The Mental Health Continuum: Why Mental Health Looks Different for Everyone

Worried Wells to Severe Mental Illness. What is “mental health”? What does it look like? Is it a permanent diagnosis or is it an ever changing state of mind?

The answer is…it depends. I will admit this answer was something I heard a lot as I studied for years to become a therapist. That is the nature of the work however. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but it is not treatable in the same ways. “Mental health” is on a spectrum. Some individuals go to therapy to discuss small issues that come up on a day-to-day basis. While others go to therapy to manage chronic on-going mental illness. Mental illness is a diagnosable, physiological illness that manifests itself in psychological ways, such as clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and many other diagnosis that are manageable with the correct assistance from a professional.

Example time. If you have a common cold, you will most likely be taking the same medicine as someone else who has a cold. And you both will most likely get better in approximately the same amount of time. Now if you are depressed, you may not be utilizing the same treatment as someone else who is depressed. Because each person’s mind thinks differently, handles stress differently, and responds differently to external stimuli. Therapists have the unique job of taking the time to figure out the right treatment for your mind specifically. Therapy is completely individualized.

There are various ways to approach mental health issues including : self care, talk therapy in an outpatient environment, medication management with a psychiatrist or primary care physician, inpatient care at a rehabilitation center or hospital setting, as well as multiple holistic approaches to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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Self care can be a simple solution to managing stress and minor mental health concerns on a day-to-day basis. This often emphasizes the holistic approach to maintaining a healthy mental state. A change to your diet, regular exercise, incorporating self care activities, and socializing with trusted family/friends can all help maintain a lifestyle that encourages a healthy mental state. However, for many managing all these aspects of your life can become overwhelming or maybe you have never felt quite balanced in all of these areas of your life.

Seeing a mental health professional in an outpatient environment (such as a private practice setting or local mental health clinic) can help assist you in getting on the right track in all these areas. Mental health professionals include Marriage & Family Therapists, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, and Clinical Psychologists. Seeking out one of these professionals allows you to dedicate an allotted amount of time to talking through the aspects of life that are causing stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, and a plethora of other emotions. Exploring with a therapist where these emotions stem from, how they are affecting you, and solutions to managing these feelings better can greatly improve your mental health. You may see a therapist for a few months or a few years, but the ultimate goal is to get you to a place where you can manage on your own with self care techniques and greater knowledge of your emotions. A mental health professional can also help you discover if a mental illness is what is encroaching on your ability to cope with your life.

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When managing a true mental illness, you want to seek out a Psychiatrist, Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, or your Primary Care Physician to consult with your therapist about the possible inclusion of medication in your mental health treatment. These individuals play a vital role in order to coordinate with your team of mental health professionals. This team works with you to find out what methods of treatment will work best for you as an individual. No two mental illnesses look the same or are managed the same way. Whether it is various dosage levels of medication or frequency of therapy appointments, each individual managing a mental illness will have a unique treatment plan. This team will most likely assist you over an extended period of time and teach you how to reach out for additional help when needed, as a mental illness is often chronic and needs to be managed over your life. Remember though that you are the coach of this team, informing your providers of what feels right, what works best, and describing the experience you are having with all aspects of the treatment.

Inpatient care is what mental health professionals often refer to as “the highest level of care”. Some of the autonomy of the individual is lost at this level because it often dwindles down to the safety of the individual and those around them. The treatment is often decided for the individual by a team of professionals trying to diminish the client’s symptoms and protect them from any harm. For some clients this process begins with a threat of harm to themselves or another identifiable person. Police often become a partner in this treatment process, as they are often the first responders when someone calls for assistance during a suicidal or homicidal threat. They are also usually the ones who admit a client to a hospital for psychiatric treatment. Hospital staff at that point become that individual’s treatment team. This is considered a short term treatment option. The goal is to stabilize certain symptoms and identify a “lower level of care” that can help the individual learn how to cope with their symptoms regularly and prevent emergency situations.

