Today, I want to talk about symptoms. When it comes to mental health terms, I’d guess that the word “symptoms” is very well-known. Everyone has experienced an illness, or feeling unwell, at some point in their lives. We are told to look out for symptoms and when we see them, to stop what we’re doing and get help. Most often, what we’re told to do is rest. But when our symptoms aren’t always physical, or if those around us can’t see our symptoms, what do we do?
What Are Symptoms of Mental Health Issues?
As is often the case on this recurring feature of My Brain’s Not Broken, we start with a definition. Per the Cambridge Dictionary, a symptom is defined as: “any feeling of illness or physical or mental change that is caused by a particular disease.” Nothing new to see here, right? But I’d also like to direct you to an alternative definition of symptom, also from Cambridge: “any single problem that is caused by and shows a more serious and general problem.”
There are many health issues in life that involve immediate fixes. Do you have a cavity? Get it filled. Scrape your elbow? You put a band-aid on and wait for it to heal. You get sick? Don’t leave your bed. But when a symptom of mental illness is part of a larger mental health issue, the solution feels less direct. The symptoms of depression, anxiety and so many other mental illnesses have been discussed for years. Still, people look past that and connect symptoms with physical illnesses.
What Do Mental Health Symptoms Look Like?
Whether you’ve read it on My Brain’s Not Broken or another mental health blog, symptoms of mental health issues aren’t anything new. I don’t need to sit here listing the litany of symptoms of mental health diagnoses. But what is still misunderstood about mental illness is how those symptoms exist. It took a long time to understand that my depression and anxiety not only impact my mental health, but my physical health as well.
We tend to think of symptoms as things that exist for a short time but once they’re recognized and treated, go away. But when it comes to mental health, that isn’t always the case. I’ve learned about so many symptoms of my mental health challenges over the years. I’ve come to understand how they manifest themselves, when they most often appear and what triggers these moments. Despite that, these symptoms have continued to ebb and flow in the way they impact my life. It’s not as simple as bandaging it up, getting some rest or rubbing some dirt on it. Mental health symptoms are complicated, and underestimating that power is a big mistake.
What Can We Do About Them?
Here it is, the million dollar question: what can we do when it comes to dealing with symptoms of mental illness? The first thing I hope people do is deal with these symptoms in the same way they’d deal with a physical illness. If you think you have symptoms of a more serious issue, seek help. If your symptoms are getting in the way of you living your life, seek help.
People will go to the doctor for all sorts of reasons, but won’t see a mental health professional until they’ve struggled for years. This cycle has to stop. When we experience symptoms of a health issue over and over again, it’s okay to admit that something isn’t as it should be. Admitting it, understanding it and seeking help are the first things we should do. The more we understand how symptoms work and develop a healthy attitude toward them, the better we’re set up for success. Symptoms are one more piece of the puzzle to our mental wellness and the more we see it that way, the better off we are.
It’s taken me years to learn about my own symptoms and how they show up in my life – what about you? What is one of the most challenging things about dealing with your symptoms? Let me know in the comments!