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Mental Health Myth Buster

by Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD /
Image: Mental health
Woman in psychologist officeiStockphoto / Getty Images
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MYTH:

Feeling stressed and out of control? Life is tough, so suck it up. There’s nothing you can do.

FACT:

Your mental health is as important as your physical health. There’s no need to suffer in silence. Life may be tough at times, but there’s effective help available when you need it.

We don’t live in a perfect world and life can be challenging. While there are normal ups and down that can impact your mood and anxiety level, it’s important to be able to identify and acknowledge when these variations are outside of daily living. It’s important to recognize when issues start interfering in your ability to carry on your daily activities and enjoy life. When that happens, it becomes a health issue.

But figuring out if it’s just a passing period of the “blues” or “stress”, or has crossed over to the realm of illness can be tough. Start by tracking a few everyday habits that often predict trouble ahead:

-You’re feeling less engaged in daily activities you used to enjoy.

-The kind of change in your mood or anxiety level now feel different than “usual”.

-You’re noticing changes in your sleep or appetite pattern, or develop stomach aches or headaches.

While you might experience one or more of these symptoms for a few days, if any of these persist beyond two weeks, it’s a good idea to reach out for help. It might start with a trusted friend or relative, or your family doctor. A network of support will provide guidance on the right kind of help.

And early identification of emotional illness is very important – because the earlier it is treated, the easier it is to change the habits, which become more entrenched over time.

Take a look at your family tree. If you have relatives with diseases like anxiety and depression, you’ll likely know the symptoms and be able to recognize them in yourself. And while you can’t prevent the genetic tendency for a mental illness, you can learn to recognize the signs and symptoms, and get help at the earliest signs.

While we all aim to be strong and resilient, it’s important to accept that mental health issues are not a sign of weakness. Slugging through your symptoms - that never seem to go away – is not a way to go through life. Seeking help is a sign of strength. And it’s out there, waiting for you when you need it.

Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, is NBC News Health Editor. She’s the author of "Don’t Eat This If You’re Taking That—The Hidden Risks of Mixing Food and Medicine."

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