This spectrum of mental health is what makes finding the right fit with a therapist so important. Depending on the challenges you face, your background, the level of care needed, and many other factors one mental health professional may be more helpful than another. You walk on a unique mental health path, and must choose the right team to walk alongside you. Where are you on your mental health journey, and how can therapy be of assistance to you?

If you are in a crisis or emergency situation please contact the Access & Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240 or call 9-1-1.

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Physical Health tied to Mental Wellness: 5 Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Day-to-Day Life

I recently experienced what so many of my clients come into session concerned about…physical aches and pains.

I woke up one morning with an aching pain in my jaw. It was like having a migraine in my mouth all day long. I tried to think back over the last few days…what had I been doing differently that could have caused this? After some self reflection and figuring out what the pain exactly was, I realized stress was the culprit. I had gotten to a place of extreme stress from working two jobs, being a mom, and managing all the calendars my household had to keep track of. I had begun clenching my teeth while I slept, which caused me to wake up in pain.

The solution to this pain? Physical therapy, mouth guards at night, and pain medication. Um…I don’t know about you, but none of that sounded like a solution or appealing in any way. They sounded more like management, than a cure.

So many of my clients come into session expressing symptoms of depression or anxiety or general stress, then will make a passing comment about chronic back pain, or chest tightness, or other physical ailments that they have been getting evaluated at a physician. They never tie the experience of physical health to their mental health however.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and you should always seek out medical professionals to have any physical health symptoms evaluated. This is in no way a replacement for medical assistance/ advice.

Minority women especially, are more likely to experience mental health concerns as physical symptoms in the body. These aches and pains are almost always directly related to your level of stress. In my personal experience, consciously working on reducing my stress enabled me to reduce my jaw pain to zero.

Now this does not mean medical intervention isn’t helpful, but it can work hand in hand with mental health interventions. Utilizing various coping strategies to reduce stress can assist in a speedy recovery.

Here are my top 5 coping strategies for managing stress:

  • 1. Mindfulness Breathing

  • Mindfulness breathing is a tool that can be utilized at any moment in your day and requires nothing more than the ability to breathe. Pausing in a moment of stress to take a deep inhale and slow exhale allows for your body to experience a sense of calm. It slows down your heart rate and reduces the idea that your body needs to go into “fight or flight” mode. If you want some assistance in practicing this technique try searching for “Guided Mindfulness Breathing” on YouTube, or download the “Calm” app on your mobile device.
  • 2. Journaling

    Journaling can be a great way to get thoughts out of your head and practice letting go of stress. Writing about your emotions whether it be grief, anger, joy, or a plethora of other emotions allows you to release these thoughts and reflect on how they are affecting you. An important aspect of journaling however is practicing to write about gratitude. Expressing gratitude for various aspects of your life provides balance to the challenges and emotions that occur on a daily basis. Nobody wants a book of sorrow, so incorporate both the good and bad.

    3. Skincare Routine

    This may seem frivalous, but hear me out. A regular skincare routine not only benefits your skin, but it gives you time to yourself. Depending on the type of skincare routine you implement (it could be as simple as rubbing some lotion on or as complex as a multi-step regimen) you can give yourself 2-30 minutes of “me time”. Being intentional about this time each day guarantees that you take a break and attend to your own needs even if only for a few minutes.

    4. Low-Impact Exercises

    Depending on your physical symptoms and with approval from your physician, try low- impact exercises such as walking or yoga. Walking is such an underrated exercise regimen. Taking time on your lunch break or before/after work to take a walk outside allows for more time in the sun, increased blood flow, and an overall mood boost. This physical activity kills two birds with one stone as it benefits your physical and mental health at the same time.

    5. Sleep Hygiene

    Last, but certainly not least, ensure you are getting enough sleep. How you feel when you wake up determines how well you’ll manage your stress throughout your day. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Take a look at your daily schedule. Where is time wasted? And what could be moved around to create room for a decent bedtime? Also, take a look into what you are sleeping on. Maybe that futon from college isn’t cutting it anymore, or your mattress could use a new topper for support. Nobody has ever applauded themselves for having a late night and waking up groggy in the morning. Elevate this basic need to ensure a brighter day ahead.

