Editor's note: This commentary explores suicide. If you are at risk, please stop here and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for support at 1-800-273-8255.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about something a relative said recently. Not long ago they underwent an aortic valve replacement. Most cardiac valve conditions left unrepaired lead to chronic fatigue, limits on activity output, bouts of sleepiness, and can even foster depression.
Hours after the procedure they disclosed that for years they’ve felt like they’ve been dragging an anchor. Can you imagine that — dragging an anchor around all day, every day, for years? It was hard not to notice their emerging relief and hope that the anchor weighing them down might, at long last, be slipping away following the valve replacement. Intervention in the form of medical treatment was needed to loosen the hold of the drag they were feeling, and now relief and hope were nearby.
Our society focuses much more on physical health than mental health, but both are equally important, and both can present conditions that leave you feeling like you’re dragging an anchor.
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If you’ve not felt the mental weight of the anchor yourself, you’ve probably witnessed the impact in family, friends or coworkers: chronic fatigue, lost interest in things once enjoyed, inability to sleep, being irascible and edgy over anything and everything, paralyzing anxiety and a despair beyond despair.
More and more people are experiencing heightened difficulty in managing their own mental health. The numbers tell a frightening story: 41% of adults report increased symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, while a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds have seriously considered suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our fellow Tennesseans living with drug addiction are at risk of fentanyl overdose deaths, which rapidly climbed from 1 out of 6 in 2015 to 4 out of 6 in 2020.
The weight of the mental health conditions people experience can, indeed, feel like an anchor. But if you are concerned about your mental health, there are several options available. First, know you are not alone — relief, hope and help are available, and recovery is possible. It may be hard to talk about your concerns, but simply acknowledging to yourself that you’re struggling and that you feel like you’re dragging an emotional anchor is a big step in the right direction.
Mental Health America’s theme for this month is “Back to Basics,” which begins with putting words to what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling. Of course, understanding the risk factors for a mental health condition can be more difficult when it’s your own mental health. Take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors to see if this is part of a pattern that may be caused by a mental health condition.
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For my relative, "anchor" was the right word to describe how they had been feeling, and it might be the right word for you, too. And just like my relative, sometimes help in the form of intervention or treatment is needed to help you feel better.
Together, we can get back to basics by recognizing that our mental health is as important as our physical health, and that putting a name to what we are feeling is an important step in getting the help we need to better optimize our health and let go of the anchor we may be dragging.
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If in need of professional help, you can begin your care today through Ridgeview’s Walk-in Clinic locations in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan, Scott, and Roane counties. Visit www.ridgeview.com to learn more. Ridgeview’s Mobile Crisis Line, 1-800-870-5481, is available 24 hours a day/365 days a year, as a resource for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis. Or call the Tennessee Statewide Crisis Line, 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471).
Michael Yates is director of development for Ridgeview Behavioral Health Services, a private, not-for-profit community mental health center.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Does your mental health make you feel like you’re dragging an anchor?