Sometimes, emotional distress is reflected in ways that are difficult to understand and that may be difficult to manage safely. A troubled woman may try to hide the intensity of her emotional pain or sadness until the problem becomes so severe that she is unable to function in her daily life or so overwhelming that she tries to harm herself or others. Awareness that a serious problem exists may come suddenly or develop over time.
For example, a new mother, along with her family members, may expect to experience a short period of postpartum depression or "new mother blues," an uncomfortable but usually manageable situation. However, severe postpartum depression or psychosis may appear to be "normal" but be so severe or long-lasting that the new mother becomes dangerous to herself or her child.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is another example of a how emotional distress can "sneak up" on you or someone you care about. Moving to a new home, changing jobs, or making other changes in life circumstances might feel like a good thing, but the experience might "trigger" a stress response related to a traumatic event from the distant past. This post-traumatic stress response may result in unexpected but severe mental health problems. Finding help to treat anxiety disorder or panic symptoms is important.
Self-injury behaviors are especially hard to understand. A woman may appear to be "crying out for help" with superficial cutting, refusal to eat, or "picking" at the skin or fingernails. Or she may be actively trying to harm or kill herself by overdosing on medications or stepping in front of a moving vehicle. Any self-harm or self-injury behaviors can signal serious mental health problems that need immediate attention.
Persistent thoughts about suicide represent a serious mental health concern. A woman may keep such thoughts a secret or she may "hint" to a family member or friend that she feels like she would be "better off dead." She may unconsciously put herself in unsafe situations, act on a sudden impulse to harm herself, or make a systematic plan for killing herself. Whether chronic or sudden, persistent suicidal ideation, planning for committing suicide, or attempting suicide is a dangerous symptom of emotional distress and needs to be addressed by a mental health professional.
We have all experienced our little quirks and habits that we know are annoying at times and that we can do without when we have the self control. But the problem arises when thoughts spin out of control, becoming so intense and intrusive that they take over against our will. And our habits turn into all consuming rituals that are performed to rid us of overwhelming feelings of fear and dread.
"When it rains it pours" might describe how it feels when a woman experiences more than one mental health problem at once. Severe depression may be the underlying problem with chemical dependency issues. Chemical dependency problems may result from attempts to self-medicate anxiety or panic. Life adjustment problems may trigger a post-traumatic stress response. Postpartum depression may trigger bipolar symptoms. Complicated grief may change a social drinker into an alcoholic.
Effective treatment of co-occurring mental health problems may be complicated. Medical and clinical assessment is needed to determine a primary diagnosis.
The best mental health treatment depends on several factors including life circumstances, medical history, severity of symptoms, and impact on daily functioning. If you or someone you care about is experiencing emotional distress or substance abuse problems, contact Brookhaven now to take the first step to getting help.
Some "red flag" behaviors that may signal severe emotional distress and the need for professional help include:
- Self-injury behaviors such as superficial or non-superficial cutting
- Persistent "picking" at skin
- "Accidental" physical injuries
- Thinking or talking about suicide intent or plans
- Thinking or talking about intent or plans to hurt others
- Thinking or talking about self or others being "better off dead"
- Not being able to sleep well or sleeping too much
- Not being able to eat well or eating too much
- Spending excessive amounts of money
- Hearing voices or seeing things that are not real
- Having persistent nightmares
- Withdrawal from family and friends/social isolation
- Excessive weight loss or gain
- Excessive absence from work
- Inability to take care of self or others in activities of daily living
- Disorganized thinking or loss of memory
The source of her emotional distress may not be clear to the woman who is experiencing it or to those who care about her, but the need to find a safe environment for recovery is clear. If you or someone you love is experiencing severe emotional distress or demonstrates any of the above behaviors, please contact Brookhaven to start the process of getting help.