Recognition of the Signs of Mental Illness and How to Intervene

In the previous post, I discussed being mindful of mental health in the workplace.  This involves not only awareness and being present to staff and colleagues, but also being able to recognise the early warning signs of mental illness and having the courage and competence to intervene.

The early warning signs of mental illness in the workplace

Recognition of the early warning signs of mental illness enables early intervention to prevent deterioration in a person’s mental health.  Without such an intervention, issues can build up for the individual, making it more difficult for them to manage their stress and/or stressors.

The Mentally Healthy Workplaces Toolkit introduced in the earlier post provides a list of possible early warning signs of mental illness and lists them under five categories:

  1. Physical – such as constant tiredness, continuous ill health, major changes in appearance and/or weight, complaints about ongoing health concerns
  2. Emotional – such as irritability, loss of a sense of humour or of confidence, increased cynicism, nervousness, overly sensitive to perceived or real criticism
  3. Cognitive – overall performance decline through lots of mistakes, lack of concentration and/or inability to make decisions (constant procrastinating)
  4. Behavioural – behaving out of character by becoming more introverted or extroverted, withdrawing from group activities, lateness to work, not taking scheduled breaks (such as lunches) but taking unofficial time off
  5. In the business – inability to meet deadlines, declining motivation, frequent absences, working long hours unproductively.

There may be multiple causes for one or more of these early signs to occur.  So, it becomes important to check in with the person involved as to how they are going and whether you can be of assistance.

Checking in – having the conversation

Often managers and colleagues are reluctant to say anything to the person showing early sings of mental illness and the person involved is often unwilling to raise the issue for fear of being seen as “not coping” or “being weak”.  Part of the problem is that they really need support and care and genuine concern for their welfare.  They can be experiencing a strong sense of isolation, lack of support and associated depression.  Extending a helping hand can often work wonders.   But how do you start the conversation?

People in the workplace are very ready to ask someone about a physical injury such as a broken wrist but when it comes to a mental illness they are often fearful or uncertain – yet the person with the early signs really needs someone to show care and concern.  So, we can have a situation where the two parties – the manager/colleague and the person experiencing mental illness – are compounding the problem by not engaging in the conversation- a form of mutual withdrawal.

The recognised format for the initial conversation where someone is displaying the early signs of mental illness is called AYOK – “Are you okay?” The Mentally Healthy Workplaces Toolkit offers four steps for starting the conversation:

  1. Ask R U OK?
  2. Listen without judgment
  3. Encourage action
  4. Check in

It is useful to preface this conversation with the observation, “I have noticed that…and I am concerned for your welfare.”  In other words, communicate what you have observed (shows you are interested in the person) and express care and concern.

The person involved may be unwilling to talk initially but it is important to undertake the occasional check-in.  An experienced practitioner at the 19th International Mental Health Conference mentioned that on one occasion he had the initial AYOK conversation and the person involved said they were okay…and yet, some months later they came up to the practitioner and said, “I’m not okay, my daughter committed suicide three months ago – can you help me?”  Having had the initial conversation opened the way for the subsequent voluntary disclosure.  To avoid the conversation compounds the sense of isolation of the individual involved – they feel that they can’t help themselves and that no one else is willing to help them.

It is important to prepare for the conversation beforehand – know what you are going to say, allow time for the interaction and choose an appropriate time and place.  You need to ensure that you are prepared to listen and be mindful during the conversation.

You can provide support by suggesting they use the Employee Assistance Program, visit their doctor (who can initiate a formal Mental Health Care Plan) or discuss options for making reasonable adjustments to their work situation.  The important thing is that you take compassionate action, not letting the situation deteriorate.

It is vitally important to maintain confidentiality about any information disclosed to protect the privacy of the person involved.  You will need the explicit consent of the individual to disclose the information to co-workers, for example.  The information conveyed to you can only be used for the purpose intended by the disclosure – e.g. to enable a reasonable adjustment to their workload or pattern of work.

The exception would be where the person discloses that they are experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings.  In this case, you will need to seek professional support.  Beyond Blue has some very sound and detailed guidelines for the conversation in these situations, including what language to use.  ConNetica, in their blog post Chats for life APP, also provides an App (with practical conversation tips) which has been designed by young people for young people experiencing mental health problems, and possibly suicidal thoughts and feelings.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection, we can become more aware of the early signs of mental illness, have the courage and confidence to have the AYOK conversation and a willingness to take compassionate action.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of geralt on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness Practice for Overcoming Unhealthy Habits

Leo Babauta, creator of zenhabits.net, suggests that underpinning our unhealthy habits is a “craving for wholeness”.  In his view – whether we are obsessed with the news, shopping, food, sex, social media or partying – we are looking for something to redress our loneliness, sense of disconnection or feeling of incompleteness.

Mindfulness practice to overcome unhealthy habits

Leo advocates a mindfulness practice that incorporates four main steps:

  1. Pause and be still.  Don’t seek distractions or ways to entertain yourself.
  2. Feel the discomfort of loneliness, isolation or disconnection that is driving you.  Realise that unhappy habits can entrench your sense of loneliness.  Get in touch with your uncertainty and explore what makes your life meaningful.
  3. Notice the goodness in your heart.  You care about others and about yourself.  Recall moments when you have shown loving kindness or consideration towards others.
  4. Connect with a sense of wholeness both within and without (outside of yourself).  Marvel at the integration of your mind, body and spirit and the interconnectedness of nature.

