CPS Celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month!
Georgia State’s Counseling and Psychological Services department is excited to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. This month allows us to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Dr. Guvensel was asked a series of questions related to mental health. Below are Dr. Guvensel’s responses.
- What does mental health mean to you?
Dr. Guvensel: “It most certainly means more than the absence of mental disorders. To me, this is much more comprehensive, and it includes emotional, psychological, and social, spiritual well-being. Hence, in essence, mental health is a state of well-being in which a person recognizes their own strengths and limitations, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work purposefully, and is able to make meaningful connections with and contributions to their community.”
- How important is it to dedicate a month to mental health awareness?
Dr. Guvensel: “Inordinately. At the very basic level, by dedicating a full month to mental health awareness, we accentuate the vitality of mental health in social and political contexts. This dedication affords us the ability to promote an understanding of mental health conditions, their signs and symptoms, and available help options. I think another crucial benefit of such a month is that it allows us to normalize mental health difficulties, which often minimizes the stigma around these issues and improves help-seeking behavior. It also creates an opportunity to advocate for policy changes to improve mental health services, accessibility, and affordability.”
- Can you prevent mental illness?
Dr. Guvensel: “This is such a complex and multifaceted question that evades a simple answer. It depends on how one defines ‘mental illness”. It also depends on what one means by “prevention”. Regardless of how we define these terms or from whichever paradigm we strive to answer this question, I think most mental health professionals would agree that this phenomenon is influenced by various biological, genetic, environmental, social, and psychological factors. Despite such complexity, however, as mental health professionals, we can definitely help address reducing risk factors and maximizing protective factors in a person’s life. We can help people live more authentic lives, increase their distress tolerance, promote resilience, strengthen their social and spiritual connections, develop healthy coping mechanisms, and make meaning of their suffering. I think these improvements in one’s life would help people live more optimally regardless of how we define ‘mental illness’ or ‘prevention’.”
- How does stress affect our mental health?
Dr. Guvensel: “It could affect both positively and negatively. It is important to separate good stress (Eustress) from bad stress (Distress). Eustress happens when one engages in appropriately manageable levels of mentally, emotionally, or physically challenging activities. As long as the perceived demands of this activity do not exceed a person’s perceived physical, emotional, or cognitive coping resources, it could increase performance and motivation, enhance focus, and promote resilience. We often get in trouble when the perceived demands of a task exceed our perceived resources to cope with this task. Thus, distress refers to an excessive or chronic degree of stress that exhausts our coping mechanisms and could be exceptionally detrimental to our mental health. When the exposure to distress is prolonged, it could produce a weakened immune system that makes us vulnerable to illness and infections, sleep disturbance, hormonal imbalance, and accelerated aging processes. These are just some physical detriments of prolonged distress exposure. Emotionally and psychologically, it could cause concentration difficulties, fatigue, decreased self-confidence, social withdrawal, increased risk of developing or intensifying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, relationship difficulties, decreased motivation and productivity, irritability/anger, and many more.”
- What does self-care mean to you? Examples of self-care? Nonexamples?
Dr. Guvensel: “The simplest definition of self-care to me is an effort to recharge our emotional, physical, and cognitive batteries that get exhausted by the demands of our personal and professional lives. Here is a metaphor I often use: your cell phone may contain the technology to send a rocket to the moon, but when it is out of battery, it is nothing but a paperweight. I can provide one million examples of self-care, but instead, I will provide one, the most underrated one: SLEEP! Even in my clinical practice, when I get a new client, the first practice I assess is the quality of their sleep and sleep-related behavior regardless of their presenting concerns. Because the evidence so clearly demonstrates that improving sleep length and quality will help a person function more optimally physically, psychologically, interpersonally, and cognitively. Most people assume that the sleep quality will dictate how rested or tired one will feel in each day. No, sleep has a much more vital role in your functioning. Sleep restores and repairs our body’s tissue and cells, strengthens the immune system, regulates our hormones, maintains, cardiovascular function and blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety levels, regulates our mood, enhances emotional regulation and impulse control, it supports information processing and acquiring new knowledge, improves decision making and judgment, consolidates our memories, facilitates, attention, concentration, and focus, enhances creativity and problem-solving ability, promotes cognitive flexibility and adaptability. Need I say more? I am not known for giving advice, but if I could give one piece of advice to anyone, that would be to increase the quality of your sleep and enjoy the amazing transformation your life will encounter. Thus, if I have not been clear enough already, let me try once more: When you are tired, do not drink coffee! SLEEP! If you want to function optimally (psychologically, physically, cognitively, and emotionally) prioritize your sleep above everything. Sleep is not negotiable.”
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available.