Inch by Inch

Inch by inch and step by step we are making progress in the battle against the stigma related to mental-health illness.  The progress has been slow for sure, and comes primarily in the form of articles being written about the existence of this stigma.  The stigma is definitely still a factor in the mental-health conversation, but at least people are talking about that stigma.  Does that sound like progress?  Yes, it does, certainly to me, because we are talking about and acknowledging the existence of mental-health issues.  We are not ignoring the topic hoping it will go away.

Each of these articles to which I referred above talks about people, famous and not-so-famous, admitting that they have mental-health challenges.  Carson Daly, host of The Voice and a contributor on the Today Show, admits battling a panic and anxiety disorder since childhood.  Charlamagne Tha God, a radio host and best-selling author of Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks on Me, admits that even though he talks and writes about having mental-health issues, he is still not totally comfortable with this persona.  Allison Schmitt, a gold medal Olympic swimmer, Kevin Love, a professional basketball player, Jason Kander, a politician, and so many more well-known people have come forward and raised their hands and said, “Yes, I have a mental-health challenge.” But even with so many people confessing to having mental-health issues, we unfortunately are still not free of the stigma.

Our society has a long way to go to get up to speed on accepting mental-health illness and treating it like any other illness.  Until that happens, people will remain wary and reticent in seeking help for their mental-health issue. Depression will go untreated.  Anxiety will go untreated.  Panic disorders will go untreated.  Bi-polar disorders will remain in the closet.  And this result is so unfortunate, because there are so many ways to get help and lead a healthy, productive, and normal life.

For resources for help please refer to the list below.

 

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Part of Life’s Journey

The world is deep into the Covid-19 pandemic with all of its “glory.” The medical issues that flow from the pandemic are many, including significant long-term side effects.  Memory loss, reduced attention span, and confusion are among the physical long-term effects.   But one side effect that took me by surprise is the prevalence of mental health problems, in both adults and children, that have resulted from all the stressors connected to the new hermetic lifestyle imposed upon us as we try to protect ourselves from Covid-19.  During this incredibly long period of time, we have not been able to engage in everyday life in any normal way causing  anxiety levels to shoot way up.  It has been impossible to function during any given day without first considering the repercussions of one’s actions.  It is not difficult to understand the stress on the medical world.  Doctors, nurses, lab technicians, scientists, hospital maintenance staff, hospital social workers, etc., are all being stretched to their emotional limits after a very long almost two-year period of non-stop working, non-stop concern for their own well-being, and the ongoing death of so many patients.  The amount of stress and anxiety being experienced by society in general is also overwhelming.  Consider how stressful and anxiety-producing it is for people who need to decide each day if it is safe to go to the market for food.  Should they do curbside pick-up instead?  Is it safe to spend an evening with friends?  Should they take a rapid at home test before spending that evening with friends?  Are they able to find the rapid at home test kits? Are their kids able to go to school?  Are their kids able to participate in group sports at an outdoor field?  Are their kids able to participate in group activities inside if they are masked and vaccinated?  Are grandparents able to spend time with grandchildren who have been socializing at school each day?  And what about our kids who have been forced to spend long periods of days and months not socializing at all, but have been stuck in front of a computer screen trying to pay attention and learn?  And how about teachers who have to teach in front of a computer screen?  And, society is of course faced with the issue of the fragile job market that has grown out of the pandemic.  The scenarios are endless and each scenario comes with its own hard decisions of how to behave.

As if the pandemic issues are not enough, the world is dealing with any number of political stresses which produce their own kind of anxiety.

The world is a mess right now, and the mental health world is feeling the strain.  Even though therapists are increasing their hours to try to accommodate the new numbers of requests for help, there are still so many people who are suffering and have not been able to find a therapist.  The number of people seeking mental health help has simply increased so significantly that it is getting more and more difficult to find a psychologist who can schedule any more hours into their day for more new patients. I just read that the Pediatric Anxiety Treatment Center at Hall-Mercer Community Mental Health Center, a part of Pennsylvania Hospital located in Philadelphia, has seen a 400% increase in referrals this year. Before the pandemic, the center had traditionally fielded 3-4 referrals a month, whereas now it is seeing upwards of 6 referrals a week.  