    All these coping strategies can be used on a day-to-day basis to reduce the stress that is likely contributing to those physical ailments. Incorporating and practicing these stress-reducing skills will allow you to live a happier and healthier life. And if these things aren’t enough, try attending therapy!

    Cheaters: Why They Do It & How to Prevent It

    So you are in a “committed” relationship (or so you thought), but you have a nagging feeling that something isn’t right. Something is wrong. You start to dig for clues as to what is possibly going on, and slowly (but surely) drive yourself crazy wondering, “are they cheating??” Well I bet there is another question you haven’t asked yourself…”have I been meeting my partner’s needs?” Yep. I bet you haven’t taken a second to think “why would my partner cheat?”

    I wonder why you haven’t asked this question because there is only one reason why people cheat. Yes, one. Here’s the big, top secret reason…their needs are not being met.

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    That’s it. Every person needs certain things to be fulfilled. These things could be love, sex, passion, compassion, security, generosity, time, affection, and an assortment of other things. More often than not people wind up in a relationship where their partner cannot satisfy ALL of their needs. Now this is the point where you are probably thinking, “well if your needs aren’t being met, just break up with the person!” Relationships aren’t that simple. Imagine this…

    If our emotional needs looked more like our physical needs such as food, water, & shelter, how would things pan out? Imagine you were in a relationship where your partner is providing 2 out of 3 (water & shelter), but they were starving you. No food. You have dropped hints that you are hungry, maybe even straight up asked for food, but were denied 90% of the time. Then you come across someone who is offering up a feast on a silver platter. What are you going to do?

    A. Go home to your water & shelter and continue starving?

    B. Leave your whole life behind with only a guarantee of food (none of the water or shelter)?

    C. Or are you going to try and sneak enough food to meet your needs, then go home to a reliable source of water and shelter?

    Let’s be honest with ourselves, the last choice makes the most sense. Now putting this back into the emotional sense…when you partner with someone because they meet most of your needs, there is a risk that the needs that aren’t being met will be met somewhere else. The other option is to learn to live without that additional need, but that is often easier said than done.

    Now, you may be wondering “how do I prevent cheating from happening in my relationship?” Great question. Before I answer, I must remind you that relationships are SELFLESS acts. That means at any given point in a relationship you should be trying to meet the needs of your partner, while effectively communicating your needs as well.

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    The best way to prevent cheating is by utilizing the time you spend as a single person figuring out how you can meet your own needs. This allows you the time and energy when you enter a relationship to focus on how you can meet your partners needs. Because again, relationships are not about you! They are about having a mutual understanding that you will support one another. If you can figure out your own needs, then you will want to be with someone who has done the same, and neither of you will be looking for a partner to complete them. Because you are a WHOLE person. No one can “complete” you.

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    Here’s the trickier part. If you are already in a relationship and feel your needs aren’t being met, then you have to learn what it is you need, and teach yourself/partner how to meet that need. You cannot just say “I need your attention more.” You have to educate your partner on how they can give you more attention. Give them the who/what/when/where/why/how you learned in grade school. For example, if your need is sexual intimacy:

    Who needs to be meeting this need? Obviously it takes two to tango, so your partner needs to be involved in meeting this need.

    What is the need EXACTLY? Be clear. Is this need about actual sex, or is this need about general physical touch? Does foreplay meet this need? Would you like to kiss & hug more often? This is not just a single sentence answer. Go into detail.

    When is the appropriate time to meet this need? Everyone has a preference, but also when is it feasible to meet this need? Maybe kids are in the house so babysitters have to be arranged. Or maybe this is a need that needs to be met more than just once a month. When would you ideally like to meet this need? Be open to some compromise in the process.

    Where is the appropriate place to meet this need? The bedroom, a hotel, the shower? Hey, whatever floats your boat.

