Small Life Changes for Better Mental Health

When falling into the routine of our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to not to realize whether or not your mental health is taking precedence. After a while, your habits and way of life can start to affect your mood and make you feel depressed. In order to avoid that, it’s important to be put your mental health first. That means changing your life in just a few small ways in order to improve your mental health:

Healthy Eating and Exercise

The feeling of sadness and depression is often linked back to your diet. If you are putting unhealthy foods in your body and not getting regular exercise, your mood can have a significant decline. This is why it’s important to eat more healthy and start exercising more. This small change to your diet can improve your mental and physical health. Start by adding more fruits and vegetables. Focus on foods rich in polyphenols, like berries, tea, or dark chocolate, because this helps with brain function.

Get Your Sleep

Another small change that can have a big effect on improving your mental health is getting more sleep. Not many people are prioritizing getting their rest when they should. If you are not getting enough sleep, this can greatly put you in the risk of feeling depression or anxiety. It’s important to not only get enough sleep, but also quality sleep. To achieve quality sleep, try reducing your exposure to blue light from laptops and smartphones before going to sleep. 

Go Outside and See Nature

One of the greatest ways to improve your mental health is by simply stepping outside your front door. Get outside, take a walk, go for a run, or even a hike to immerse yourself in greenery. Studies have proven that seeing nature can have major effects on your mental health and improve mood. It can make you feel happier just by being out in the sunshine and soaking up the benefits of boosting vitamin D levels. 

Cut Out Negative Habits

The use of drugs and alcohol is one of the biggest components of mental health. Using drugs or drinking on the regular can quickly put you into a downward spiral. These substances can lead to a vicious cycle of addiction and make mental even worse. By cutting out these negative habits, you will see an incredible improvement in your mental health. Becoming a happier and mentally healthy person can be as easy as these small lifestyle changes.

Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter doesn’t officially begin its frigid reign until December 21st, but the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer much sooner than that. As the hours of daylight begin to decrease, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) becomes much more commonplace. While the exact causes are as yet unknown, most research points towards a lack of light as a cause. 

Just because SAD only occurs in certain months, does not downgrade its impact. Any form of depression should be taken seriously no matter the season. Treating seasonal affective disorder with light is becoming more and more common. Learn more about SAD, its causes, and its treatments below.

What Is SAD

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that typically occurs during the winter months when daylight hours are shortened. To be officially diagnosed, several criteria are considered. Common symptoms include: feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, losing interest in activities that once brought you joy, disrupted sleep, changes in appetite, and feeling sluggish. 

How Does SAD Occur?

Exposure to sunlight stimulates a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls your circadian rhythm. Lack of light due to the shorter days in the winter can throw off your circadian rhythm and create chemical imbalances in your brain that can lead to the decreased production of serotonin, the chemical that makes us feel happy. 

This lack of sunlight and decreased levels of serotonin typically leave people feeling sluggish and sleepy. Even your cognitive functions can become impaired. Decreased concentration and memory are both common symptoms. 

How Light Therapy Can Help

The foundational idea behind light therapy is replacing natural light with artificial light to boost your body’s production of feel-good hormones. Light therapy uses light box technology to produce a bright white light which tricks your brain into thinking it’s getting the benefits of natural sunlight. 

While you shouldn’t solely use light boxes to replace all exposure to sunlight, it can help supplement your exposure and even prevent the onset of SAD. For the best results, follow the tips below to get the most out of your light therapy. 

  • Light boxes should have at least 10,000 lux exposure as regular sunlight is about 50,000 lux
  • Do not look directly into the light as it could damage your eyes. Keep the box near you and go about your normal routine while making sure you are within a few feet of it for longer periods of time.
  • Total exposure times throughout the day should be about 30 minutes. You can use the box’s light all at once or break up the time over the course of the day. 
  • Start your day off with a little exposure to light. This will automatically begin to boost your mood and create a healthier mindset.
  • Consult a doctor before beginning any treatment to ensure you are as safe as possible.

How to Help a Friend’s Mental Health

Whether your friend is dealing with depression, anxiety, or bipolar symptoms, it’s common to often feel helpless in supporting them. When it comes to mental health struggles, it’s important to have someone there to understand and help through difficult times. As a friend, being a support system can often be difficult and overwhelming at times. Even though you want desperately to help, you don’t know how to. These are the best ways to help a friend struggling with mental health:

Identify When Something is Wrong

When it comes to mental health, there are highs and lows. Somedays a friend will seem fine and then the next their mood and behavior have completely changed. In order to be able to help them, it’s important to identify when something is wrong or they’re feeling more triggered than usual. Many ways to know is if they are being withdrawn or distant, not eating, conducting self-harm, displaying risky or endangering behavior, sudden overwhelming worries or fears, and intense mood swings. If your friend is displaying any of these signs, reach out and talk to them to let them know you are there for them.