This increase in need for therapists is upsetting, but there is a silver lining.  Mental health care is getting more attention.  All kinds of people are experiencing the pressures from the crises around us, and they are acknowledging the strain.  Instead of being “swept under the rug” or talked about in whispers, people are acknowledging their needs and trying to get help.  There is less embarrassment and less shame now that there are so many everyday people who are coming forward to seek help with their mental issues.  What a great step forward.  New attention is being brought to the fact that our mental well-being is affected by so many of life’s challenges and that it is not a sign of weakness at all to acknowledge these challenges and seek help.  It is simply a part of life’s journey. 

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Sharing

Everywhere I turn there is another reference to mental health issues, not only in print media, but the reference to and inclusion of mental health topics is now prevalent on our television screens.  I tend to watch the detective and police shows, and mental health story lines are often woven into the suspense-filled plots.  One show in particular, “Equalizer” on CBS, has been dealing with PTSD, being very clear about the seriousness of the condition and the need to seek professional help.  Surprisingly, it is not a returning veteran who is battling this condition as one might assume, but rather the teenage daughter of the main character who has experienced the brutal death of her best friend.  The sitcom makes is very clear that anyone can experience PTSD and we all need to understand that PTSD is not only real, but also a condition that needs help.  It is not something with which one wants to mess around, but rather one should seek professional guidance to get through the mental and emotional challenges caused by PTSD. It is a serious condition.  If left untreated it can cause real upheaval and even ruin one’s life.  It can lead to suicide.  What I loved about this particular script was that in a very kind, gentle, but firm way, it made it very clear that even the strongest of people need help from professionals at given times in their lives, that even someone who appears to have it all together and have all the answers to life may at some point in his/her life require some help to get back on track.  Needing help and asking for it has nothing to do with personal strength or weakness.  Needing help and asking for it has to do with someone taking control of his/her own path and deciding to live the best life possible.

To get knocked down by life’s challenges is normal.   To be willing to do what you need to do in order to pick yourself up is exceptional and means you are strong, resourceful, and smart.  Sharing that information with others is kind and loving, thoughtful and considerate.

 What I also liked is that the main character, a really strong bad-ass former CIA operative played by Queen Latifah, made it very clear to her daughter that even she has needed professional help in order to sort out some rough patches.  What an amazing gift to her child.  Through one simple nod of her head, she let her child know that it is okay to be imperfect.  She let her child know that imperfect people can still be cool and successful and happy.  She let her child know that the person she loved and admired most in the world, the person she knows has it all together, needed to reach out to get professional help at one time or another, AND her mom was not embarrassed to share that information, which then let her child know that there is nothing to be embarrassed about when asking for help.  

Our job as parents is to give our kids the tools they will need to travel through life.  There is no better tool that a parent can provide than making imperfection normal and part of the journey.

National Alliance on Mental Health

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

the return

I can’t even remember my last blog entry. It was ages ago. I have been debating whether or not to explain the reason for my silence, and I have decided to share the information that my husband and I lost our oldest son on December 31, 2019. It has been a long journey from then until today, but I am now able to sit down and once again write about mental health issues. Today I am finally ready to think outside of my own pain.

During the past 2 years, I paid a lot of attention to the media around me for many reasons. I found that TV shows, news articles, podcasts and interviews were discussing all phases of mental health. People were getting depressed and having anxiety from quarantining due to Covid-19. High-profile people shared their experiences with post-partum depression and other life events. People are being more honest about having depression and anxiety, openly explaining what they have done to treat it and conquer it.

