After a year of lockdowns and social isolation, many Americans have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. The emerging crisis compounds an already growing problem in the country, with 1 in 5 people experiencing mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental health. Data by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that during COVID, as many as 40% of Americans suffered from mental health symptoms.
Despite their prevalence, signs of mental health disorders aren’t always obvious. To help those who may be struggling learn to identify the warning signs, I talked to Rosa Curcia, the executive clinical director at Advanced Health and Education, a behavioral health facility that treats primary mental health disorders. Although every person’s situation is different, Rosa pointed to three questions that can help pinpoint when to seek professional support:
1. How does your mental health affect your everyday life?
When mental health issues affect a person’s ability to hold a job or meet other obligations, this is the first red flag. By the time anxiety, depression or other disorders have affected your everyday life, it’s likely you have struggled for a while. Professional support can help you start to regain your footing and remove the burden of suffering alone. It can also be helpful to share how you’ve been feeling, says Rosa. Becoming more open with friends, family and even colleagues can help to alleviate the stress that often accompanies living with a mental health disorder.
2. How does your mental health affect your emotional state?
Some mental health disorders never lead to an outward struggle, making them particularly hard to diagnose, says Rosa. “Since many people who struggle with their mental health are outwardly high achievers, I also always look for emotional warning signs,” she explained. These could include rumination, or falling into repetitive thought patterns, engaging in negative self-talk, or adopting addictive behaviors to cope with stress, such as drinking or smoking.
3. Have you experienced changes in your physical health?
Fluctuations in weight, energy level, and other metrics can also provide clues about a person’s mental health, says Rosa. Paying close attention to your sleep quality, heart rate and appetite can help you pinpoint mental health issues that may go unnoticed, especially if you’re able to maintain your job and responsibilities. As life edges further into a new version of normalcy with easing restrictions and opening borders, it’s important to recognize the long-term mental health impact of a pandemic, and the impact it may have had on your mental health, says Rosa. It’s also important to recognize that mental health is personal. Your experience will not exactly mirror that of others, so it’s important to seek support from professionals who can recommend the best path toward recovery for you.