAD this winter?

By: Christi Sabin

Photo by chop1n, obtained from Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Photo by chop1n, obtained from Flickr under Creative Commons license.

The days are getting shorter, and there’s a chill in the air, signs that winter is well on its way. While some people may feel a bit bummed-out that the summer is now behind them, for others, it’s much more than a yearning for one last trip to the beach. For some, the colder season can mean a time of drastic emotional changes that they just can’t seem to shake. It could be more than just a case of the ‘winter blues’, in reality, this could mean that they may be experiencing what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What exactly is SAD, and what are the symptoms?

SAD is a depressive disorder that is recurring in individuals mostly in the fall and winter, although occasionally it can be the warmer season that triggers the symptoms. The symptoms are similar to those of other depressive disorders, including fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, irritability, and overeating or oversleeping. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-5th Edition (DSM-V) the following criteria constitutes a possible diagnosis of SAD: depressive episodes recurring at certain times of the year, if two major depressive episodes have occurred in the last 2 years with no nonseasonal episodes at other times of the year, or if seasonal major depressive episodes significantly outweigh the number of nonseasonal episodes during the course of a person’s life. These criteria are listed as a specifier for depressive disorders, rather than a separate diagnosis, meaning that a person will be demonstrating the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), but they do not fully meet the criteria, so it would be diagnosed as MDD ‘with seasonal pattern’.

What causes SAD?

The lack of light experienced in the shorter days is thought to affect the levels of melatonin in the body, which regulates our sleep patterns. The idea has also been postulated that the human body responds to the changing of the seasons as the rest of nature does, but that society expects us to stay active, which causes feelings of guilt, which can then manifest into feelings of depression.

Who is affected by SAD?

SAD can affect anyone at any time in their life, although there are certain individuals who may be at a higher risk. More women than men experience SAD. It is also more common in younger people, including children, adolescents, and young adults. People living at higher latitudes also have increased risk. People with a family history of mental health disorders are also at an increased risk. Overall, approximately half a million Americans have SAD.

How do I know if I have SAD?

If you have these symptoms during more than just a certain time of year, it could be due to another underlying mental health disorder, such as MDD. There could also potentially be a physical cause of the symptoms, so also check with your physician to make sure there isn’t a medical reason for your symptoms. Also, if your symptoms are the result of something circumstantial that happens to you at a certain time of year, this could also be the cause. It is recommended that you consult with your physician or a mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis.

What are the treatment options for SAD?

Light therapy has become a popular way of treating the effects of SAD. A special light box is used by the individual for about 30 minutes per day, and the recommended intensity of light is 10,000 lux. Another helpful technique is negative ion therapy, which can also be found in some light boxes so that you get a combined effect, such as this one from Amazon: NatureBright-SunTouch-Plus-Light-Therapy. Seeking treatment with a therapist may also be beneficial. Medication is a potential option as well. Various natural remedies can be useful, including herbs such as St. John’s wort, ginkgo biloba, and Siberian ginseng; as well as vitamin supplements such as B-vitamins, L-tyrosine, and zinc. Any combination of these options could help alleviate the symptoms of SAD, however It is recommended that you consult your physician or a mental health professional before starting any type of treatment plan.

Resources:

GMU Fairfax Campus Counseling and Psychological Services Center: 703-993-2380

Suicide Hotlines:

National Hopeline Network: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-899-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

References:

American Psychological Association. (2006). Bright Lights, Big Relief. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/research/action/light.aspx

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental  Disorders, Fifth Edition. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

DeAngelis, T. (2006, February). Promising new treatments for SAD. Monitor on Psychology, 37(2), Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb06/sad.aspx

Balch, J.F., & Balch, P.A. (1997). Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Second Edition. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group.

Blaszczak, J.  (2005). 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 10, 2013, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/10-things-you-dont-know-about-seasonal-affective-disorder/0002

National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2004). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Seasonal_Affective_Disorder_%28SAD%29.htm 

National Center for Biotechnology Information, National Institute of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2013). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002499/