The reason for the new interest in mental health issues is not at the heart of the issue. I just think it’s great that the interest has definitely increased. Wouldn’t it be nice if the stigma surrounding the mental health arena is beginning to wane? I know that I still have some shyness about raising my hand and saying “me too,” but I am getting closer to being more comfortable with acknowledging to the outside world that I have a mental disorder. But what is really cool is that within my own internal world, I know I am a perfectly normal human being who happens to be dealing with a mental disorder. It took me a long time to make peace with this element of my being, but I can even joke about my disorder now and know that it is not what defines me. There is a long list of items that define me, and an anxiety disorder is just a condition I have, not who I am. I used to think that if people knew about my anxiety disorder, they would look at me differently, and it would be the first thing that came to their minds when they saw me. Well, it might be something they think of when they think of me, but that thought would also have to trigger a long list of other characteristics. They also have to think that this woman is a strong and vibrant human being with lots to offer this world. They would have to include in that list my being a wife, mother, grandmother, sculptor, swimmer, hiker, and at the very top of the list, a happy and productive person who also has an anxiety disorder. Those are some of the qualities that define me.

For resources for help please refer to the list below.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health


Erode the Stigma

I have been writing a blog about mental health illness for over three years, with a primary emphasis on the stigma that is attached to having a mental illness, measures that can be taken in order to help ourselves get past the stigma and get help, and encouraging those suffering from mental illness to acknowledge their situation.  I have chosen this direction because the stigma is real and it is pervasive.  The stigma is slowly receding with the advent of well-known people speaking up about their own challenges with mental illness, but we do have a long way to go and I will continue to write and promote mental well-being.

My words have reached people in far away places, not only throughout the United States, where I reside, but as far away as Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Russia, England, Iran, and India.  Hopefully, these people have found some support from reading the blogs, but I feel a bit uncomfortable standing on a soapbox and shouting that we should all talk about our mental health challenges and not be shy or embarrassed about telling our stories.  I am acknowledging that I am still affected by this stigma of having a mental health illness.  At times, I find myself silent when it comes to talking about my own situation in public.  I wonder how people will respond to me after I divulge my secret? On the computer, protected by cyberspace, I speak out.  But in person, I always question if I really want to mention that I have an anxiety disorder.  More often than not, I do speak up about this challenge with which I have struggled , and I am able to speak out proactively, but I am still a bit gun-shy about the subject.  I can only imagine what a challenge it must be for other people with a mental illness who are not writing about this topic to openly speak up.

I read an article that appeared in the September 2019 edition of Men’s Health magazine written by a man who is studying to become a psychiatrist.  He states that during his interview for his residency, he was asked why he really wanted to become a psychiatrist. He danced all around the answer, but never admitted to his interviewer that he had battled depression and knew what it was like from the other side.  What he wanted to say was, “ I have been depressed, and I have recovered.  And my experience gave me an empathetic understanding of the patients we’re commonly devoted to.”  He goes on to say that stating that fact would have been his most relevant qualification, not the rather impressive resume of past education.  He also acknowledged that making that statement would have been his “greatest achievement.”  The article ended with these words, “Every time you talk about depression, you erode the stigma – yours and everyone else’s.”

 

Resources:

National Alliance On Mental Health

National Institute On Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Stop Being Selfish

This morning I had a long and wonderful conversation with one of my dearest friends. We chatted about so many things concerning our families.  We wandered from the cute things our grandkids say, to the challenge of so many personalities spending quality time together on summer vacations, and of course we covered the picky eating habits of just about everyone, which make large family dinners very challenging.  The topic that took over the end of our conversation was the different strains of mental illness in both of our families, including, at one time or another, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD, and ADHD.  Almost all of those within these two families who are living with mental illness have reached out for and gotten the help that he/she needed, and all those people are living good, productive, happy lives.  Little thought is given to these illnesses from day to day.   However, two family members will not admit that they need help, and therefore are suffering in unnecessary ways, and they are depriving themselves of the happielives they could lead.  There is absolutely no reason that anyone should suffer with depression, or anxiety, or bipolar disorder.  There are so many medications and therapies available.

