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Recognise the signs of a mental health problem


Recognise the signs of a mental health problem
(Image: CERN)

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental disorders affect one in four people in the world. Our mental health evolves throughout our lifetime and is influenced by many factors, both internal and external. The COVID-19 pandemic is a good example of an external factor that puts our mental health under strain.

We can feel mentally well while suffering from a mental disorder. We can also feel under mental strain without having a mental disorder, for instance when we experience an unsettling event, such as separation or losing a loved one.

So, when should you take action? The signs and symptoms to look out for fall into several categories:

  • Emotional: sadness, fear, anxiety, irritability, low self-esteem.
  • Behavioural: mood swings, aggression, lack of interest in activities and difficulty performing daily tasks, substance abuse.
  • Cognitive: significant difficulties concentrating or reasoning normally, memory problems.
  • Physical: headaches, intense fatigue, sleep problems, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate.
  • Sensory: visual or auditory perception problems.

The time to take action is when the symptoms do not subside and they stop you going about your daily life.

Some of the symptoms of feeling depressed or “down” and being clinically depressed are the same – fatigue, lack of concentration, sleep problems and feeling sad. But people who are just feeling down have milder symptoms that disappear by themselves with time and social interaction. Feeling down is temporary and is a normal part of life, such as when facing a difficulty; it can sometimes just depend on the time of year or there may even be no apparent reason.

Depression, on the other hand, is an illness. Its symptoms are more intense and are experienced all day long, almost every day, lasting anything from two weeks to several months, and do not depend on the circumstances. The symptoms can interfere with your daily life, making it difficult to communicate, concentrate and retain information, and can therefore have an impact on your social relationships and work. Other possible symptoms are weight gain or loss, somatic problems (e.g. stomach or back pain), despair and dark thoughts.

Depression can be treated, but proper care and monitoring are essential.

If you feel that you would benefit from talking professional or personal matters through with a professional, don’t hesitate to contact us. The Medical Service offers all members of the personnel (MPE and MPA) first-line psychological counselling. Appointments with our psychologists, Katia Schenkel and Sébastien Tubau, are free of charge and strictly confidential: https://hse.cern/content/psychologist

Let’s not forget that our mental health is crucial to our overall health.


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The next article in this series will look at ways of looking after our mental health.