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ABCs of Mental Health

Welcome to the ABC’s of Mental Health, a resource for educators who may be feeling the weight of new expectations along with heightened health and safety concerns. The ABCs of Mental Health were developed by Ohio’s leading suicide prevention experts with teachers, administrators and school staff specifically in mind. The social media ads, sample press release and editorial can be used in local outreach to share these messages within your community.

COVID-19 continues to be a backdrop for new challenges people are facing every day. You may notice more stress, anxiety, sadness, or anger in yourself or your peers. Your behaviors may be changing, and you may be easily distracted, bored, sleeping or eating too much or too little, or overindulging in alcohol or tobacco.

You’re not alone. Fear, anxiety, sadness, loss, and anger are all feelings that are both valid and common.

Here are some tips, tools, and supports to help you acknowledge your feelings and learn potential signs and symptoms of mental health issues or suicide. Your physical health is vital, but your mental health is equally important to you, your loved ones, and your profession.

A - Ask Yourself How You’re Feeling

Ask yourself how you're feeling

The COVID-19 pandemic is an event that has never been experienced in our lifetime bringing with it a host of potentially new emotions, physical symptoms, and mental health issues.

Here are some common emotional and physical reactions that you, a family member, or a colleague may experience as a result of the pandemic or other trauma. 

Emotional Reactions

  • Anxiety, worry, and/or fear about the following:
    • Your own health and the health of those close to you
    • The health and welfare of those in other places and around the world, particularly for those in poorer areas or without medical care
    • Whether your employment, income, and benefits – including health insurance – will be affected
    • Your ability to get the things you need, from medications to groceries to personal care items
    • Whether you can provide adequate care for your children or other people in your care (such as an elderly parent or disabled family member)
  • Uncertainty about the future
  • Frustration over how long you will need to practice social distancing
  • Loneliness and boredom
  • Emotional extremes, such as anger, short-temperedness, or euphoria
  • Irritability and blaming others
  • Periods of panic
  • Depression, which may include feelings of hopelessness
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Inability to enjoy activities
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Not caring
  • Some individuals may experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); these include:
    • Intrusive distressing memories
    • Flashbacks, i.e., reliving traumatic events
    • Nightmares
    • Changes in thoughts and mood
    • Being easily startled

Physical Reactions

  • Low energy levels
  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Changes in appetite – either overeating or loss of appetite
  • Crying often
  • Stomachaches
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches or body pain
  • Sweating or chills
  • Tremors (shaking) or muscle twitches
  • Being easily startled
  • Worsening of chronic health problems

B - Be Aware of Signs & Symptoms

Be Aware of Signs & Symptoms

You can test your signs and symptoms with the Mental Health America screening tools. Also, they are listed below.

Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety

Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life. But anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance and relationships. Symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

Risk Factors of Anxiety

Researchers are finding that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Although the risk factors for each type of anxiety disorder can vary, some general risk factors for all types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Temperamental traits of shyness or behavioral inhibition in childhood
  • Exposure to stressful and negative life or environmental events in early childhood or adulthood
  • A history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in biological relatives
  • Some physical health conditions, such as thyroid problems or heart arrhythmias, or caffeine or other substances/medications, can produce or aggravate anxiety symptoms; a physical health examination is helpful in the evaluation of a possible anxiety disorder

Signs & Symptoms of Depression

If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many.

Risk Factors for Depression

  • Personal or family history
  • Major life changes, trauma, or stress
  • Certain physical illness and medications

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S. Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.

Depression can happen at any age, and often begins in adulthood.

Depression, especially in midlife or older adults, can co-occur with other serious medical illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease. These conditions are often worse when depression is present. Sometimes medications taken for these physical illnesses may cause side effects that contribute to depression. A doctor experienced in treating these complicated illnesses can help work out the best treatment strategy.

Signs and Symptoms of Suicide

Suicide is a major public health concern in Ohio. Suicide is complicated and tragic, but it is often preventable. Knowing the warning signs for suicide and how to get help can help save lives, especially during a crisis like COVID-19.

The behaviors listed below may be signs that someone is thinking about suicide.

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, making a will

If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently.

Risk Factors for Suicide

Suicide does not discriminate. People of all genders, ages, and ethnicities can be at risk. Suicidal behavior is complex, and there is no single cause. Many different factors contribute to someone making a suicide attempt. But people most at risk tend to share specific characteristics. The main risk factors for suicide are:

  • Depression, other mental disorders, or substance abuse disorder
  • Certain medical conditions
  • Chronic pain
  • A prior suicide attempt
  • Family history of a mental disorder or substance abuse
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
  • Having guns or other firearms in the home
  • Having recently been released from prison or jail
  • Being exposed to others' suicidal behavior, such as that of family members, peers, or celebrities

Many people have some of these risk factors but do not attempt suicide. It is important to note that suicide is not a normal response to stress. Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress, not a harmless bid for attention, and should not be ignored. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing any of the above signs of anxiety, depression, or suicide, seek help from a professional.

C - Care for Yourself & Others

Care for Yourself & Others

Make sure self-care remains a priority.

Take part in Ohio’s Strive for 5 challenge by checking in on five people every day and asking how they are doing.

If you need support, are feeling lonely and overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the Ohio CareLine at 1-800-720-9616.

Caring for yourself and others is not about reassuring statements or the belief that the best way to cope during these times to just focus on the positive and push away the negative.  It is important to care for yourself and others in a way that supports a growth mindset, is intentional, and is action oriented.

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