Each May, we observe Mental Health Awareness month. Now more than ever, it’s a good time to check in with yourself and your loved ones to evaluate your current state of emotional well-being. If you’re experiencing more trouble than normal managing your mental health, perhaps it’s time to consider a new therapy.
The terms “treatment” and “therapy” are sometimes thought of as synonyms, but in the context of mental health, therapy often means talk therapy. This approach focuses on changing problematic behaviors, feelings, and thoughts by discovering their unconscious meanings and motivations. Talk therapy comes in many different forms, and you may find it’s worth exploring some of these natural options.
In Western medicine, it’s thought that the symptoms of mental illness come from chemical imbalances in a person’s brain. Medications, psychotherapy and combinations of the two have been researched and show that they do help some people with their mental health.
Pharmaceutical medications work on these imbalances to reduce symptoms. Antidepressants and mood stabilizers can be helpful in some scenarios, but they are not always suitable for every patient. Many find pharmaceuticals to have unmanageable side effects, and for some, they just do not work, or can make the problem worse.
Talk therapy may include cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, Humanistic therapy, psychodynamic therapy, or integrative therapy. Therapy can be used for treating PTSD, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, other mood disorders, and depression. Therapists can help you better understand your feelings, face life’s challenges, and change unwanted behaviors. Talking through your challenges with your therapist can help you identify the ways that different stress-inducing activities and behaviors are impacting your life. Then they can help you develop strategies to modify those behaviors for more positive outcomes.
The American Psychological Association suggests considering therapy when something causes distress and interferes with some part of life, particularly when thinking about or coping with the issue takes up at least an hour each day or when the issue causes embarrassment or makes you want to avoid others. Research shows that psychotherapy is more effective than medications.
Cannabis for PTSD & Anxiety
PTSD patients are often treated with psychotherapy and anti-depressants. While these treatments work well for some people, they don’t work for everyone. In these cases, cannabis can be used as an alternative therapy.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system. There are two main endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 receptors, found in the central nervous system and CB2 receptors, which are mostly found in your peripheral nervous system. Endocannabinoids can bind to either receptor. The effects that result depend on where the receptor is located and which endocannabinoid it binds to.
Mounting research suggests that the psychoactive component of cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) might be a therapy worth considering for mental health symptoms such as anxiety and insomnia that accompany PTSD and other mental health disorders. Once in your body, THC interacts with your ECS by binding to receptors, just like endocannabinoids. It’s powerful partly because it can bind to both your CB1 and CB2 receptors.
A placebo-controlled, double-blind study published on March 17, 2021 showed marked levels of improvement among participants using smoked cannabis blends with a 9 percent THC concentration. Mallory Lofl, a co-author of the paper and volunteer assistant professor of psychiatry at the UC San Diego School of Medicine said that one of the biggest takeaways from this study is that “veterans with PTSD can use cannabis at self-managed doses, at least in the short term, and not experience a plethora of side effects or a worsening of symptoms.”
Another study done in 2020 looked at how cannabis use impacts the amygdala response of those dealing with trauma related anxiety, such as PTSD. It showed that cannabis has the potential to reduce anxiety, or even prevent heightened anxiety in threatening situations. Those who took low doses of THC showed measurable signs of reduced fear and anxiety in situations designed to trigger fear.
Helping A Loved One Through A Mental Health Crisis
Even if you don’t suffer from a diagnosed condition like anxiety or PTSD yourself, paying attention to certain behaviors and warning signs can help better prepare you for how to handle the mental health crisis of a loved one.
Work stress, a job loss or financial worries, a sudden illness, or dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event can be warning signs that your loved one may need additional emotional support. People are also particularly susceptible to mental health episodes when changing or stopping treatment or medication.
Be vigilant for a loved one whose mental health has declined to the point they are unable to do typical daily tasks such as bathing, brushing teeth, or changing clothes. Additional warning signs include:
- Suddenly becoming depressed or withdrawn.
- Showing rapid mood swings or an increased energy level.
- Suddenly becoming happy or calm after a period of depression.
- Being unable to stay still or frequently pacing.
- Becoming agitated, making verbal threats, destroying property, or showing violent behavior.
- Showing abusive behavior toward themselves and/or others.
- Becoming isolated from school, work, family, or friends.
Helping a loved one through a mental health crisis can be a confusing and difficult experience. If you know someone is in crisis, the chances are high that they’ll need more than just your support. A Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) can help you begin the process. This might include:
- phone numbers for a therapist, psychiatrist, and other relevant healthcare providers or healers
- contact info of family members and friends that can offer support
- phone numbers for local crisis numbers and mental health organizations
- addresses for walk-in crisis centers and emergency rooms
- a list of triggers and forms of self-care to try when your loved one is activated
- a schedule of community resources, like online support groups, 12-step meetings, etc.
There’s a common assumption that people who are struggling with their mental health can’t be trusted to make their own decisions. But most of the time, it’s important to involve your loved one in any decisions that impact them. Encounters with law enforcement (including wellness or welfare checks) while having a mental health episode can be terrifying, and can turn deadly, particularly for the disabled.
Familiarize yourself with local crisis teams and reach out to your loved one and others in their support system to determine the safest course of action in an emergency.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) urges individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders to call their National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), or TTY: 1-800-487-4889. The helpline is confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, and provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.