Bringing Attention to Mental Illness
Mental health is a crucial aspect of everyone’s life. If mental health is not properly maintained, it can negatively affect one’s relationships, self esteem and quality of life. But society seems to overlook its impact on our lives. We all know someone who struggles with depression or anxiety- the fact is clear these types of illness are common. Although there are coping methods designed for such illness, they are applied after the patient was already affected. We see this protocol in the physical health department: medication and physical therapy. Many physical injuries such as muscle tears or cut/broken limbs can be prevented with proper maintenance and attention to safety. From a young age we are also educated on how to stay healthy. We take measures such as a healthy diet and exercise to not get sick or hurt. Ultimately, the goal of being healthy is to prevent physical disorders and illness for as long as possible. Similarly to taking measures to prevent physical illness, research below provides warning signs in hopes of preventing mental illness such as depression.
As symptoms of depression may vary among age groups, the age group that will be focused on is teenagers. An article called “Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs,” by HelpGuide.org, provides a list of symptoms for depression. Despite the fact that this list was designed for individuals to self-analyze, some points on this list may be observable. Symptoms on the list such as “loss of energy, loss of interest in daily activities, and appetite or weight changes” are slight changes in behavior that may be noticed by family. Within the article, one can see that “irritability, anger, and agitation are often the most noticeable symptoms in depressed teens- not sadness.” We see a behavior that is different than we may expect. The importance of learning these warning signs is that we can avoid concern for the wrong individuals. Rather than a melancholic mood, a depressed teenager may show a higher level of frustration and stress.
Research shows that changes in energy level, weight and frequent agitation are not the only warning signs of depression. The National Women’s Health Report analyzed warning signs in the article “Teens & Depression: Recognizing Red Flags” and concluded that observable red flags are changes in sleep schedule and decrease in academic performance. The article continues to report that “Above all, when kids stop doing things they used to do with pleasure, such as parties with friends, sports, et cetera. These are good indicators that an adolescent may be depressed.” This source emphasizes the physical behavior of the teenager, such as decrease in activity or participation, suggesting these behaviors can be as noticeable as anger or agitation. These warning signs are most easily detected by family, as the adolescent will consult parents about not participating in an activity or notice a drop in grades. But parents are not the only ones who can pick up these warning signs. In order to prevent depression, the community must be able to properly detect these warning signs.
Recognizing warning signals is the first step to prevention. Depression is a risk factor for suicide; a more severe case of depression may intensify suicidal ideation. Therefore, recognizing warning signs is only a portion of the necessary action to prevent depression. The current solution to this mental illness is treatment after diagnosis, not preventive measures. There is no doubt that therapy is effective; however, only for those who can build up the courage to seek it. A certain barrier stands in the way between a depressed student and therapy: the stigma surrounding mental illness. The Choices Therapy Team evaluated studies and warning signs of depression while stating “the stereotypical picture of depression and anxiety limits people from identifying those at risk, and makes it difficult for those suffering to identify it themselves.” Not only does detecting warning signs prevent depression, it also prevents those from misunderstanding the concept of mental illness. The stigma of depression is mostly negative and discourages announcing the need for mental help. We are expected to keep that information to ourselves and handle it our own way. Teenagers aren’t very familiar with dealing with a mental illness; the social stigma surrounding depression may lead them into denial or prevent them from making the initial step to seek professional help. To avoid this, an action following the recognition is necessary: approaching teenagers who show warning signs.
Learning to detect warning signals of depression is a starting point to helping struggling adolescents. Human error cannot be avoided but can be minimized by training authority figures to detect warning signs and avoid misjudgement of depression. As one can conclude, mental health has a significant impact on our lives; detection and action towards warning signs of depression can save lives.
“Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs.” HelpGuide.org, 15 Apr. 2020.
Team, Choices Psychotherapy. “Why Don’t We Treat Mental Illness like We Do Physical Illness?” Choices Psychotherapy, 19 Nov. 2019.
Teens & Depression: Recognizing Red Flags. (1999). National Women’s Health Report, 21(2), 5.