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|Health & Fitness: Mental health matters, too|
|by Laura Douglas-Brown|
|January 21, 2011 00:00|
New Year’s resolutions typically focus on physical health. But paying attention to mental health is also important, experts say.
Luckily, some of the same steps you can take to improve your physical health also have mental health benefits.
“Air is good for the brain like the rest of the body and regular exercise is the best support for good mental health,” says Franklin Abbott, an Atlanta psychotherapist in private practice.
Friends can be a key source of support — as can spirituality, says Dr. Barbara Rubin, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Atlanta.
“One of the key issues is to confide in a trusted friend before stressors build up to the point of feeling overwhelmed,” she says. “Also, develop a daily spiritual practice that can focus you on how to access and maintain a source of spiritual support that strengthens your faith in yourself and your relationship to a God or higher power of your own understanding.”
Abbott and Rubin are both gay and work frequently with LGBT clients. They note that LGBT people may face specific mental health challenges related to coming out, although those challenges have lessened through the years.
“In my experience, LGBT folks still struggle with issues of anticipatory loss when facing coming out to family, friends and co-workers,” says Rubin, listing recreational drug use, HIV diagnosis, depression and anxiety as other possible mental health concerns in this community.
Abbott also lists depression, anxiety and addictions as “commonplace” when dealing with homophobia.
“Loneliness and alienation are core issues that arise in part from living in a world where the cards are not in our favor. This makes relationships of all sorts harder to find and maintain,” Abbott says.
“Coming out, as we often do in our late teens and early twenties, may put us a few years behind in professional development. And issues of mortality and aging can cause more intense grief when living in a world where youth and beauty are vastly overvalued,” he says.
Still, Rubin believes that LGBT people are facing fewer mental health issues specific to sexual orientation or gender identity than 15 years ago — making our mental health needs more similar to the general population.
“Issues of feeling powerful in our own lives, searching for appropriate levels of love, acceptance, spirituality and acknowledgment in the world, and striving to be the best possible parents, friends, lovers, activists, executives, legislators and baristas we can be, are all pretty universal mental health goals,” she says.
The so-called gayby boom has also created new mental health needs for our community.
“A new niche that has appeared is helping LGBT couples with challenging co-parenting issues, particularly when the couple has broken up and one of both have re-partnered,” Rubin says.
But she adds that LGBT parents do not have more problems than heterosexuals.
The increase in parents seeking help “is thankfully for more positive reasons, such as there are more and more LGBT parents these days who, like their straight counterparts, in general have the same likelihood of success and failure in those parental relationships.”
When to seek help
While all of us can benefit from paying closer attention to our mental health, there are more serious signs that mean you should seek the help of a mental health professional.
“A persistent thought of harming one’s self or others is at the top of the list,” Abbott notes.
“You can also ask yourself if you are meeting reasonable goals, taking care of the regular stuff of life in an adequate way, if you are seeing people and enjoying your interactions, if you spend too much time being afraid,” he says. “And watching your substance use is always helpful.”
According to Rubin, help from a therapist may be needed “if someone has begun retreating from their typical routine, isolating from others, losing interest in their work schedule or exercise commitments, focusing on things outside themselves as a reason for their ‘problems.’”
She adds, “In general, any behaviors that interfere with your ability to function successfully in the workplace, or within your social or personal relationships are good reasons to proactively check-in with a professional.”
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