Many of us have been told that mental health is a personal problem. We've been told problems arise from a lack of fortitude, or poor individual decisions. This warped view of our health harms us by making us feel inadequate and alone when our own mental health falters. Even worse, it leaves many people afflicted by mental health crises without tools to discuss their issues, unaware of where to start seeking help and education.
That's why this year's theme of "Back to Basics" is so critical. The causes of mental health issues are complex, but knowing the basics can set us on the right path to learning more about caring for ourselves and finding help when we need it.
Learning the Basics
As climbers, most of us know that the mental is as important as the physical. But that doesn't mean we're as ready to discuss frankly what it can mean to undergo a mental health issue. Let's discuss some common signs of mental health issues.
Manifestations of Mental Health Concerns
Society teaches us to look for mental health concerns only in their most dramatic manifestations. However, many conditions manifest more subtly. Some may never grow larger, some may fester for long periods only to erupt into crisis later. There is no one cause or sign of mental health issues, but some common signs of emerging and extant mental health issues are:
- Withdrawing from others
- Excessive self-doubt
- Uncontrollable fears & anxieties
- Swings between extreme highs and lows of mood
- Inexplicable physical ailments
- Anger that cannot be controlled
- Confused or muddied thinking
- Feeling unable to handle routine life
- Disruption to regular eating patterns
- Suicidal or self-harm ideation
It is important to recognize that we all may experience some of these symptoms from time to time. There is no list which can encompass all signs of mental health concerns, nor does exhibiting a symptom mean you are in impending crisis. We are complex, and so are the presentations of mental health issues.
When one recognizes symptoms of a mental health concern, it is critical to remember this is not your fault. Mental health issues are caused by a mix of environmental, social, and biological factors beyond the control of any one person. Many mental health issues even stem from material factors that no therapist or pep-talk could ever conquer on their own.
Whatever the causes, it is important to remember that you are still a wonderful and valuable part of this world. This is no race "back to healthy." You are no less worthy of love and joy if your issues persist for a long while. All of us will deal with at least some mental health issues in our lives, whether we reach a clinical diagnosis or not. Be kind to yourself and recognize that the help of others is typically necessary to see improvement in our symptoms, no matter how strong we are as individuals.
Important Factors for Maintaining Good Mental Health
- Community - Surround yourself with people who make you feel valued. This isn't always easy; it isn't a thing which happens automatically or overnight. However, a community of people who see the intrinsic value in you is critical to good mental health. No matter what we contend with, having people around who care about us and celebrate our unique journey is critical to improving our mental health.
- Environment - The places we inhabit have dramatic effects upon us. In times of trouble, seeking out space where one feels safe, calm, and capable of being themselves is critical. Because many mental health conditions are caused by external factors, a change of environment can have dramatic benefits.
- Sleep - We are magnificent creatures, but we are not always the best at remembering to get enough sleep. Work and home responsibilities can make us believe that sacrificing a few hours of shut-eye is worth a few more hours of tasking. However, the research is compelling: proper and adequate sleep is essential to maintaining our mental well-being. While it's tempting to trade sleep for some 'extra' productivity, the long-term harm this causes to our well-being makes us worse at work we do and even more tired.
- Stress - Sometimes it is essential to identify factors keeping us from healing or causing anxieties we struggle with. Stressors are incredibly diverse, from people cutting us off in traffic to loved ones we may need space from. In times of distress, reducing exposure to stressors may be difficult and provoke feelings of guilt. Still, it is essential for healing and building up our long-term resilience.
- Sharing - One of the most daunting things when facing a mental health condition, especially in crisis, is to share what's happening. Whether it's with a licensed professional or a trusted friend, sharing what's afflicting us is how we get help. Connect, trust your friends, and together we can climb out of anything downturn in life.
Getting through rough times is. . . well, rough. If you believe you may be experiencing a mental health condition, a professional and a strong web of support will always be the best options. Meditation, exercise, and the tips above go far, but there's moments we need more.
We've all had hard days where we need a some serious beta. These resources are always available, when things get hard.
- Los Angeles Department of Mental Health (800) 854- 7771 - 24/7 Mental Health resources and referrals hotline. More here.
- Orange County Department of Mental Health - Portal with numerous referral resources, including crisis resources. More.
- Trevor Project Lifeline (800) 788-7386 - Support for LGBTQ Youth in need of crisis help or guidance. Chat and more available here.
- National Suicide Prevetion Hotline (800) 273-8255 - Free and confidential crisis and prevention, available nationwide. More.