Will This Last? Acute vs Chronic Mental Health

By: Megan Neilsen, LCSW

Throughout our lives, we all experience trials, tribulations, stress, loss, grief, trauma, and hardship. There is not a person walking this Earth that cannot name a difficult time or phase in their life. When posed the question, “What was the worst day of your life?”, most people can recount a day or period of time that pushed them to their limits-a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a loved one, being fired from a meaningful job, getting a divorce, the strike of a natural disaster. But what if when you were posed this question, your answer was, “Every day”? People who are living with a mental illness are often trapped in a perpetual state of ‘the worst day ever’. Recognizing a short-term (acute) mental health episode versus a long-term (chronic) problem is vital in understanding one’s path to wellness.  A good way to begin dissecting the root of mental health problems is to look at external vs internal events. An external event may be surrounding a traumatic event (a car accident or a breakup); the loss of something or someone significant (death of a pet/loved one or foreclosing on a home); or a recent change in environments or life pattern (moving or going away to college). An internal event may be more historical in one’s life such as a genetic predisposition, early onset, difficulties as a child that a parent could not pinpoint, problems with relationships/employment/school, the inability to cope with normal life stressors, or inconsistent life patterns.  A person who is experiencing an acute episode will work through the difficult time and be able to continue with their lives. A person who is experiencing chronic mental illness, will often require additional interventions and need to develop new coping skills in order to thrive.

So what does an “acute” episode look like? That answer can vary greatly from person to person. For one person, they may be able to grieve the loss of a loved one in a few months. For another person, it could take years. The picture of acute mental health is painted differently in everyone’s lives. It is essential for the person experiencing a difficult time, to consider what form of relief will work best for them (just as a person who suffers from clinical depression would map out their life-long plan for treatment).

{Medication} Medication has been shown to be incredibly helpful in those looking for temporary relief from pain, depression, anxiety, or overwhelming grief. There is a common misconception that if a person begins a medication regimen, they have to stay on it forever. Not only is this inaccurate but it is actually the opposite of what most doctors will prescribe. Medication can and should be used for short amounts of time to aid a person in normalizing moods and getting back to feeling like themselves.

{Recognizing Patterns} Often times, we need some distance from our problems to able to see them more clearly. It is important to be aware of patterns and reoccurring episodes in order to properly determine if an acute or chronic problem is present in your life. Keep a journal of thoughts and feelings, take note of highs and lows, ask those close to you what differences they have noticed in you and for how long.

{Acknowledging Recent Events} It is not uncommon (actually, to be expected) for a person to enter an acute state of depression, anxiety, etc. after a significant life event. So often we are told to “hang tough” and “you’ll be fine” when experiencing a difficult time. It is pertinent to acknowledge the loss or negative experience you are dealing with and give yourself time to work through it. Continue to remind yourself that you are not “crazy”-you are simply, human.

In the next few days we will be providing a blog about ways to handle holiday stress so stay tuned for that!

“In times of distress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”    -Mr. Rogers



We’d also like to invite you to our Art & Pie group that will be held on Thanksgiving Day! Please contact us at [email protected] to RSVP.