MENTAL HEALTH & STRESS

Mental Health issues can be tough to talk about.

When we sprain our ankles or get the flu, we are typically very comfortable telling our friends and family why we are ailing.

It would be most wonderful if the same was true about our mental health, but many times it is not. When one first faces the diagnosis of a mental illness, it can be hard to come to terms with.

However, a number of years ago I heard a particularly poignant approach to the topic from a neuropsychologist up in Seattle. She suggested that physical health was like computer hardware and mental health was like computer software. The body needs the mind to function (just like a computer hard drive needs software to make it run), much in the same way the mind needs the physical processes in our body in order to function (just as software without hardware to integrate into is useless).

So... given that profound connection between mind and body, why do we tend to divide those up into physical health (which we tend to talk openly about) and mental health (which we tend not to talk openly about) when in fact that are simply two parts of a whole?

*That* particular topic could go on at length, but I'm not as interested in *why* we don't talk about mental health more often but instead how we might go about talking about mental health in a somewhat more coherent, comfortable and safe manner.

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As many of us have discovered, the mind-body connection is very profound. When we become stressed, depressed or upset, it can have substantial effect on our lives and the lives of people around us.

I must admit that when I was in high school, I had a rather dim view of psychology. That changed little in college when I heard my friends talking about the 'science' of psychology, which just didn't seem right to me... how could we objectively study our brains when we ourselves had the brains we were trying to study by using our brains?

If it sounds kind of like convoluted reasoning, that's because it is (or was I should say).

As a science teacher, I now know that psychology and neuroscience are mature, insightful, and fully integrated sciences that can teach us a great deal.

Also as a science teacher, I know AND value the importance of going to high quality sources that offer outstanding science; and one of the best of those is the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Since many of us experience our first instances of mental illness as young people, it is important to be able to look out for those warning signs, and the NIMH website offers the following here (although I will list those below as well):

    • Often feels anxious or worried
    • Has very frequent tantrums or is intensely irritable much of the time
    • Has frequent stomachaches or headaches with no physical explanation
    • Is in constant motion, can’t sit quietly for any length of time
    • Has trouble sleeping, including frequent nightmares
    • Loses interest in things he or she used to enjoy
    • Avoids spending time with friends
    • Has trouble doing well in school, or grades decline
    • Fears gaining weight; exercises, diets obsessively
    • Has low or no energy
    • Has spells of intense, inexhaustible activity
    • Harms herself/himself, such as cutting or burning her/his skin
    • Engages in risky, destructive behavior
    • Harms self or others
    • Smokes, drinks, or uses drugs
    • Has thoughts of suicide
    • Thinks his or her mind is controlled or out of control, hears voices

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Up to now you may have noticed that I've written using my own voice and my own thoughts and experiences (albeit supplemented by links and such).

However, when it comes to the evaluation and treatment of mental illnesses, it is more appropriate to hear/read the words of professionals in the filed and those follow below

...former GHHS graduate, and practicing psychologist <NAME?> as well as our GHHS counselors below.