By Roberto Blanco
Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” can be applied to many arenas of life. From my experience in the mental health system, I believe that it is also quite an appropriate saying for mental health.
I work at a local crisis and assessment center in North Carolina and see many patients who come in with psychiatric emergencies. For a variety of reasons, a lot of these patients arrive in a dangerous state or have substance abuse problems that are out of control. They are in crisis and often need immediate action in order to assure their safety.
While many crises are an unfortunate result of untreated mental illness or painful circumstances, it is hard to ignore the great number of crises that could have been averted with some preventative mental hygiene. Many people become sick because they aren’t doing things that can keep them out of hospitals such as taking medicine regularly, going to therapy, or getting support from friends, family or community centers.
Just as you would not want to meet with your financial counselor to plan out retirement the day before you retire, you should be taking regular, proactive steps to take good care of your mental health before a crisis is at hand or, ideally, in order to prevent a crisis.
Here are some things you or your loved ones can do to help prevent mental health crises:
1. Engage in regularly scheduled therapy sessions.
2. Attend psychiatric appointments regularly and take medications as prescribed.
3. Create a Crisis Plan (a plan to follow in case of an emergency). These plans should include techniques to try to calm the situation (i.e. going for walks, deep breathing exercises, or listening to music are some favorites) along with the names and phone numbers of close supports, on-call mental health professionals, and emergency agencies. Keep this plan close at hand at all times.
4. If a significant portion of the problem is with a close relationship, consider going to family or couples counseling.
5. If you are running out of medication, call for refills at least 3-4 business days (7-9 business days for controlled substances or stimulants) before you will be out of medicine. This will assure that your doctor can supply you with the appropriate refill of medication in time.
6. Engage in regular, renewing self-care activities such as exercise, sleep, and fulfilling hobbies. Lack of sleep is often a cause and symptom of most mental illnesses.
7. Educate and advocate for yourself and your family. Learn as much as you can from many different perspectives about your illness. The National Institute of Mental Health has patient information available on a variety of diagnoses and topics. In addition, our very own APA Healthy Minds site has useful information on a variety of topics. Consider joining the National Alliance on Mental Illness and find your local chapter meeting location and time for support from other mental health consumers and families.