One out of every five adults experiences mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
It’s so normal to discuss diets, fitness routines, and all the latest trends meant to improve our physical health. So then why are people still silent when it comes to discussing mental health?
On the Cosmo Happy Hour podcast, host Elisa Benson breaks the stigma surrounding mental health with help from singer/songwriter Mary Lambert, medical and wellness expert Dr. Susan Biali, and Tal Rabinowitz, founder of The DEN Meditation. They share their personal struggles, ways to cope, and 10 other things you should definitely know if you’re struggling with your mental health:
1. There are different ways to cope with a mental illness. Lambert suggests taking deep breaths and even talking out loud to yourself. “I have conversations with myself,” she says. “Because if I verbalize what I hear people in my head saying, it sounds ridiculous. So if I verbalize, ‘You’re a piece of shit,’ and I say it, then I’m like, No, that’s not true. I can coach myself out of it.”
2. If you have a mental illness, that doesn’t make you strange. “Mental illness is not that weird,” Lambert says. “We’re all born really weird. Our brains are all so different. This world that we live in is nuts, and so to think that our brains wouldn’t have these strange new rapid coping mechanisms to live in it is not absurd.”
3. If you think you might have a mental illness, seek help. If you’ve noticed a significant change in how you’re thinking or acting, consider getting help. “[Seek help] if it seems to be lasting for more than just a few days and is actually starting to affect your functioning, like your relationships, or maybe your work or school,” Dr. Biali says. “Also if other people have commented about it, those are all flags that something’s shifting, and it’s generally a better idea to get help sooner than later if you think something is wrong.”
4. There is a difference between having a mental illness and just going through something difficult. Life can be really rough sometimes, and while it’s normal to struggle with stressful situations, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental illness. You should totally get help if you ever need it, but just remember that “a mental illness or mental health disorder is a cluster of symptoms that’s recognizable as a particular problem,” according to Dr. Biali.
5. If you’re looking for a diagnosis, make sure you’re seeing a qualified professional. “You do want to talk to somebody who ideally has a medical degree or a PhD in psychology,” Dr. Biali says. “Someone who’s really, really qualified to diagnose because some counselors really don’t have the skills if they have a lower level of training.”
6. Be there for your friends who might need help. Have you noticed a friend struggling lately? That means you’re in an incredibly important position to assist them in getting the help they need. “Offer to go with them if they’re feeling scared to go to an appointment,” Dr. Biali says. “Offer to talk to them initially. Open the conversation — really that’s the most important thing.”
7. There are ways to deal with a panic attack. When you’re having a panic attack, Dr. Biali suggests taking a second to tell yourself that you’re going to be OK, and it will pass. “Panic attacks always pass. When you’re having one, the horrible thing is it feels like something really, really awful is going to happen … and generally those things, as a rule, do not happen,” Dr. Biali says. While it might feel dangerous, it’s important to remember that it’s really not. “Also, breathing is huge … I like to breath in to a count of four, hold for a count of six, and breathe out through my mouth for a count of eight — that reverses that hyperventilation and will help you to get to a calmer place much more quickly.”
8. But you won’t necessarily have panic attacks for the rest of your life. Dr. Biali has experienced panic attacks herself, but she learned they don’t last forever. “I thought that now I was a person who panicked all the time, and I would never be the same again, and that was almost scarier than the panic. And that’s just not true. This is very treatable … It will go away. You will feel normal again.”
9. Meditation can help you in all aspects of your life. At the very least, Rabinowitz says, it will help you get to know yourself better. “And the more you know yourself in any regard, whether it’s a relationship, whether it’s a job, whether it’s just deciding what vacation to take or just how to make yourself happy, the better you know yourself, the more successful you are in every element of life because you’re making decisions from the right place,” Rabinowitz says.
10. And any amount of meditation can help. Don’t worry if you can’t seem to sit down and meditate for a long time! “Just 20 minutes, half hour, 45 minutes, or even 10 minutes, if that’s all you have one day, it just at least calms you for that moment,” Rabinowitz says.
To hear even more about living with a mental illness, the benefits of meditation, and when you should see a therapist, listen to the full podcast below.