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Ruby Liu MY
One-stop online mental health self-help platform.
(Originally published on the website of StoryTaler, co-organizer of JCTH+. The content was edited by the JCTH+ team.)
Although we often hear about different kinds of mental disorders, do we have accurate understanding of them or our understanding is still plagued by hearsay? If we go through the symptom checklist for a specific mental disorder, some of us may think that we have some of these symptoms. The reason being mental disorder runs on a spectrum. Formal diagnosis needs to be determined by a qualified mental health professional. If you are experiencing psychological symptoms that are affecting your daily functioning, you may consider consulting a mental health professional.
People with depression may experience the following symptoms persistently for at least two weeks, including feeling depressed, loss of interest or pleasure in things they used to enjoy doing. There might be a change in sleep and appetite, such as sleeping a lot or losing sleep, eating much more or less than usual. One might also have difficulty concentrating, feel easily tired, feeling worthlessness or guilt, and have suicidal thoughts.
If someone you know is experiencing depression
It is not because they do not want to be happy. On the contrary, they really want to shove this unpleasant feeling away. People with depression may feel like having a dark cloud hovering above them or being stuck in the mud and feeling effortful in doing everything. Depression is not a choice. Anyone could experience depression, and it is not related to your willpower or perseverance at all. Similar to having a cold or flu, one does not want to sneeze nor have a fever. Just the same as people with depression. One does not choose to feel depressed and useless. Saying such things as “many people are worse off than you” and “why are you so pathetic and weak, unable to deal with minor problems?” This will only lead one to feel even more disheartened and distraught. As a friend, listening and accompanying them is already enough.
As the term suggests, people with generalized anxiety disorder often feel anxious or worried over many things and their worries may involve a wide range of issues, such as work, family, health, and interpersonal relationships. Some people even worry that worrying too much may drive them insane (which is not true in reality). These worries are usually out of proportion from reality, and others often comment that they overthink.
For them, worrying seems to happen all the time, out of the blue and difficult to control. It can cause them to become fidgety, unfocused, or blank in their minds. As a result of feeling tense, their muscles may be tighten, and they may become easily tired, irritated, and have temper outbursts. Their sleep quality is often poor, with difficulties falling asleep or being easily awakened. They may worry about going to work or taking care of the family the next day and whether they will have enough energy to attend to them. In short, it is hard to feel at peace, and some may fear horrible thing will happen at any time.
If someone you know is experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder
People may regard them as overthinking and tell them to calm down and relax. At times, they know they are worrying too much, just that they are unable to loosen up. As they worry so much, they may often seek reassurance or ask questions repeatedly, others may find them annoying. When they plan ahead on every detail, others may think they are overpreparing and wasting their time. They actually feel very strained, toilsome, and exhausted. As a friend, try not to quickly change or dispute their worries, being by their side may be enough.
A common image of someone with OCD is when one frequently washes their hands and checks whether the doors and windows are closed. However, OCD can be manifested in many ways. People with OCD may have repetitive and persistent intrusive thoughts, impulses, images, and are inclined to repeat a specific behavior in order to relieve their distress and anxiety that is caused by these intrusions.
The person usually recognizes that their thoughts and actions are irrational. However, even though they realize it, they are unable to put aside these thoughts and manage their associated anxiety. As a result, this leads them to feel more agitated and worried and impair their daily functioning.
If someone you know is experiencing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
People who don’t understand people with OCD may ask “how can you possibly be late just from washing your hands?” or suggest “just find something to distract yourself and it will be OK”, “if you knew you would double check your things before leaving, you should have planned to leave home earlier”, or comment “you’re grown up and cannot even control these minor things?”. People with OCD are not doing this on purpose, just as you cannot control sneezing due to your nasal allergy either.
Panic disorder may be less familiar to the public but is prevalent. To understand panic disorder, first we have to know what a panic attack is. A panic attack is a sudden and intense episode of fear that occurs without real danger or cue and last within a few minutes to ten minutes. Severe physical symptoms are experienced, include racing heartbeats, sweating, hands or the whole body shaking or trembling, shortness of breath, feeling suffocated, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, freezing and feeling cold, numbness or tingling sensations in the arms and legs, and even feeling detached from reality.
When experiencing these symptoms unexpectedly, one may easily think and fear that they will lose control or sanity. They may fear that they will die. If after a month or so, a person who has experienced panic attack becomes very worried of its reoccurrence and sometimes to the extent that such worry disrupts their daily functioning and causes great distress, there is a very high possibility that the person has panic disorder.
If someone you know is experiencing panic disorder
The word “attack” is an apt and appropriate illustration as panic attacks are very much similar to an attack - It hits you fiercely and catches you off guard. If your friend has panic disorder, we would not want to rush and challenge them by saying “you can try to relax more”, “if you think more you will actually become crazy”, “the doctors have already told you your body is fine, just don’t think too much”, and “you go to the emergency room every time but nothing happens, what do you actually want”. These remarks are hurtful. Instead, we can try to understand, feel the emotions they are facing, and stay by their side.
People with bipolar disorder may experience emotional mood swings that alternate between extreme highs and lows. This disorder is subdivided into Type 1 (with typical manic and depressive symptoms) and Type 2 (with mild manic and depressive symptoms). The terms “bipolar” and “manic” are often used by the public as referring to someone being easily agitated and violent, but this is actually not true. So, what exactly is a manic state? People in a manic state experience an elevated, extreme change in mood or emotions. They may feel extremely excited, have racing ideas and thoughts, became unusually talkative, having inflated self-esteem or even grandiosity, have many opinions towards different issues, and maintain a state of elation all day long, not needing to sleep much. They may also have impulsive behaviors, such as buying spree, engaging in high-risk investments, gambling heavily, participating in high-risk behaviors, and so on. The depressive state is similar to depression introduced earlier.
If someone you know is experiencing bipolar disorder
A person in a manic state may be caught in contradiction. On one hand, they are highly energetic to do a lot of things; on the other hand, they may feel very tired and a loss of self-control. They may want to sleep but cannot fall asleep; they may want to stop but cannot stop certain behaviors. A person may alternate to a depressive state, in which they feel drained, exhausted, and wiped out, as if they ran out of battery. The two states appear alternatively and can be very taxing.
People who don’t understand fully may think people with bipolar disorder are very hard to approach and understand as their mood switches back and forth, and may seem unpredictable and elusive. Yet similar to people with other mental illness, by simply being by their side, understanding they are affected by the disorder, trying not to belittle, blame, or judge them is already enough. The rest we could leave to the professional for help.
Ruby Liu MY
Well-being Promotion Officer of Jockey Club TourHeart+ Project
One-stop online mental health self-help platform