Mother’s Day kicks off National Women’s Health Week – sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health – a national effort to empower women to make their own health a priority. One means to this end is for women to pay more attention to their mental health. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that each year one in five American women suffer from a mental health problem such as depression, PTSD, or an eating disorder. More than twice as many women as men have been diagnosed with anxiety, and women are almost twice as likely to experience depression.1
Luckily, there has been significant progress in mental healthcare over the past few years. Research in the areas of genetics, neuroplasticity, psychotropic medications, and evidenced-based treatment modalities has led to dramatic improvements in treatment outcomes.
Unfortunately, many women do not seek treatment, as they are afraid of the stigma associated with mental health treatment. There is a false belief that mental illness is a sign of weakness of character, but it is in fact due to chemical imbalance in the brain and poor coping skills in response to environmental factors.
There is also a myth that recovery only occurs with medications or by spending years talking with a doctor about your past. In fact, profound improvement is achieved without medication. Studies shows that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is as effective as medication, and its effects are more enduring.2
There are multiple types of therapists and interventions. There are providers who treat specific conditions, such as learning disabilities, trauma, substance abuse, relationship issues, anger management, eating disorders, or grief. The goal of therapy is that the clients will become independent of the therapeutic relationship. Therapy is a success when the coping mechanisms that client has learned become habitual. Some of these coping mechanisms include:
Keeping a journal. Writing down thoughts and goals can improve a person’s outlook, promote creativity, offer distraction, and create a venue to express gratitude.
Practice mindfulness. Women often take pride in being able to “multitask”, but in actuality, when several things are done at once, nothing is done well. Mindfulness supports focus on the present moment by letting go of regrets from the past and fears about the future.
Recognizing false alarms. The brain’s automatic response system reacts quickly to potential dangers in the environment by releasing hormones and neurotransmitters – cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response can cause medical complications, such as high blood pressure, a decreased immune system, increased blood sugar, and inflammation. By recognizing false alarms, one can stop the brain from sending the body into a tailspin.
Positive self-talk. Everyone has an internal critic that offers negative encouragement when support is needed. Self-esteem is improved by challenging that critic and using positive affirmations such as, “You got this,” or, “I will do my best.”
Set aside worry time. Many women are great worriers! Worrying is the fastest ticket out of the present moment. By setting aside and limiting the amount of time one allows herself to worry, one is better prepared to enjoy the here and now.
Learn to say “No”. Learn how to set boundaries and limits with others by using assertive communication.
Getting active. Research has shown that exercise improves mood by increasing serotonin (the same neurotransmitter that is targeted by antidepressants). Physical activity is also shown to improve sleep habits, which is known to have a positive effect on the brain.3
Eating with health in mind. Multiple studies have found that eating a Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish, moderate in lean meat and dairy, with little-to-no processed food and sugars has shown a 25% to 35% lower risk of depression, than those eating a typical Western diet.4
Talking it out with others. Reach out to friends and family for help, but if they cannot provide the resources needed, know that there are other options.
If you feel you might benefit from supportive counseling, call the Treatment Referral Routing Service at 1-800-662-4357. This helpline provides free, 24-hour, confidential referrals to mental health providers and information about mental or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in both English and Spanish.
“Probably the biggest insight… is that happiness is not just a place, but also a process. Happiness is an ongoing process of fresh challenges to continue to be happy.” – Ed Diener
Judith Mitchell is a Psychotherapist for the Osceola Regional Outpatient Behavioral Health Department. Judi has served our community for over 25 years, working with diverse clients in medical, residential, and mental health settings.