Learn How to Talk About It

Although identifying their mental health issues is one obstacle, talking about it with them is a whole new challenge. When speaking with them about their mental health, it’s important to let them know they can trust you and that you will be there to comfort and listen to them. Let your friend know you have been worried about them and ask what you can do to help. It’s also important to encourage them to talk to their parents depending on their age or a professional. They must understand that although you are always going to be there for them, they must connect with people who can help.

Validate Their Emotions

As you’re listening to your friend’s struggles, thoughts, and emotions, remember to remain as understanding as possible. Even if their emotions are something you have never gone through, it’s important to let them know they’re thoughts and feelings are valid. This will help them to feel heard and less alone. This doesn’t mean pretending you feel the same way as them, but simply listening to what they have to say without judgment and offering helpful words such as, “That sounds hard.” Letting them know that what they are feeling is not an overreaction and completely valid will help them in so many ways.

The Mental Health Effects of Hurricanes on Survivors

Hurricane Dorian left destruction in its wake when it passed through the Bahamas. While recovery efforts have started in combing through the physical wreckage, it’s worth noting that Dorian left behind less visible damage, too: the mental health effects that hurricanes have on their survivors. As one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes in history, the terror of the storm lingers in the minds of many. 

According to the Associated Press, mental health counselors have been dispatched to the affected communities to help those traumatized by the storm. A local pastor Robert Lockhart in Grand Bahama encouraged his congregation at Calvary Temple to share their experiences. One community member, Carlos Evans, hoped that his story would bring encouragement to others. 

Dorian is not the first storm to highlight the mental health difficulties of survivors. Research has indicated that hurricanes and similar natural disasters can be detrimental to mental health. A recent study found that people living in England whose homes had been damaged by storms or floods had a 50% higher likelihood of poor mental health than those whose homes hadn’t been damaged. Studies on previous North American hurricanes showed results that were consistent with these findings. 

Of those affected by Hurricane Harvey, which struck Texas in August and September 2017, 48% of Harris County residents whose homes were severely damaged showed signs of serious psychological distress. Eoin Ryan, a mental health specialist, said that it will take weeks or even months to determine Dorian’s psychological toll. While many are still seeking resources like food, water, and shelter, the emotional impact may settle in once they are out of shock. 

The stress of coping after a natural disaster can be compounded, and current storms can trigger the emotional and physical sensations that people experienced when they survived previous hurricanes. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), common behaviors that exhibit around the time a hurricane strikes include persistent worry, anxiety, and sleep issues, as are intrusive memories, thoughts, and nightmares related to the storm. 

Department of Education Seeks to Improve Mental Health

The Department of Education of Louisiana publicized that the state was lucky to receive a $9 million grant that was set to be directed on improving and expanding mental health services primarily to students. This aid is aimed at supporting healthy development. The funding was also aimed at preventing violence that originates from the youths. The donation was given through the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

 

Commenting on the Project Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education grant, the State Superintendent John White said that the education department is obliged to understand and meet the learning needs of every child to genuinely serve them all. Mr. John White also emphasized the understanding and improvement of the social and emotional needs of students. John White continued that Louisiana State has received an exciting opportunity to ensure that the learning, social, and emotional needs of all children across the State are taken care of, and the learning is propelled.

 

The Project AWARE looks forward to awarding Louisiana State with $1.8 million every year for the next five years. The Department of Education is set to partner with the Louisiana Department of Health with the aim of ensuring proper utilization of the funding in the bid to establish and equip a complete Louisiana School Mental Health Support Program. The programs will be targeting to increase awareness of mental health problems among the school-going children. The program also aims at offering customized training to equip school personnel on ways to detect and give an appropriate response to mental health challenges.

 

The aid come following a drastic increase in mental health problems among the school-aged youths that attend school from 6th to 12th grade across Louisiana. According to Dr. Janice Peterson, the mental health cases in 12th grade increased from 21.7% in the year 2014 to 24.7% in 2016.

 

The program is set to begin its services by prioritizing 34 most affected schools in Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, and the City of Monroe school systems. The listed schools were in the past identified by the state as struggling with the highest rates of out-of-school obedience. The same schools were asked to come up with plans on how they intend to improve every site and submit those plans during the 2018-19 school year.

 

Why Sitting is Bad for Our Health

Sitting Everyone knows that there are health risks associated with smoking and drinking too much, but how about sitting? When it comes to seemingly innocent activities, sitting is near the top of the list, but sitting for too long is far worse than you think. If you’re working 9 to 5 at an office job, you’re probably sitting for about 8 hours a day – if not more. It’s not just people at a desk job though, even people that have more active jobs sit more than you think. Eating and watching tv are other activities that, chances are, you will be sitting for.

