A relatable deep dive into mental disorders such as anxiety and depression
To paraphrase a quote by Johnny Depp, “Having anxiety or depression isn’t a sign you’re weak; it’s because you’ve been strong for too long.”
One of the most primal survival tools of any living organism is the “fight or flight” mechanism. As we encounter problems, challenges, or even day-to-day stress, our body is faced with a question: Do I run away or do I stand up and face the music?
Now imagine that our body has to do this constantly every day. As each situation passes, tension builds up, and when this goes unaddressed, something’s bound to break. This often results in two of the most common mental disorders: anxiety disorder and depression.
I’m sure as you’re reading this, the term “mental disorder” already has a few negative connotations that come to mind. “Is that the same as being crazy?” would probably pop up.
To put things quite bluntly, no, it doesn’t mean you are crazy. There is a lot of stigma, especially in our culture, about mental disorders. These mental health issues are often bottled up and lead to many missed diagnoses and consequently, alienation for those experiencing them. In reality, these should be openly discussed as more and more people need help.
The recent pandemic has been a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s one of the worst calamities that has happened to humanity in recent memory with thousands of deaths and infections, but it also somehow changed the way we view mental health.
Since we’re all essentially in the same boat, most people find it easier to relate to each other when talking about stress, anxiety, and even depression. In this regard, more awareness has been given to these all-important topics.
Just what is anxiety disorder and depression? How are they different from just being agitated or sad? Let’s try to take a deeper dive into the topic, but before we begin, let me just point out that I am neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist.
I have, however, talked to a lot of people about these topics in my live streams in 2020 and have also experienced both. I’m here to give you a (somewhat) less technical but (hopefully) more relatable take on the topic.
What are mental disorders?
According to Medlineplus.gov, mental disorders are “conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day.”
The operative phrase here is that these disorders can affect your ability to function or perform day-to-day tasks. You can be scared or sad, but if it doesn’t have any significant repercussions in the grand scheme of things, technically it’s not a disorder.
Now after learning this, the term “mental disorder” doesn’t seem so bad, right? In reality, there’s a wide spectrum of disorders that range from very mild to rather serious. To generalize them as “all the same” is, quite frankly, wrong.
Just like mental disorders, there are several types of anxiety disorders. For our purposes, let’s focus on the common qualities they possess.
Aside from the earlier point I mentioned (i.e. that it affects our ability to function), anxiety disorders have two significant qualities: an overreaction to stimuli and a lack of control of these responses.
In essence, what it’s saying is that when something stresses you out, your reaction to the whole matter is disproportionate and even illogical to the problem. On top of this, no amount of “calming down” can help. Oftentimes, these manifest in things like palpitations, restlessness, chest pains, or even obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Depression (a.k.a. major depressive disorder) is a more specific type of mood disorder. I chose to use this term because it’s more widely used and relatable for a lot of people. But in essence, mood disorders, like anxiety disorders, share the following qualities: symptoms that interfere with daily living and a disconnect between what you feel and the current circumstances.
Depression is one of the most common illnesses and has regularly been linked to substance abuse disorder, self-harm, and even suicide, making it a serious area of concern.
Again, let me point out that there are more disorders out there, but I chose to focus on these two because of their prevalence. They also give a peek into the qualities of mental disorders without adding too much complexity.
What’s the difference between the two?
In simple terms, excessive anxiety is an overreaction to stimulus. A little inconvenience (if at all) blows up disproportionately. At times, you might not know what exactly you are stressing over, which adds even more anxiety. The amount of stress is magnified several-fold and it can feel like there is no way of controlling it.
Depression meanwhile seems like the opposite. The individual could feel numb to stimuli. Happy moments seem dull while stressful moments imbue a sense of despair or lack of importance.
In both cases, we are out of touch with what is actually presented upon us. There is nothing wrong with how we perceive things, yet there is a disconnect between what we experience and what we actually feel.
Why do we get these disorders?
There are a lot of causes and theories surrounding mental disorders. From genetic predisposition and chemical imbalances to injury and trauma, it’s hard to pinpoint a single cause.
Rather, think of it as an amalgamation of various factors that led to this. In general, more often than not, there usually has to be a trigger (whether acute or chronic) that causes this particular problem.
Without delving into specifics, a top view assessment of this matter is the “overuse” or dysfunction of the fight or flight response. Yes, our body needs stress to function; without stress as a stimulus, we can’t get things done. Stress, in many ways, brings out the best in us. The problem arises when there’s too much stress and our body can’t handle it anymore. It can be because of the magnitude of the stressor or the lack of rest to recuperate from it. This is the tipping point that breaks our state of well-being.
What can be done?
There are a lot of things that can be done to address mental disorders with relative success. Antidepressants, therapy, exercise, and alternative medicine are just a few.
One thing that doesn’t work as well as we’d hope though is self-treatment. Imagine being stuck in a ditch; you’d have a hard time pulling yourself out of it. You need help. It can start with a loved one, a trusted friend, or a companion. Admitting you need help and reaching out to someone is usually the first step but oftentimes, it shouldn’t be the last. Seeking professional help is the best course of action.
What can we do for those experiencing these issues?
The first and most important step is to listen. A lot of times, people dealing with these problems just need to let things out. In sharing, there is understanding; in understanding, there is clarity. If you’re going through anxiety and depression, you’re probably trying to make sense of what’s happening around you. By confiding in someone, you are somehow grounded in reality. This is where healing begins.
It’s also important to not try to fix the person if you’re not a qualified professional. Giving advice is a normal reaction and is probably well-meaning. However, for deeper and more complicated problems, it’s best to leave it to the experts. Don’t embody “toxic positivity” toward the person involved.
“Think positive!” “Wala lang ’yan!” “Kaya mo ’yan.” While they might mean well, these statements do nothing for the anxious or depressed person. In doing so, we end up brushing their feelings as “OA” or exaggerated without taking into account what they’re actually going through.
Lastly, lead them toward a health professional when they’re ready. Don’t ever force them by saying “this is for your own good.” Rather, patiently hold their hand and let them understand the benefits for themselves. Remember, they are probably not being stubborn but instead have a hard time climbing out of the hole they’ve been stuck in.
If you are dealing with anxiety and depression, I’ll end this article with something that has resounded with me during the toughest times: You are not alone.
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