Leo, author  of The Habit Guide Ebook, describes the mindfulness practice in more detail in an article on his Zen Habits blog, The Craving for Wholeness That Drives Our Activities.  He suggests that you can rest in the awareness of the sense of wholeness in everything, including nature.  Let nature be your ally in your search for wholeness.

The Interconnectedness of Nature

Louie Schwartzberg, time-lapse photographer and film director, reminds us that nature is a source of mindfulness because everything in nature is interconnected and we are connected to it.  He explains that every living thing is dependent on another living thing and illustrates this through his film, The Wings of Life, which was presented at a TED Talk, The Hidden Beauty of Pollination.

Louie Schwartzberg is currently working on a crowd-funded film, Fantastic Fungi, in collaboration with authors, artists, doctors (oncologists, integrative medicine experts) and scientists (mycologist, ecologists, philosoforager).

In a short teaser film for Fantastic Fungi, Louie Schwartzberg explains the interconnectedness of nature manifested through mushrooms:

Plants need soil. Where does soil come from? It comes from the largest organism on the planet that heals you, that can feed you, that can clean up a toxic oil spill, that can even shift your consciousness.  It’s mycelium.  Mycelium is the root structure under budding mushrooms.  It’s like the Internet – a vast underground exchange [intelligent & communication] network that transfers nutrients from one plant to another.

Louie Schwartzberg has spent his whole working life to show us, in living vibrant colour and film, how nature inspires wonder through its wholeness and interconnectedness.  Leo Babauta, through his mindfulness practice, encourages us to to reflect on this wholeness and our interconnection with everything.

As we grow in mindfulness, we come to realise that we are not alone or disconnected – that we are connected to a vast wholeness manifested in nature and in the intricacy of the interconnection of our body, mind and spirit.  Mindful awareness of this connectedness is a pathway to overcoming unhealthy habits.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of astama81 on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness and Postpartum Depression

Kristi Pahr, freelance writer and mother, discussed how mindfulness helped her to deal with postpartum depression (PPD).  One of her problems, experienced by many mothers, was that she did not recognise her systems as PPD but put them down to hormonal change.  Unfortunately, PPD can get a hold of you very quickly and its effects can lead to a rapid deterioration in your mental health, your relationships and overall life.

Typically, the father is unaware of the nature, cause and devastating effects of postpartum depression and can further aggravate the condition through their seeming insensitivity, lack of concern or lack of physical/emotional support.  The mother may also feel unable to communicate the intensity of their feelings or their deteriorating health, and may be reluctant to communicate their real condition for fear of being seen as incompetent.  The symptoms of postpartum depression can be many and varied and this fact serves to compound the confusion on both sides, for mother  and father.

Kristi’s Story: How Mindfulness Helped My Postpartum Depression

Factors that contributed to Kristi’s postpartum depression were a loss of the first child during pregnancy, traumatic birth of the second, exhaustion, physical isolation and loneliness.  Feelings of inadequacy with a newborn baby often overwhelm even the most competent women and Kristi found that her sense of “not coping” led to “hyper-vigilance” – a constant scanning to check that everything is okay with the baby, heightened sensitivity to stimuli (e.g. a baby’s cry), and increased emotional arousal.

Hyper-vigilance can intensify feelings of inadequacy and anxiety and create a downward spiral in terms of mental health and well-being – the exhausted mother cannot sleep and recuperate which, in turn, negatively impacts her physical health and depletes her energy and capacity to cope with the stresses of daily life with a new baby.  It is a common experience that when you are tired, even the smallest problem or issue appears insurmountable.

What Kristi found is that mindfulness helped her to get in touch with her feelings, stand back from them, identify her triggers, defuse her negative thoughts and develop ways to manage her emotional response.  It also enabled her to identify the severity of her condition and to seek professional help so that she was able to increase her arsenal of strategies and tactics to manage her condition.

One of these strategies Kristi employed was practising awareness by writing a journal at the end of each day and addressing these insightful questions:

  • What feels really good right now?
  • What doesn’t feel so good right now?
  • What made me feel balanced today?
  • What am I grateful for?

Resources: Mindfulness for Postpartum Depression

Research into mindfulness for postpartum depression suggests that mindful practice should begin in pregnancy.  Here is a selection of resources for developing mindfulness for pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum depression:

1. Shamsah Amerise, MD, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, when writing for Headspace.com offers 10 Tips for a Mindful Birth.

2. Katherine Stone, award-winning blogger, provides resources for people experiencing postpartum depression on her  blog:  www.postpartumprogress.com

Her resources include the following the article:  Why Mindfulness Should Matter to Moms

3. Edith Geddes, MD and Medical Director of the University of North Carolina Women’s Mood Disorder Clinic, passionately advocates for screening for, and treating, perinatal mood disorders, especially in rural areas.  Being a former professional musician, she offers a mindfulness technique for composing a moment:

Composing a Moment: Mindfulness Techniques in Postpartum Mood Disorders

4. Mind the Bump Appdeveloped jointly by beyondblue and Smiling Mind – is designed to reduce stress during pregnancy and reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression:

Mind the Bump App Improves Wellbeing During and After Pregnancy

5. Andy  PuddicombeThe Headspace Guide to a Mindful Pregnancy.

As you grow in mindfulness during pregnancy and the postnatal period, you will be better able to handle the stresses of pregnancy and reduce the possibility and/or impact of postpartum depression.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of marmaladelane on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.