A quarter of all people will have experienced a mental health problem during their lives. So why is such a common problem still so taboo, especially in certain ethnic communities including the Turks? Are we immune from mental health problems? I think not. Yet it is grossly underreported and often people still look for physical signs instead of mental symptoms.
In the wake of the death of talented actor Robin Williams, who unfortunately took his own life because of his depression and other problems, more people have started to speak about mental health issues and to raise awareness about it. The two most common health problems are depression and anxiety.
If you are suffering from depression, one of the clearest signs is persistently feeling sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days. There are other symptoms to look out for too:
Cognitive symptoms include:
- feeling irritable and intolerant of others
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- having low self-esteem
- feeling tearful
- feeling guilt-ridden
- not getting any enjoyment out of life
- feeling anxious or worried
- having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
Physical symptoms include:
- change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
- unexplained aches and pains
- lack of energy or lack of interest in sex
- changes to your menstrual cycle
- disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning)
Social symptoms include:
- not doing well at work
- taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends
- neglecting your hobbies and interests
- having difficulties in your home and family life
Depression can come on gradually, so it can be difficult to notice something is wrong. Many people continue to try to cope with their symptoms without realising they are ill. It can take a friend or family member to suggest something is wrong in order for the person to realise.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe
Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. For example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam or going to a job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal. However, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily life.
Symptoms of an anxiety or a panic attack can include:
- a surge of overwhelming panic.
- feeling that you’re losing control or going crazy.
- heart palpitations or chest pain.
- feeling like you’re going to pass out.
- trouble breathing or a choking sensation.
Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder (social phobia).
Experiencing a panic attack is common for people who experience any of the anxiety disorders. Although a panic attack can feel you are having a heart attack, it is not physically dangerous. It is a response to a situation we fear or to the thoughts going on in our head.
If you are experiencing any of these difficulties, it is important you talk about them: don’t struggle alone. Please contact your GP and seek help. You can also ring the Samaritans who can offer you emotional support, but it is always best to speak to your doctor if you have health-related concerns.
For more information about anxiety and depression, including how to cope and where to seek help:
Mental health foundation website: mentalhealth.org.uk
Mental health charity MIND (most boroughs have their own branch): mind.org.uk
Self-help books: Living with Fear Issac Marks
Muge Ahmet is a psychology graduate who has been working in the mental health field for over three years. She recently started a Masters in Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapy. She is keen to help raise awareness about mental health issues and to remove the stigma many British Turks commonly associate with mental illness.