I don’t know why these two people are in denial.  Family members have tried to talk to both of them to encourage them to seek help.  But nothing has worked to get these two people moving in the right direction.  The saddest part is that not only do these people continue to suffer, but the whole family around them suffers as well.  It is very difficult to be around someone who is always sad.  It is very difficult to be around someone who is always anxious.  It is really difficult to be around someone who is manic.  It is really selfish for someone to refuse to get help for him/herself, because that person is impacting more lives than just their own by staying in a place of disfunction, pain, and sadness.

Please do not join the rank of sufferers.  Stop being selfish.  Find a doctor that specializes in mental health illness.  Make an appointment with that doctor.  Go to that appointment. Talk to your doctor about a plan of action that can bring you to a fuller, happier, richer life – for both you and your family.

Below is a list of organizations that can help you start helping yourself.

National Alliance On Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Not The Mentally Ill

Every time I hear about a mass shooting with so many innocents left dead, or parentless, or childless, or friendless, I get sick to my stomach.  Then I get sicker and angrier with each empty platitude the politicians offer, who then do nothing to change the atmosphere and the laws that are causing these outrageous shootings.   And then, to add the proverbial insult to injury,  politicians link these events to mental health illness.  I JUST WANT TO SPIT.  Yes of course the person pulling the trigger is not in their right mind.  Who could be in their right mind when there is so much hate in their heart?  There is so much hate that it causes them to want to kill innocent people.  So much hate that they go out and legally buy automatic rifles, which have no other purpose than to kill a lot people in a short period of time.  It is not the mentally ill who pull those triggers, but the hate mongers.  It is not the mentally ill who won’t change the gun laws, but the politicians.  I am linking this writing to an article that appeared in the Washington Post that says so much of what I would say, but so much better.

Please stop blaming mass shootings on the mentally ill.  Please change the gun laws!

 

 

 

Your child is suffering !

As painful ait is to consider, abundant data tells us that childhood suicide is a realityMy heart aches as I process this information.  Children should be immune to the kind of pain that would prompt a suicide solution.  Unfortunately for us all, children are not immune to extreme bouts of mental and emotional pain.  Most of the data and research deals with preteen and teenage children, who are being bullied or are having relationship problems of one sort or another, often with their peers.  Almost all of these preteen and teenage children suffer from depression and/or anxiety as well.   More recently, studies have begun ochildren 5-1years of age who commit suicide. Can you even begin to imagine that a five year old could be in that much pain, let alone know how to carry out the action of taking his/her own life?

Yes, there is a lot of data on childhood suicides, but more important for this writing is the information about how to detect and treat the causes that lead to thoughts and acts of suicide by very young children.  It is critical for parents to understand the signs that appear when a child is having extreme emotional problems and considering suicide, and to know how to support them and get help for them.

According to an article in Psychology Today, if you notice changes in a child’s behavior such as in sleeping patterns, eating habits, or socialization patterns, take action to delve deeper to find out what is going on with your child.  Experts in this field say that parents should not be afraid to talk to their children about suicide.  According to the experts, ask direct questions about your child’s thoughts regarding suicide, and talk openly about whether or not your child is considering this as a solution to his/her emotional pain. Parents should not hesitate to discuss the permanency of suicide with their children. Some young children do not understand that it is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  Contact the child’s physician and let them know what is going on.  Contact a child psychologist and make an appointment for the child.  Spend enjoyable time with the child.  Reassure your child that he/she is very precious to you and you are always there to help them work out a positive solution to their issues.

It is very important to take any expression by your child about suicide absolutely seriously.  Your child is suffering and needs help.

 

Resource

Center For Suicide Prevention

ESA

We are all familiar with service animals that are trained to provide help for their owners in a variety of different ways.  Service animals can be trained to lead a blind person, support the head of someone having a seizure, or detect an imminent panic attack, among other tasks.  However, new on the scene are emotional-support animal(ESA) that provide emotional support to students on a college campus suffering with a mental illness, i.e., depression or anxiety.  The animal is not specifically trained (as would be a service animal) to give emotional support, which can lead to such an animal being indistinguishable from a regular pet.  Inasmuch as the number of college students with clinical depression or anxiety is today rising, ESAs are becoming more common on campuses.