    Why is this need important to you? This may be the most important question. This is where you help your partner and teach your partner the reason behind the need. Maybe you feel like there is a general lack of intimacy, or maybe you feel insecure about how you look and want to feel desired by your partner. Again, not a place for a one sentence answer. Be descriptive.

    How can your partner support this need? Explain what role you would like them to play in supporting this need. If they can initiate sex more often or if they can provide compliments that make you feel sexy. Whatever it is, help your partner figure out how they can be supportive.

    No matter what your need is, utilize these questions to effectively communicate to your partner how you two can work as a team to meet each others’ needs. A relationship is about support and giving. Taking preventative steps to care for your partner can help reduce the likelihood of having to take drastic measures to put a relationship back together. And at the end of the day if you are finding it difficult to have these conversations, make a therapy appointment! Therapy is a great place to learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently.

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    Why I have a Waiting List: What To Do in the Meantime

    I know. You came here to schedule an appointment, but you saw I had a waiting list. You got yourself pumped up for starting therapy and were disappointed. I sincerely apologize. I created a waiting list so I know who to reach out to when an appointment opens up. I do not encourage rushing people through their therapeutic process, so as I help my current clients, I will try to leave you with some ideas on how to utilize your time and start the therapy process before your first appointment!

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    Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Pexels.com

    Start Journaling

    One way to document your emotions, events in your life, or just ideas and to-do lists is by keeping a daily or weekly journal. The first question I ask all my clients is, “what brings you into therapy?” If you keep a record of how you have been feeling, you will have collected all the data necessary to answer this question. The therapeutic process would have started before you even walk in the door, and you’ll feel prepared for the work that happens in the therapy room.

    Do some Self Care

    If you are willing to dedicate an hour a week to therapy that means you have an hour in your schedule already to do some self care. Take that time now to schedule something just for you. Self care can look like taking a walk around the park, lake, or by the beach. It could be spending some time doing something creative like painting, coloring, or knitting. It could mean practicing mindfulness or meditation in a peaceful setting you create just for yourself (candles, mood lights, and white noise machines welcome!). Self care could also look like setting up a coffee date with some of your favorite people every week. Whatever you choose to do with your time make it all about self love!

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    Talk to your Support Network

    Maybe you can’t grab coffee every week, but maybe you can incorporate some other form of communication. Write a letter to an old friend or to someone you never got to say how you really feel too. Call up a sibling and laugh about old shenanigans or vent about your crazy parents. Join a book club or support group that helps you learn how to open up about your thoughts. Or just carve out time for you and your partner to connect every week. Who ever you give that time to, make sure it is spent with those that will add to your life instead of take away from it.

    Try Something New

    You thought therapy would be a new adventure for you to take. Why not try something else new and different from your normal routine? Being uncomfortable is a skill you will definitely utilize in therapy, so might as well practice now. Whether that is a new restaurant in town or a new hobby, get outside of your comfort zone and try something that the new you could really dive into!

    Reach out to one of the Referrals Provided

    If waiting isn’t something you are open to, please utilize one of the referrals emailed to you after adding your name to the waiting list. You could also call the following numbers to get resources more quickly!

    Mental Health Resources: 2-1-1

    Access & Crisis Line (San Diego): 1-888-724-7240

    Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

     

    I hope to see you soon along your path to wellness!

    Suite303 Podcast: Episode 6: Mental Health & The Stigma of Therapy feat. Lee from SimpLee Therapy

    I had the pleasure recently to collaborate with not just someone I look up to, but one of the people that inspire me daily, Mr. Albert Phang, also known as my big brother. His podcast, Live from Suite303, is THE place for entertainment, culture, and generally uplifting the community known as The Inland Empire. I was privileged enough to get to sit down on the show and discuss how mental health has become such a big conversation in every community, but also how the stigma around therapy is being shattered by new generations in the black community.

    Take a listen at Suite303 on SoundCloud or

    Watch the podcast on YouTube at

    Live from Suite 303 – Episode 6