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Tending to your emotional health
Not feeling like yourself these days?
Or have a loved one who is feeling blue?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 20 Americans report feeling depressed. CDC also states that nearly two-thirds of people who seek professional help report feeling better. BeWell spoke to Rosan Gomperts, LCSW, director of the Faculty Staff Help Center, about the issue of emotional health.
Does mental health impact physical health?
The research literature as well as anecdotal evidence suggests that physical health can be affected by one’s emotional health and sense of well-being. When we are unduly stressed or depressed, our general functioning may be impaired, as may be our ability to experience pleasure and fulfillment.
Most people don’t hesitate to go to the doctor when they are in physical pain, but many are reluctant to see a therapist when they are in emotional pain. Why?
I think there are a lot of different answers to this question. Some people may attach a stigma to going to see a counselor and feel that “only crazy people go to a counselor,” but I am always hopeful that this particular reason will diminish. Sometimes people are not aware of how much pain they are experiencing or how much it is impacting their functioning and/or think it will go away over time. Others may have had or know someone who has had a negative experience with counseling, and still others feel that their situation is not as bad as other peoples’ and they don’t want to take time away from someone who may need it more than they do.
Depression affects more that 20 million people each year. What are the signs you (or a loved one) is depressed?
The signs that one may be dealing with a significant depression are as follows:
• Feelings of sadness throughout the day, most days
• Loss of interest and enjoyment in favorite activities
• Excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt and/or feelings of worthlessness
• Thoughts of death or suicide
• Fatigue or lack of energy
• Sleep disturbances — sleeping too much or too little
• Changes in appetite — either eating a lot more or a lot less than is usual for you
• Difficulty concentrating and or decision-making
Many people experience some or many of these symptoms at some point in their lives. These symptoms can also be the result of events in which normal functioning is affected, as in the death of a loved one, a job layoff, significant relationship issue, etc. But if some cluster of these feelings persists and dramatically impacts or impairs functioning, it is important to speak with a professional. Sometimes a friend or a co-worker might notice changes that one may not have recognized oneself, and I would urge people to pay attention to that kind of input in their lives.
How are stress and anxiety related to depression?
Stress, depression and anxiety can be experienced as completely different and isolated experiences or they can be experienced all together. Too much stress over time, not managed well, may transition to a depression. However, a person can be anxious and/or stressed without experiencing a depression and a depressed person does not necessarily feel anxious.
It is very important to try to stay connected to your experience in your particular environments, and to try to take proactive steps to take good care of yourself. In our busy lives, it is easy to get overstressed and not really realize it. The accumulation of unrecognized stress can affect us very negatively — both physically and emotionally — so it is very important to remain mindful of one’s experience.
What small step could our readers take today to improve their mental health?
Being aware of your emotional state is a very important component: take time each day to check in with yourself and gauge how you are feeling and functioning. Then, if you determine that you may benefit from talking or learning some skills to help improve your feeling of well-being, making a call to the Faculty Staff Help Center might be a good step.
Please tell us about how Stanford has removed some common barriers to getting help.
The Faculty Staff Help Center services are free for staff and faculty and their family members through age 25. The benefit is for short-term counseling, and consultation up to 10 sessions per issue, depending on the suitability of our resources. We have sessions available between 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.
One of the most difficult things about beginning counseling is finding a counselor with whom you connect well. People can look online at our staff and see if there is someone that might fit well for them. If one sees a counselor that turns out not to be a great fit, it is perfectly fine to try again with someone else. If someone is in need of longer-term work, we can be helpful with a referral to a clinician in the community.
How do you address the fact that people are reluctant to talk about private issues with their employer?
Coming in and talking with someone at the Faculty Staff Help Center is completely confidential. But if someone feels they would like to get counseling services away from campus, we can be helpful with a referral. In addition, we have offices on campus, at the hospital, at Porter, at SLAC as well as an office in San Jose.
What are the most common issues that arise at the Faculty Staff Help Center?
About half of all people that come to the Faculty Staff Help center come for some type of relationship issue. The other most common issues are work, parent-child relationships, grief, depression and anxiety, and anger management. We also have people who come for coaching about managing a specific issue in their lives.
What has surprised you most over the course of your career?
I find that people are amazingly resilient in the face of their difficulties. It is remarkable, too, how much they can really change their experience in life.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna.
April 2018 (updated)