How to Make a Difference During Mental Health Awareness Month

This month is special to me for a variety of reasons: My mother’s birthday just passed on May 20th, as well as Mother’s Day on May 14th. May is also National Mental Health Awareness Month.

Why are all of these things relevant to me? Because my Mother, who is resting in Heaven, suffered and eventually succumbed to the effects of mental health issues, including depression and alcoholism. As you can imagine, this year the month of May is a little heavier than usual.

I am very happy, in general. I am actively happy. I am happy, on purpose. As I turned 39 earlier this year, I think I realized why I’ve always been that way. I had a wonderful childhood and upbringing. Our home and life was filled with laughter, fun times and memorable summer vacations. I’ve always been happy-go-lucky, but I think, as an adult, I continue to preach a ministry of joy as a direct result of what my Mom went through. I never want to experience the darkness and loneliness that she must have felt at times, even while being surrounded by what appeared to be such a loving family and home.

Thankfully, I’ve never suffered from clinical depression or other mental illness, but I do get down at times. I pay closer attention to myself when these moments or episodes happen.

When I’m going through these tough times or when talking to patients about depression, I review the “SIGE-CAPS” screening tool in my head. This is one of the most common tools used as a screen for depression, and if five of 9 major positive answers are present everyday for 2 weeks, one has major depression. These symptoms include:

– Sleeping problems

– Interest decreasing in social activities

– Guilt and self-worthlessness

– Energy decrease or fatigue

– Concentration problems

– Appetite or weight changes (up or down) increased appetite à weight gain

– Psychomotor slowing (moving more slowly, decreased motivation)

– Suicidal thoughts

1 out of 10 Americans admit to some form of mental illness-depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. each year. Women suffer from depression two times more than men, if not more. Why is there a difference? Studies say a definitive answer is unknown. However, with research, I found similar theories, including the following: higher incidence of physical or sexual abuse in women, use of birth control and having hormones in general, in addition to the persistent psychosocial stressors (such as loss of job) affecting women more. I keep this in mind as I live each day. I make this a consistent part of my history taking when I talk to patients, as well. I purposely do things to make myself feel well daily.

Because I preach this “ministry of joy,” I also am aware of how news of national and worldly events can affect my mood. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you are on politically, religiously or morally, I believewe are all dealing with mental stress and depression that has stemmed from recent violence, disagreements and polarizing events. The question is “How can we all move forward?”

It affects us all emotionally hearing negative thing after negative thing. I want to encourage you, and it is ok to feel the way you feel. You have the right to feel that way. Find some level of peace with connecting with things for which one is grateful. Be thankful, daily, for what you still have. Count your blessings…daily. Pray for others and help others. Seek out support from other like-minded people. Reach out to your Pastor and other religious leaders that you trust.

Sometimes, we all need to unplug from social media, television and radio. Sometimes it’s nice to just be quiet. Rest is important and seeking professional help is important.

If you think things in your life are becoming worse or darker, or you’ve had no appetite and don’t want to get out of bed – don’t be afraid to seek help. Meditation is incredibly helpful, as well. They have apps for that to remind you when to take that time.

All things considered, I live my life, joyfully, in honor of my Mom. I do the things she loved to do with my family. I remain passionate about my work, and when I’m no longer passionate, I make changes. I plan frequent enjoyable moments with my husband alone, and with our children as a family to keep love alive around us. I honor her and pray that I can live a full life of happiness, without the burden of depression or anxiety. And if I ever feel down for a prolonged period, I pray that I’ll be strong and aware enough to ask for help.

About the Author:

Nicole Swiner, MD, is a family physician, wife and mother of two in North Carolina. She loves taking care of the family as a whole—from the cradle to the grave. Her interests include Minority Health, Women’s Health and Pediatrics. When she’s not treating patients at Durham Family Medicine, she’s speaking in the community, writing, or spending time with her family. Her passion is making medicine “plain” to her patients, so that all people, from all walks of life, can understand how to take better care of themselves and their families.

To learn more, click here to visit her website.

Dr. Nicole Swiner

Nicole Swiner, MD, is a family physician, wife and mother of two in North Carolina. She loves taking care of the family as a whole—from the cradle to the grave. Her interests include Minority Health, Women’s Health and Pediatrics. When she’s not treating patients at Durham Family Medicine, she’s speaking in the community, writing, or spending time with her family. Her passion is making medicine “plain” to her patients, so that all people, from all walks of life, can understand how to take better care of themselves and their families.

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