The Dark Side of Summer Moods

Most people are aware of the winter blues. Those with mental health conditions are often more apt to depressions in the winter and even those without may feel a soft sense of sadness in the cold of the season. Still, the season of summer can bring an equally dangerous threat to some with mental health conditions; mania and hypomania.

Mania is a high. It is a mood that is associated with several mental health diagnosis such as Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and certain other mood disorders. Symptoms of mania can range from restless or irritability to out of control risk taking, severe anxiety, spending sprees, and, in some cases, hallucinations.

Individuals who’ve experienced mania often describe it as a sense of intense energy, drive, joy, and/or elation. Still, at its worse mania can be devastating. Risky decision making can lead to lost jobs, lost friendships, and even lost lives. The experience of mania can also be brought about as rage and/or severe irritability which can have damaging consequences on a person’s life.

While manias and hypomanias can hit at any time, research shows that individuals with mood disorders are more vulnerable to mania in the summer months. It is important for family members and people living with these changes are aware of early warning signs that mania is approaching before symptoms spring out of control.

Each person’s early warning signs may be different, however, a sudden burst of activity, increase in talkativeness, and/or general change in a person’s behavior are common in the beginnings of mania. Children and adolescents may be more prone to outbursts of anger and/or defiance when going into mania. Mania in youth can sometimes be mistaken for simple “bad” behavior or “bad” attitude.

The good news is that effective treatments are available for mania. Medications including antipsychotics and mood stabilizers can help bring a person down from a mania and back to a more typical mood state. Additional medications can also be helpful in dealing with anxiety and/or irritability associated with mania. Further, counseling and support groups can help individuals recognize their individual presentation of mania and create a plan of action.

For some, having a damage control plan in place is essential. For example, for a person who is apt to spend a lot of money when manic signing over a credit card in those times to someone they can trust could be a very good thing. A person’s insight into their challenges can be blinded by mania and so it is often wise to have these plans put in place while someone is doing well.

Summer can still be a fun time for all families. Keeping an eye on potential manias can early communication with medical help can sometimes reel in the mania before it leaps out of control. Image

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Everyday is Mental Health Awareness Day in Some Homes

A good deal of you probably know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Over this month I have seen a lot of support on the virtual side for mental health. Some of these have been as simple as a green ribbon, while others as elaborate as stories individuals have been willing to share. Still, the one piece that has stuck most with me was a FaceBook meme that said this;

“May is Mental Health Awareness Month: Every Day is Mental Health Awareness Day at Our Home.”

For every number or statistic thrown out, and every newspaper article or story written warning of what is now said to be 1 in 4 individuals affected by mental illness there is a person. These individuals are friends, neighbors, church members, and students. They have dreams, loves, challenges and also families, each of which can be impacted by the catastrophic effects of mental illness. The numbers don’t talk about that.

When mental illnesses hit home everyone is stuck. Husbands, wives, brothers and sisters can feel overpowered watching as the person they have come to know so well struggles against these serious health challenges. Parents and guardians especially can feel alone and confused wondering if their child with a mental health disability will be able to lead a “normal” life.

It’s not all darkness. Mental illnesses like depression and bipolar have long been associated with creativity, innovation, and even intelligence. Many great artists, leaders, writers, and actors/actresses have faced mental illnesses including Vincent Van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemmingway, and Robbie Williams. Just to name a few.

Still, individuals with mental health conditions often need help to combat their symptoms, realize/utilize their strengths, and to navigate in a world not designed for those living with mental illnesses. With intervention, a number of individuals with mental health conditions have been able to recover and that number is growing stronger each day. New discoveries are allowing individuals to fight off what were once life-controlling symptoms and many are able to lead typical, meaningful lives despite having a mental illness. This said, access to these treatments remains a struggle as waitlists for help are often long and capturing quality care sometimes seems to require super-human strength.

So as we celebrate mental health awareness month please keep these things in mind. Mental illness is a challenge. It is not a person. It does not define a person. A person can have a mental illness, it does have to ‘have’ them. Families and individuals affected by mental health conditions often need support and education on what can be most helpful in dealing with associated challenges as a family. Further with an imperfect mental health system, families often need advocacy and good direction in seeking out appropriate treatments and other supports. NAMI does this. Through classes like family-to-family, support groups, and advocacy NAMI is helping families to deal with the catastrophic effects of mental illnesses. In addition, through systems advocacy and educational program NAMI is helping to create a meaningful difference in the way families affected are met within the system of care.