Making Overall Health a Priority

Suicide_prevention This week is Suicide Prevention Week, and I want to ramble on for a while about the importance of overall health. What do I mean by this? I mean that health has many aspects, several of which are overlooked: mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual. It took me a long time to realize that there is an entire community of people who have jobs devoted to keeping you healthy in all aspects of your life, and there is no shame in using them.

For a long time (and by “a long time,”  I mean about seven years) I was aware that I had some form of both colon problems and emotional problems, but I never told my doctor about either. I couldn’t tell you exactly why. Maybe I was in denial, or I didn’t want to be different from everyone else, or didn’t want to inconvenience the doctor with my troubles. I guess I didn’t realize what doctors were there for.

Eventually, my physical and emotional illnesses caught up with me. I was a college student. I had plenty of friends, I felt like I had no one to talk to. I couldn’t sit the full length of a class without running to the bathroom. I didn’t feel like myself. I couldn’t tolerate my friends or family. I actually couldn’t stand being around people in general. I didn’t enjoy activities that I normally enjoy. My life didn’t feel like my own, and I couldn’t imagine a life that was any different.

I was actually diagnosed with depression before I was diagnosed with UC. I saw a therapist at school, and before I went into her office I was given a survey that asked me about a million questions about myself. I remember the answers consisted of numbers 1-5, 1 being “not at all like me” to 5 being “very much like me.” Later on, I was told that I suffered from “moderate/severe depression.” Several months later, I was diagnosed with UC.

If your health is suffering in any area, whether it be physical, emotional, etc., I promise that there are resources you can find to make your life better. There is a better life out there for you. Imagine the way your world changed when your IBD started getting treated. Even though we are being treated for IBD, we still have bad days, but it is so much better than if we were to just ignore our IBD and didn’t give it any attention. I am challenging you to give all aspects of your health the same attention as your physical health. It is not true that depression is a “normal” emotional reaction to having an illness. Mental and emotional illnesses are legitimate health concerns, even though they are “invisible.” If you are having problems with emotional or mental health, you can have a better life. I promise you. It is just about finding the resources to help you. There is an entire community of health professionals whose jobs are to help you and increase your quality of life.

That being said, the first piece of advice I can give you if you are struggling with mental or emotional health, tell your primary care physician. Most people think that your primary care physician exists solely to keep tabs on your physical health, but they care about much more than that. If you feel that the mental, emotional, social or spiritual aspects of your health are not up to par, tell your primary care physician. He or she is there to treat all aspects of your health, and they are incredibly knowledgeable about treatment options and resources that you can use to stay well. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist. For example, they might send you to a psychiatrist or social worker for mental, social or emotional health. If you are suffering from a mental or emotional illness such as depression or anxiety, they may have options for medication to supplement therapy and other treatment plants.

I have treatment plans for both my UC and my mental / emotional health, and they are both of equal importance and have changed my quality of life in amazing ways. My treatment plan for emotional and mental health involves taking Prozac and seeing a therapist once a week. Prozac is a type of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor drug that works on keeping adequate amounts of serotonin in the body. Prozac treats both depression and anxiety. Medication has helped keep my mood up, while meeting with my therapist once a week helps me cope with stressors that could potentially harm my mental or emotional health. My psychologist provides me with tons of activities to teach me how to actively take care of my mental and emotional health on a daily basis. I take aspects of my health that are normally overlooked very seriously, and it has dramatically increased my quality of life.

If you are struggling with other aspects of your health, tell your doctor immediately. Tell a close friend or adult that you trust. I did, and I feel like myself again. I feel like I have control of my life. Please tell someone. There is a better life out there for you.