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Mental health and illness

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Mental health refers to our cognitive, emotional, and behavioral mental well-being as well as our ability to manage everyday stress, which can happen when there's a change in a person's life, such as contracting an illness, starting a new job, or losing a loved one.

It’s normal to feel stressed out sometimes, but a person who is mentally healthy is able to cope with it and return to a state of mental well-being.

Now, mental illness refers to a disease that affects mental health and the ability to manage stress. Mental illness can have a variety of different causes.

Some mental illnesses can run in families and be inherited. Others can result from substance abuse.

Finally, some mental illnesses may be the consequence of a person’s environment, such as cultural factors or experiencing a traumatic event.

As a nursing assistant, you will encounter clients with different types and degrees of mental illness, such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance use disorder, and even suicidal tendencies.

You will be in a position to listen to and observe your clients, report signs and symptoms of mental illness, and to support them with their daily activities.

Let’s start with Anxiety, which is a feeling of worry, apprehension, or unease in response to an imminent or uncertain event.

Symptoms of anxiety include restlessness, trouble sleeping, fatigue, appetite changes, irritability, or even increased heart rate or blood pressure.

Now, it’s totally normal to experience a little bit of anxiety every now and then, but having feelings of anxiety too much or too often can become a mental illness and affect our daily activities; this is known as an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders also include phobias and panic disorder. Phobias refer to an excessive fear of a specific thing or situation and can become very disabling for the affected person.

There are three main types of phobias. The first and most common type is simple phobia, which is characterized by fear of a specific thing, including insects or spiders; animals, like cats or dogs; heights; flying on airplanes; confined spaces, which is known as claustrophobia; among others.

The second type is social phobia, which is characterized by fear of situations where the person might embarrass themselves in front of others.

This fear is so great that the individuals may avoid social situations, like schools or jobs, and remain unemployed.

Finally, the third type of phobia is agoraphobia, which refers to fear of places with no easy way to escape; this can make the person feel trapped, helpless, or embarrassed. These places may include elevators and public or crowded spaces.

Alright now, panic refers to a sudden uncontrollable fear for no specific reason. Panic disorder is characterized by sudden episodes of panic attacks that may cause symptoms like increased heart rate, shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, dizziness, and sweating.

Sometimes, panic attacks may even mimic a heart attack, which can be very scary for the person experiencing them.

Now, as a nursing assistant, there are some general considerations that you should undertake when caring for a client with an anxiety disorder.

Be sure to keep your voice low and remain calm when speaking to the client. In addition, clients should be surrounded by calming environments where they feel safe and comfortable.

Make sure you check with the nurse and the plan of care to know if a client has any phobias and avoid exposing them to that specific thing or situation.

If a client is having an anxiety or panic attack, tell the client to take a deep breath and do your best to make them feel safe.

Switching gears: A pretty common mental illness is obsessive compulsive disorder, better known as OCD for short.

People with OCD suffer from obsessions, which are recurrent and unwanted thoughts that they can’t control despite their efforts to ignore them.

Frequent obsessions include germs and dirt, fear of harm to themselves or others, things forbidden by religion or morality, the need of order or symmetry, superstitions, and violent or sexual thoughts.

Typically, these obsessions are followed by compulsions, which involve performing specific actions or rituals repeatedly to make the obsessive thought go away.

These compulsions may include handwashing, checking things, cleaning, or counting. If they don't perform their ritual, they feel anxiety, and severe cases of OCD may even take over and greatly affect the person’s daily life.

The cause of OCD is unknown, but it appears to have predispositions running in families or can be associated with being abused or experiencing a traumatic event.

Another mental illness that is definitely associated with a traumatic event is post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD for short.

A traumatic event can include criminal or sexual assault, abuse, accidents, or any life-threatening events.

Individuals with PTSD can experience symptoms like flashbacks of the traumatic event, recurrent panic attacks or nightmares, anxiety, depression, and trouble trusting others.

Some severe cases may interfere with the individual’s daily life. Often, individuals with PTSD need to be treated with medications or counseling.

If untreated, some individuals may try to cope with their trauma by turning to alcohol or substance abuse. Now, depression is a feeling of extreme sadness, frustration, or hopelessness.

Typical symptoms that accompany depression can include low self-esteem; crying frequently; anxiety; irritability; lack of concentration; and losing interest in activities that they used to enjoy, such as hobbies, eating, or socializing.

In addition, many people with depression may have trouble sleeping, or they may sleep too much. Finally, people with depression may have recurrent thoughts about death or even suicide.

Now, depression can be a symptom of another physical or mental illness, but it can also occur by itself.

Some causes of depression can include familial predisposition; a painful event, like losing a loved one; poor coping skills; side effects of certain medications; and hormonal changes during pregnancy, post-partum, menstruation, and menopause.

Now, most people can experience temporary depression after going through something difficult, but they’ll often get better in time.

On the other hand, if depression is severe and persists over time, it’s called major depressive disorder, and it’s the most common mental illness among older people.