What’s the Big Deal?

1. Sitting is not really something our bodies are designed for. The angle at which at bodies sit puts undue pressure on your back, shoulders, and neck. Over time, sitting can hurt your posture and make you more susceptible to back injuries.

2. The main activities that come from sitting for long periods include watching television and working from a desk. If you’re main daily interaction with the outside world is through the internet or a television, this can put a damper on your social skills. It may become harder to make or keep friends and you’ll be more likely to develop feelings of depression and loneliness.

3. Sitting still burns an average of 56 calories an hour, however compared to walking and other forms of exercise, this is hardly enough to make a dent in your daily caloric intake. If you’re sedentary throughout the majority of the day, it’s very likely that you’ll become overweight or obese.

4. The chances that you will develop cancer or diabetes increase with a sedentary job or lifestyle. Your body may develop a reduced sensitivity to insulin because the body is not able to handle blood sugar as it should.WatchingTV

What Can You Do?

The potential results of sitting for too long are scary, but there are effective steps you can take to better your situation. If you do work at an office job, see if you can use a stand up desk or even a fitness ball to keep active throughout the day. If you must sit in an office chair, try to sit up straight and take multiple breaks throughout your day to move around. Getting up once an hour to get a drink of water will help you stay hydrated and get moving. Whenever you get home, it’s a good idea to keep active; moving directly from your work desk, to a car, to your couch is too sedentary.

Virtual Reality and Mental Health

Virtual RealityWith the recent rise of augmented reality, it is only a matter of time before virtual reality becomes a regular part of daily life. It is already, for example, becoming common in behavioral health. Virtual reality is currently being utilized for treatment of several different phobias. This type of treatment is called VReality Therapy, and it is already making strides in helping people get over once-crippling fears.

The premise of VReality Therapy is exposure. Clients put on virtual reality goggles that are manipulated by a trained therapist. They are slowly exposed to their phobias in the midst of performing relaxation techniques. Meanwhile, the therapist is also recording physiological responses of the patients so patients can keep a log of their progress. This is an ongoing therapy process, meaning that several sessions are necessary, however it has been proven to reduce fear of phobias, and even to remove it entirely.

Virtual reality is effective, as writes one patient who was treated for his phobia of blood with VReality Therapy. His phobia was a real issue due to the fact that he has diabetes, and therefore must take regular blood tests. His experience was with using a Samsung Gear VR Headset in the office of a trusted therapist. The program put him a virtual doctor’s office waiting room, then, after a while, into a virtual doctor’s office, where he was prepped by a nurse. His therapist talked him through relaxation techniques as his anxiety levels rose closer to the drawing of blood. When the blood was drawn in the virtual world, the author reports being able to feel it. The experience was jarring, but the author was able to get through ten minutes of having his blood virtually drawn, thanks to the guidance from his therapist.

A fear of blood is not the only thing being treated by these virtual reality goggles and therapists, however. There are also simulations to combat fears such as that of flying, heights, needles, animals, small spaces, driving, and public speaking. VReality Therapy can also be used as a resource to help treat generalized anxiety disorder. Patients can be eased into triggering situations in an environment they know is controlled by a trusted professional. This makes them more willing to work on facing their fears, and does not put them in harm’s way in the process.

Virtual reality has broad implications for for the world of behavioral health. Not only can it be used to treat things like phobias and anxiety, it may also be a great resource for those with depression and other mental illnesses. I cannot wait to see where VReality Therapy will lead!

For more information and behavioral health news, visit the New Horizon Counseling Center website.

Startups that Transform Behavioral Health

StartupHealth technology has become an exceedingly lucrative niche as of late. More and more technology companies are inventing ways to make healthcare easier and more accessible. This influx of startup companies focused on health technology, however, has recently shifted focus. Instead of starting businesses based on general physical health, there is now a large number of companies making technology focused on behavioral health. Unfortunately, Behavioral Healthcare in the United States has suffered as of late. It faces several internal and external issues that prevent behavioral health from becoming a medical priority. New startup companies are hoping to help. Below are two that look quite promising.

Quartet Health

A persistent issue in behavioral health today is the low level of access that behavioral health patients have to trained professionals. Quarter Health has created a comprehensive platform that includes patients, doctors, and insurers. Primary Care Physicians are able to refer patients to behavioral health professionals that work with the patient’s insurance through this platform, as well as to be updated on the progress of each patient. Behavioral Health professionals are able to communicate with the PCPs of their patients, as well as to accept or deny patient referrals with no risk. Additionally, they can use the platform’s billing and scheduling tools for their practice.

This platform is also used by insurers and employers in a number of ways. For one, it has tools that help determine whether or not someone is suffering from an undiagnosed behavioral health disorder. It also can help spread understanding of such disorders and the effects they have on behavior and performance. Patients are also given perks in this platform. They can take part in online treatment programs, communicate with health providers on a secure connection, and even talk to others suffering from the same conditions.

