The Early Warning System

The Early Warning System

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I’ve always said, when it comes to mental health preparedness, there is no way to be clairvoyant about what the future has in store for your clinical picture. Alas, there is nevertheless a degree of planning that must be invested in your health and wellness moving forward, right? The question then becomes how and where to invest energy into preparing for the future and our mental health.

I want to introduce a concept called The Early Warning System. My idea isn’t new in theory, but I would say it is entirely novel in the application.

Nations have them to defend their borders. With the rise of regionalism and geopolitical warfare, countries need early warning systems to pick up and identify long-range and subversive covert/stealth weaponry on an attack course into their homeland. There are methods constructed through technology and information gathering to detect the enemy coming before it is too late from nations down to cities, townships, and other smaller municipalities.

Now, this is where the comparison comes into play. As the saying goes, I am just one man like the United States’ defensive needs or another nation protecting its borders. I need a way to defend myself against the flair up and activation of unwanted and disabling mental health symptoms before becoming too serious. I need a way to detecting, very quickly, when threats to my stability and mental status are likely to occur. Putting this theory into practice is a whole lot easier than it sounds.

Listen, no one will ever be able to predict every symptom worsening before they become too exacerbated. However, self-aware people and people that know themselves well will be a step ahead. Through ongoing therapy or life review, people can pick up specific patterns within their affective (emotional) range. In terms of affective lability (emotional dysregulation), our feelings follow cues from our thoughts. The fundamental basis for CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is that our emotions lead to ideas, which spark our behaviors and are built.

I am not suggesting performing your own CBT or self-CBT to reregulate your emotional state when it gets off course unless you are ready and have the skills to do so. That is also not entirely necessary yet, so do not panic!

Until your behaviors run awry because your feelings are compromised from emotional lability, you have time to monitor your mental status. When you begin to be mindful of your personal, behavioral state, the pace and relative speed of negative affective changes will slow down, avoiding the need to worry about self-CBT and other advanced skills. Mindfulness, deep breathing, and checking in with yourself are all tools to halt a dysregulated emotional state’s advancement.

To do so, ask yourself questions that arent triggering to self-evaluate further where you are at in terms of your thinking and feelings. Even self-verbal reassurance goes a long way to slow down negative thoughts and titrate down the intensity of hurting feelings. These methods are internal early warning systems.

External systems are even more straightforward to operate. Some prime examples/suggestions for external systems are friends or other collaterals in your life. They don’t have to be great friends or even know that they serve as your early warning system. Then how can I mobilize them if they don’t realize they are helping me? The answer is simple. All you need from your collateral for them to serve as an early warning system is data or information. This data is specific to you and your symptoms.

Let’s examine the diagnosis of depression. During your conversation, if your friend makes remarks about your behaviors such as “isolating, sad-looking, morose, irritable,” then you’ve got all the information you need already. We don’t always realize when we are getting depressed. Sometimes, it takes a friend, like in this example, to point out and identify our behaviors to us to think about them, reflect, and determine how true it is for us and what and if we should do with this information.

Sometimes friends are off base; Sometimes, they are spot-on correct. The way to get a better handle on the validity of collateral input and advice is by gathering as much information as possible. Have a band of friends around you or just people in your life to can check in with and remark in general terms on your behavior if you solicit the information. While unsolicited details are even more compelling because you didn’t ask, they volunteered to speak and exercise concern.

In the end, unsolicited or solicited, gather as much information possible before jumping to conclusions about your emotional health. Be careful not to let information manifest into a new reality for you and create the very trouble you were hoping to avoid with this reflective exercise.

The more stable collaterals in your life, the odds of getting a better read on your clinical picture is more likely. People that know us well over the long haul are hands down better at evaluating small shifts in our behavioral and emotional health. In the end, this is an exercise about preventative mental health self-management. So, when using the skills discussed here. Listen, reflect, do not be reactive or defensive. After all, who are you hiding? Just a better understanding of your mental health clinical picture and well being.

About the Author

J. Peters

Bold 10 Under 10 award recipient Jacques Peters ’08, MSW ’12 . Through his work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), therapist and disability rights advocate, Mr. Peters fights for those without a voice in various systems of care, such as the New York City Department of Social Services, the New York State Office of Mental Health or the city’s Department of Corrections. Jacques is the author of University on Watch: Crisis in the Academy, which he published under the pen name J. Peters in 2019, and First Diagnosis, published in 2020. Jacques refers to his stance on recovery in his journal articles as “Too big to fail.” No obstacle too big, no feat out of reach, Jacques let nothing stop him in his path to recovery and healing.
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