As a result of the Americans With Disabilities Act, which describes a service animal as one that is trained to perform a task its owner can’t, schools have formulated and implemented a clear policy pertaining to the use and housing of service animals on college campuses.  However, the use of ESAs (as reported in a January 23, 2019 Philadelphia Inquirer article in The Region section) is a more recent development, and there is less of a clear-cut policy defining the use of an emotional-support animal.  At the moment, permission for having an ESA in campus housing is granted based on a letter from a medical provider explaining that the person requesting an ESA has a diagnosed mental illness and that an animal is necessary to help this person cope.  Unfortunately, a problem arises when students feign mental health issues in order to obtain permission to have their favorite pet accompany them to college.  This is a kink that needs to be worked out, and may prevent a doctor from writing the necessary letter.  This all being said, there are other avenues to take in order to get the needed letter that will allow someone with a mental illness to bring an ESA to campus.  If you can not get your doctor to write the required letter, there is an organization called CertaPet (that is but one of a number of such organizations) that is able to certify the need for an ESA after conducting a clinical assessment by phone with a person who is requesting emotional support.

There is plenty of research that has been conducted in thfield of ESAs, but little of this research proves the if, how, or why an ESA works.  There were a number of students who were interviewed for the Inquirer article giving glowing reports on the benefits of having an ESA, but all the data received was anecdotal information.  Molly Crossman, a researcher at Yale who focuses on human-animal interaction, is cited in the Inquirer article as noting that research has been limited to short-term interactions which does not give a full picture of the benefits of an ESA.  It seems as though the final chapter has yet to be written on the benefits of an ESA, but nothing appears to suggest that ESAs do not serve a helpful purpose.

 

References:

National Alliance On Mental Illness

National Institute On Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

the mood changed

“ We talk about mental-health in a reactive way, after a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain commits suicide.  Part of me wonders, if we were to normalize talking about mental health, how many people could we keep from that kind of suffering?” (This sentence appeared at the end of an article that I read recently.)

Most people just do not want to talk about mental-health illness.  The topic of mental-health illness is not found on any list of acceptable subjects for polite conversation.  If the topic creeps in during an evening gathering, the tone of the conversation changes.  People get quiet.  A hush comes over the room.  Eye contact ceases.  People begin to look down into their laps or off to the side.  They squirm in their seats, and sit counting the minutes until the conversation can be changed.

Just the other evening I was with a group of wonderful, bright, witty women, all of whom happen to have partaken in therapy at one time or another.  They are no strangers to the concept of seeking help, and of knowing the benefits of that help.  However, only one of these women knew that I had actually suffered from depression and anxiety.  We were all laughing, drinking, eating, and sharing personal stories.  After awhile, each person had made an off-handed reference to their experience with therapy, leading me to feel safe enough that I could share my story with these wonderful, bright, witty women.  At a moment in the conversation that seemed apt for an appropriate segue, I shared that I write a blog about mental health, and in particluar about the stigma that is so unfortunately attached to it.  I was immediately aware of the change in the mood around me.  Everyone got quiet.  No one knew what to say.  Wonderful, bright, witty, women, all of whom had some experience with a mental health issue, and perhaps even the medications that often accompany a mental health problem, were embarassed by my acknowledging my own battle with mental illness.  To this moment, I do not remember how the conversation moved forward.  I became self-concious, and I know I stopped talking.  The evening continued on, but this incident will certainly make me think carefully before sharing that information again.

If this can happen to me, someone who writes a blog about mental health, someone who can speak about it a bit more freely than many others, how can we expect the average joe to find this topic comfortable?  If the people who understand it are uncomfortable, then how can we expect those who have no idea about mental health illness begin to gain a level of comfort in a conversation dealing with this topic?

The solution to getting rid of the stigma that accompanies mental illness needs to start with us – the people who have a mental illness.  We need to be the ones to speak up and out about our own experiences.  Let people know that we are normal, wonderful, bright, witty, people with a health issue.

Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health