Over the past eighteen months our lives have altered in many ways. Living with uncertainty is now the norm and it’s put a strain on our mental wellbeing. Being able to recognise and understand the signs that someone is struggling means that early intervention is possible. By supporting ourselves and others at the early stages, we can stop low mental wellbeing impacting on the life we want, and avoid diagnoseable mental health problems.
The grief and strain of dealing with a pandemic is certainly apparent and feelings of low mood are understandable. Many of us will have experienced high levels of anxiety due to the relentless nature of the situation. Although these feelings are common and expected given what has happened, it’s important to recognise if we are becoming depressed or anxious and when it might be time to seek professional help.
What is depression?
Whilst it’s important that we don’t diagnose ourselves or others, and recognise that each person experiences depression very differently, common signs of low mental wellbeing might include:
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Social withdrawal
- A deep unshakable sadness
- Feelings of despair
- Physical aches and pains
- Poor concentration
- Changes in appetite
- Loss of libido
Anxiety also often overlaps with depression.
Depression is very common and anyone can experience these feelings, it doesn’t discriminate. Commonly, the 2 questions that are asked to assess whether a person is experiencing depression, to what extent and as part of an overall assessment are:
‘In the last two weeks how long have you been experiencing feeling down, depressed or hopeless?’
‘In the last two weeks how long have you had little interest or pleasure in the things that you would normally enjoy?’
Depending on the answers, questions around feelings of guilt, appetite, feeling bad about yourself, worrying about letting others down and thoughts of self-harm would follow.
Some people can often externalise their feelings of depression and become irritable and angry, whilst others may internalise their feelings and become sad and withdrawn. However, it’s important not to stereotype, each person is unique and it’s about how much these feelings are impacting your ability to function and whether they are increasing and becoming increasingly painful and difficult to manage.
Whilst depression can sometimes have no observable trigger, it can develop as an understandable response to difficult circumstances. Stress can prolong and worsen experiences of depression but can also be a trigger. If you recognise some of the above symptoms in yourself aim to talk to friends and family first, try to increase behaviours that might help such as regular exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet, and decrease some of the coping mechanisms that are unhelpful such as drinking too much alcohol. Seek out talking treatments or support from organisations such as CABA and think about going to see your GP who will be able to explore further options.
What is anxiety?
As mentioned earlier, anxiety is often present when people feel depressed as the 2 conditions can overlap. Whilst it’s worth remembering that anxiety is an understandable response to overwhelming and uncertain situations, it also has a protective quality in terms of warning us that something is threatening.
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense, or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat and helps to mobilise all our resources to cope with that threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Whilst anxiety can often leave us feeling tense and irritable, angry, and frustrated, physical symptoms such as a churning stomach, racing heart rate and breathlessness are also very common. Other symptoms of anxiety include pins and needles, feeling restless or unable to sit still, reduced ability to focus and concentrate, sweating or hot flushes and nausea.
Most people feel anxious at times and it's particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life. Loneliness and isolation can also cause feelings of anxiety and low mood so it’s important to keep connected with those you love as much as possible, especially during this time. Sharing how you feel will lessen the burden and may encourage others to speak up.
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if:
- Your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- Your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- You avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- Your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- You regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- You find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy
As with any concerns about your mental health and wellbeing it’s important to talk through your concerns with family and friends and seek out professional help and support if needed. It’s also important to do what you can to help yourself.
Written by Kirsty Lilley, CABA’s Mental health specialist
CABA provides lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff and their close family members. Learn more about how to strengthen your mental wellbeing and support others on our dedicated hub.