Akili Interactive

Akili is a different type of digital health company in that it works to build quality platforms with video-game-like qualities that can be remotely used by patients and physicians alike. These platforms will be used in a variety of ways, including to assess neural functioning in patients, as well as provide an interactive situation in which interventions can be put in place.

The platforms that Akili is developing fall into certain categories. The first is the group meant to improve neural functioning and cognitive systems. Another is cognitive measurement, which includes products that frequently assess the neural functioning of each patient.

For more information and behavioral health news, visit the New Horizon Counseling Center website.

Pokemon Go and Mental Health

PokemonThe newest craze to hit the digital sphere panders to the nostalgia of many. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that exists on an application on your phone. Its premise is ingenious – those with the app can walk around to ‘catch’ Pokemon in real-life places. All they have to do is point their phone camera at where the Pokemon is supposed to be, and it shows up on their screen, surrounded by the real world. Players use their touchscreens to throw Pokeballs and collect these critters. One of the great many features of the game is that it is built on a premise of walking. In order to run into Pokemon, hatch eggs, and find Pokemon gyms, players must get outside and wander around different neighborhoods. Soon after the game was released, many of those who downloaded it began to report an improvement in their mental health, catalyzed by Pokemon Go.

People have taken to platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr to express how the game has made strides in easing symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have reported that it has given them the motivation to get outside on days during which they feel like doing nothing at all. Additionally, Pokemon Go has been proven to be a great way to interact with strangers. Those with mental health issues find themselves not only walking around outside, but also socializing, which is important when dealing with mental illness.

Experts say that the game is also beneficial for mental health in that it allows people to take a break without indulging in common negative forms of escape. For example, many people, after a long workday, tend to go home or to a bar and have a drink to relax. This can lead to a reliance on alcohol when encountering everyday stressors. Pokemon Go has given its players a way to get their mind off of stressors that simply involves getting some exercise. Instead of having a drink, users are prowling the streets for rare Pokemon and getting a much-needed dose of sunshine.

Success stories are still pouring in on social platforms. One user reported that the game gave her a reason to spend the week outside interacting with friends, which, to her, was ‘unreal.’  Another stated that the game worked better for him than any therapy or medication that had been prescribed. A third tweeted that Pokemon Go actually made him want to go outside and interact with people, after having not had that urge for years. These are only a few example of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of accounts of the game helping a player ease their psychological struggle, even if only for a little bit.

Pokemon Go has unintentionally become a therapeutic app for so many people, and it is just getting started. This really speaks to the power of technology in helping people deal with the negative symptoms of mental illness. I am excited to see what other augmented reality games appear in the future, and the effect they will have on mental health.  

Discussing Mental Health at Work

WorkWhile the United States is slowly becoming more open about discussing mental health, there is still an underlying stigma that deters many with mental illnesses from talking openly about their experiences. This is doubly true in the workplace. Employers give their staff a select number of sick days in case of physical health problems such as the flu or a bad cold. Unfortunately, employees suffering from mental illness are hesitant to take sick days for their mental well-being. This is a real issue, especially since a recent study showed 18% of employees surveyed had experienced a mental health issue in the past month leading up to the study. Unlike a temporary physical illness, a mental health disorder can require time to go to therapy appointments, a need for a quieter workspace, or even alterations to a work schedule. It is important that people who suffer from mental illness know how to approach their employers with information about their condition and their needs.

Before speaking to anyone at work, it would be wise to speak about the decision with a mental health professional, like a therapist. This person can help you come up with talking points and direction, so you can go to work knowing exactly what you need. When addressing your direct manager, keep in mind the relationship you two have. If it is a close, more friendly relationship, feel free to be slightly more open about details. If, however, you do not feel comfortable revealing certain aspects of your mental illness, do not feel pressured to jeopardize your own privacy; you can be more vague with the details.

Also, it is important to be very clear about what you are hoping to get out of the conversation with your manager. If you need time in the middle of the day for a therapist appointment, for example, ask for a long lunch. It is important in this asking process to also inform your manager of how you will make up the work you miss when going to said appointment. Perhaps you can stay a bit later at work, or not take a lunch break the day following the appointment to catch up. Reassuring your manager that you will not fall behind will make them more willing to let you do what you need for your mental health.

It is important that you take advantage of company resources as well. If your company has, for example, an employee assistance program, you can get confidential help free of charge. Also, if you do not feel comfortable discussing issues with your direct manager, perhaps try asking HR for advice.

Most importantly of all, do not be afraid to take sick days for your mental health. Taking care of yourself mentally is as important as taking care of yourself physically. If you need to, take a sick day to relax and care for yourself so you can return to work rejuvenated.