5 Answers for Common Mental Health Questions

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) is marking the occasion by discussing a series of common mental health questions with Protective Services Psychiatrist Rebecca Warner…

Q: When should I see a therapist or psychiatrist?

A: When you are experiencing an emotional problem that’s bothering you and keeping you from doing what you need to do and enjoying life.

Typical problems are anxiety and depression. Some of these problems are short-lived and can be resolved with time, self-reflection or a talk with a trusted friend or family member. If these aren’t helping and you’re still feeling bad, it may help to talk with a professional who’s outside the situation. They can help you understand why you keep feeling this way. Together you can find an approach that will get you back to feeling like yourself again.

Rebecca Warner is a geriatric psychiatrist who worked for 21 years at Cambridge Health Alliance’s outpatient geriatric mental health program

Q: What is the difference between depression and feeling sad?

A: Depression involves more than just sadness. Some situations are bound to make you feel sad. If sadness lasts for several months and is accompanied by other problems, you may be suffering from depression. Besides sadness, other problems to look for include hopelessness, low energy, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, poor appetite or overeating, feeling bad about yourself, or trouble concentrating. These are the kinds of symptoms that a therapist or psychiatrist can help with. If you find yourself thinking about suicide, this indicates a more serious depression. Get treatment right away.

Q: Are there lifestyle changes I can make to improve my mood?

A: Research shows that exercise helps to improve mood. It doesn’t have to involve working out at a gym. Regular walks can be enough. Some people also feel better when they’re exposed to sunlight. Try spending more time outdoors. When you’re depressed, you may not feel like being around people, but it helps to keep up social contact. Similarly, it helps to stay active and maintain your daily routine, even if you don’t feel like it.

Q: What are some of the different levels/settings of mental health treatment available?

A: Many people start by seeing a therapist for talk therapy. This involves meeting with a trained professional, usually weekly at first, to talk about what’s bothering you and how to address problems. Group therapy can also be helpful. A group may meet for a few weeks or go on for as long as you need it. It’s led by a therapist. Your therapist may refer you to a psychiatrist if she/he thinks you’d benefit from medication. The psychiatrist evaluates your needs and medical condition and can prescribe medications for anxiety, depression, and other problems.

Q: What are the benefits of geriatric psychiatry? Does aging affect the way we process medications?

A: Geriatric psychiatry specializes in the mental health problems of elders. People over 60 face different life issues than younger people, and they often have medical problems that may affect their mental and emotional state. In addition, we metabolize medications differently as we get older. Medications prescribed for older people can interact with each other to affect our mental functioning. It can be helpful to consult a geriatric psychiatrist particularly if you have a combination of emotional and medical problems or you are taking several medications.

Rebecca Warner is a geriatric psychiatrist who worked for 21 years at Cambridge Health Alliance’s outpatient geriatric mental health program. She has recently joined SCES as a psychiatrist with the Adult Protective Services program.

Mental Health Awareness Month (also known as “Mental Health Month”) has been observed in May in the United States since 1949, reaching millions of people in the United States through the media, local events, and screenings.