The other day the service light came on when I started my car, reminding me that I’m due for an oil change. I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to this kind of thing my first instinct isn’t to run out to the instant oil change place or schedule a morning to drop it off at the mechanic I go to for other maintenance work. I say to myself, meh. I can drive it another week or two without worrying about it. And I probably can get away with that for a bit. But that little light is on every time I get into the car. I see it out of the corner of my eye and until I go change the oil it will be there reminding me that it needs to be done.
For those of you who read the blog regularly know, I recently had a really tough time with a new medication, and as a result, I entered into a depressive state that was bad- maybe one of the worst I’ve had in a year or so. After several awful days I made a phone call that helped me slow down, stop, and eventually turn things around. But none of it was easy. There wasn’t any particular moment when a light came on warning me that I needed to do something. It was a slow realization. And even once I recognized what was happening, it’s not like I reacted immediately. It’s something I had to build up to.
After this most recent episode more than one person said to me something along the lines of “I figured something was wrong” or “you didn’t seem to be yourself” and yet they hadn’t said anything to me before I brought it up. This isn’t intended as blaming anyone, but to give you an idea that we all do a pretty good job of recognizing when someone needs help, but we can also be doing more to take the first step in offering help. In an ideal world we act as one another’s mental health service light when things aren’t right.
So how do you know the difference between a friend or family member who may be having a bad day versus one sliding into a depressive episode? The mental health group Bring Change 2 Mind has a good overview of the facts about various mental health issues, including symptoms and warning signs, that are worth reviewing. Here’s what they say about depression:
People with Depression tend to experience:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” feelings;
- Feelings of hopelessness and / or pessimism;
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and / or helplessness;
- Irritability, restlessness;
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex;
- Fatigue and decreased energy;
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions;
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping;
- Overeating, or appetite loss;
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts;
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
If you know of a family member, friend, co-worker, etc. who may be exhibiting these signs, reach out to them. Be their mental health service light. They may tell you everything is fine, they may be embarrassed and not want to talk about it at that moment, but just by saying something, you’re helping to put that reminder in front of them. You’re helping to let them know that it’s time to change something.