Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Time to Talk - February 6th

The Time to Change initiative aims to tackle misconceptions about mental illness. On February 6th they've organized 'Time to Change' Day as a way to raise awareness. 

I was recently in a discussion about mental illness and the statement that stress is 'not a clinical condition like depression' was made. 

I am firmly opposed to this but I believe in providing an argument with solid reasoning as to why. 

This is what I came up with: 
  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor's office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

When stress is experienced the hypothalamus is triggered to release Cortisol or Adrenalin. In some situations this is extremely beneficial - for example, when we see a tiger or a group of thugs coming at us and it triggers us to run away at a speed we might not normally be able to achieve without the Adrenalin boost. 

When we experience this release excessively when it’s not a fight or flight situation (for example, because we have a difficult co-worker or are having a challenge in our relationship or difficulty with debt etc.) the repeated release of Cortisol and Adrenalin have an adverse effect on the body which leads to the symptomatic health issues listed in the third point above. Stress is the root cause because it’s stress that’s telling our brain to release these hormones. 

The constant state of fight or flight our body will find itself in inhibits our cognitive functions, making it more difficult to deal with the stressful situation we're experiencing. We cannot literally fight with or flee from mounting debt - but our brain doesn't know this. 

Too much Cortisol increases blood pressure and cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, hypertension, and heart attacks. 

Too much Adrenalin stops digestion, increases stomach acid and can lead to ulcers. 

Too much of either affects the brain’s ability to conduct a proper sleep cycle which is essential to our mental processing and physical health. 

Clinical depression is caused by an imbalance in serotonin levels in the body, serotonin being a neurotransmitter produced in the brain stem. 

So stress and depression are not the same, stress is a diagnosable illness and there is such a thing as Stress Disorder and arguably, all mental illnesses are also physical because our brains are essential to our body. 

Why go to the length I have to make this argument? 

By stating that some mental illnesses are more ‘valid’ or ‘severe’ than others we can make a person feel as though the condition they are dealing with is not legitimate. This can cause a person to: ignore the issue; not discuss it with their doctor, employer or family; discredit their own feelings and ultimately aggravate and make the condition worse than it needs to be

Yes, some mental illnesses are extremely severe when compared to others but none of them are any less hard for the individual to cope, deal with and ultimately find treatment for. 

My argument is stress is a legitimate issue that affects mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and is just as valid in the spectrum of mental illness as any other. 

This is my early contribution to Time to Talk Day. I believe talking about these things is not only beneficial for those living with and recovering from a mental illness. It's also a chance for us to educate each other - to look at things from a different perspective and consider the subtle ways we can make a difference by being aware of the language we use. 

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