Article by Ingrid Herrera-Yee, 2014 Armed Forces Insurance National Guard Spouse of the Year
This has been a really tough summer. We have lost several service members in Afghanistan, we have lost some through accidents and still others from suicide; we’ve lost spouses and family members, we’ve lost beloved actors and faced the horrors of a terrorist group bent on harming our citizens and threatening to continue to terrorize and threaten us. The summer heat this year has brought with it unimaginable horrors and worry about our future and the future of our children. When we open a newspaper, turn on the TV or read online news and social media we just want to make it all STOP.
For many of us, the news is unwelcome and we choose to tune out all of the negativity. We avoid cable news networks and their entire ilk – like the plague. Instead we choose the comforts of home, friends and an occasional escape into the world of reality TV, rom-coms and we binge on Netflix marathons of our favorite shows. Others will research topics, read everything there is to know about ISIL and suicide, war and coalition building…and try to make sense of it all. Still others will struggle with their emotions, to the point where it may start affecting their day-to-day life.
You may be struggling. Your spouse may be struggling. Your children may be struggling. It might be a co-worker, a friend, an online BFF, or a neighbor. So how can you tell if someone is struggling? How can you help? By pondering this, you’ve already taken a step in the right direction! The first step is to recognize that there are those who are struggling RIGHT NOW.
So how else can you know and how can you help? Watch for these signs:
- Has someone in your life changed how often and/or how they engage in life? How they engage with others? Is someone who is typically highly interactive and involved in activities suddenly not so much? Have they stopped calling and talking to friends/family?
- Are they inexplicably losing weight?
- Are they sleeping less?
- Are they finding it hard to even accomplish the simplest task?
- Are you or a loved one suddenly unable to enjoy doing things that you used to LOVE doing?
These sudden and significant changes are all signs that you or a loved one may be struggling. I’m not talking about how a friend lost 15 pounds because of diet and exercise; or how a loved one is sleeping less because he has a new job that takes up a lot of his time. These are positive or situational reasons for change. I’m talking about unhealthy and atypical changes.
So how can you help with these changes?
- Interact. Even if they say everything is fine, it might not be. Talk to them. Engage them in conversation.
- Encourage them to socialize more. Don’t stop inviting him or her out, don’t stop calling. Their lack of engagement could be a clear sign of trouble. Don’t take their lack of engagement as an insult or a slight. They may not be able to easily engage. Keep up the encouragement and the invitations. Studies show that social interaction has a significant moderating effect for many mental illnesses AND is a significant PROTECTIVE factor for suicide!
- Encourage them to seek the help of a trained professional. If your friend keeps getting worse and worse, can’t accept help and you see that their struggle is not subsiding, help them to make an appointment to see a professional. If they every discuss wanting to harm themselves, seek help immediately and call 9-1-1.
- Have you or someone close to you started to think much more negatively?
- Have they expressed more negative emotions?
- Do they appear more easily upset and angry?
Often anger and irritability is a symptom of depression, anxiety even PTSD; particularly in children; and can be a warning sign that help is needed.
So how can you help?
- Offer support and encouragement. However, this does not mean that you should endure yelling, insults or anger thrown your way. You can offer an ear, once the situation has calmed down and they have the capacity to actually “hear” you out.
- If the emotions get too much, encourage them to seek the help of a trained therapist.
- If they become violent, call 9-1-1 or emergency services. If you are a target of these negative thoughts and actions, get some help and support for you too.
Often, when there is a significant and sudden change in behavior it’s a clear sign of trouble. Most diagnosable mental health conditions have one thing in common: they involve a change that deviates from the norm for that person and a change that is affecting their life in a significant way.
The bottom line when dealing with those who are struggling is that often they want the help, but as a result of their emotions they might be unwilling or unable to seek help for themselves. Depending on the intensity of their symptoms, they may just need a shoulder, an ear, a sympathetic friend or they may need a professional to assist and to get them back on track. Remember, many struggle in silence. If you reach out, you very well might be saving a life.