Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Nine Topics to Consider in a Mental Health Checkup

By Gina Duncan, M.D.

Yesterday, I wrote about the concept of a mental health checkup. Over the next few days I’ll provide a list of nine topics to consider when thinking about the state of your own mental health. While not exhaustive, the topics on this list are meant to provide a starting point to help you examine how you’re doing emotionally and mentally. If any of these items raise a red flag for you, be sure to talk with your doctor. If you are concerned that you may have anxiety, depression, or another mental illness, or if you need help finding a professional to talk to, see my previous post on finding a therapist for tips.

Sleep — How are you sleeping at night? Is it restful, or does it leave something to be desired? Poor sleep can often be the first sign that there is something troubling you emotionally. When under stress or dealing with a more serious mental illness, many people find that they cannot fall asleep as quickly as they used to because of excessive worry or a feeling of not being able to “turn off” their mind, and others find themselves waking up frequently throughout the night. For some, insomnia can be put to rest with simple sleep hygiene measures such as limiting caffeine in the evening and creating a bedtime ritual. For others, common over-the-counter (OTC) sleep aids such as Tylenol PM, Benadryl, and herbal medicines like melatonin can be helpful if used in limited quantities and for a limited amount of time. [Note: although they are advertised under many different brands, most OTC sleep medicines have diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl) as their active ingredient. Make sure to read the labels so you don’t take medicines you don’t need and to decrease your risk of unsafe combinations.] It’s always a good idea to first check with your doctor before beginning any OTC sleep regimen to make sure there are no harmful interactions with other medicines you’re taking.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue the checkup with information about evaluating tension and anxiety and being tuned in to your emotions.

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