Take Care Of Your Mental Health

Social Connections are Key Component, Says New London Doctor

A person should take care of his or her mental health in the same way one cares for his or her physical health, said Joe Lamb, MD, family physician at ThedaCare Physicians-New London. “When we think about heart health, we take steps to manage our weight, quit smoking, or start exercising. But if something happens, like we have chest pain, we need to go in. That’s how we should look at our mental health, too,” Dr. Lamb said.

The best way to maintain good mental health is to stay engaged and in touch with a range of friends, family and clergy, Dr. Lamb said. “It’s important to know where to turn when you are blue or in need of support. Connecting with people who genuinely care about you can be the first step in preventing a smaller mental health problem from becoming a major issue,” he said.

However, in times of personal stress, major change, and life’s challenges, what health care resources can we call upon to keep or achieve mental and emotional well-being?

Recognize mental health problems and ask for help when they begin to affect your daily activities. Two common concerns are:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder, characterized by excessive ongoing worry that interferes with a person’s day-to-day activities. Panic attacks, intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions like a rapid, pounding heart rate, sweating, and shortness of breath, can be a symptom. The fear of these episodes can often isolate a person and lead to more severe feelings of anxiety and depression. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18 percent of the population. (National Institute of Mental Health)

    “I see a lot of patients for anxiety, and they are so relieved when it’s treated,” Dr. Lamb said. “It’s a condition we can treat quite effectively, and it’s very rewarding to see my patients’ lives improve. Not only do they rediscover a lot of joy in life, so do the people around them.”

  • Depression, an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and affects the way a person eats, sleeps, feels about himself and herself, and thinks about the world. It is not a “blue mood” or a condition that can be wished away.

    “People who get depressed have a tendency to withdraw, stay at home, or sleep a lot,” Dr. Lamb said. “You have to push yourself to go out and talk with friends and get some exercise. Some short-term depressive episodes can be resolved when we tap into our social connections,” Dr. Lamb said. “But there is no need to get stuck. If the depressed feeling doesn’t go away on its own in about two weeks, it can be treated, and we have many options,” he said.

    Major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults. (NIMH)

Make an appointment to see your primary care provider. “This is another great reason to establish a long-term relationship with your doctor,” Dr. Lamb said. “I know my patients well and I can see when they are having trouble. We can also check other causes for low energy or insomnia, like thyroid problems.” If you are a new patient, your doctor may give you a short mental health questionnaire to help describe your symptoms. “It’s a great tool for starting a conversation with your doctor. Use the questionnaire as a springboard to having a frank discussion about how you’ve been feeling,” Dr. Lamb said.

Connect with specially trained doctors and therapists. If you suffer from complex conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol and drug addiction, eating disorders, or severe depression, your doctor can help you access area psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors, or inpatient care. “It is a privilege to be invited into a person’s physical or emotional struggles,” said Dr. Lamb. “Trust is very important in this relationship and I try to be available to listen during these times of crisis to help navigate through the available resources.”

Develop a plan of care with your doctor. Mental illness, like other illnesses, can be successfully treated. A plan of care that you develop with your doctor can integrate a number of treatment options, from medicine to exercise, talk therapy, meditation, support groups, inpatient care, or a combination of these.

Take steps to prevent or moderate mood disorders through good nutrition, regular exercise, moderate consumption of alcohol, and strong social connections. “Loneliness has a very big impact on our physical and mental health. We need friends where we live, work, volunteer, and worship,” Dr. Lamb said. “Don’t stay at home focused on the internet and other people’s life stories. We can minimize many mental health problems if we go out and talk with other people, eat well, and exercise regularly.”

Are you looking for a doctor who can help you achieve good physical and mental health? Joe Lamb, MD, is now accepting patients at ThedaCare Physicians-New London. Call his office directly at 920.531.2400 to schedule an appointment or call ThedaCare On Call at 920.830.6877 or go to www.thedacare.org and click on “Find a Doctor.”