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

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Why Becomes What

We know that the number of mental health problems in children and adolescents has increased immensely over the last ten – fifteen years, and this increase has led to a mental health crisis in this age group.  We know that pediatricians are the “first line of defense” when it comes to all things physical with our children.  Pediatricians have been trained to treat our children’s colds, flu symptoms, ear infections, and bumps and scrapes, but they have not been well-trained to care for their mental health in a meaningful way. We know there are not enough pediatric therapists and psychiatrists to treat the number of children and adolescents who are among the increased number of pediatric patients suffering with mental health problems.  We also know that up until recent years, mental health was not a subject easily discussed, and so the topic was usually avoided.  Gradually, the conversation surrounding mental health has increased.  The last year in particular has shown a marked increase in the proliferation of articles and conversations about the importance of dealing with mental health.  It is finally being discussed, but people think that this mental health crisis has popped out of nowhere.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated, “Mental health disorders have surpassed physical conditions as the main source of impairments and limitations.  Pediatricians need to take on a larger role in addressing the mental health crisis. Yet a majority of pediatricians do not feel prepared to do so.” 

We could blame this crisis on the pediatricians, but mental health treatment was a very small part of their training.  We could blame it all on the pandemic, but we know the pandemic only accelerated the trajectory of the already existing mental health problem.  We could blame it on the chaotic world around us in which the actions of people and countries has caused anxiety in the calmest of adults.   But none of these reasons alone, nor all three together, fully answer the question of “Why?”.

Why has there been such an increase in mental health illness in children and teens?   

From time to time, I have listened to The Dailya podcast supported by The New York Times and hosted by Michael Barbaro.  Recently I heard a podcast, posted on August 30 of this year, entitled “Inside the Adolescent Mental Health Crisis.”  Michael Barbaro was interviewing a colleague, Matt Richtel, who has spent the last few years doing research (with full support from The New York Times) into the mental health crisis among adolescents.  One of the major issues he discussed is how puberty has affected the onset of mental health illness.

Richtel points out that around 1900, puberty arrived on average when a girl was 14 years of age and starting menstruation.  In today’s world, that girl is starting puberty and menstruation around age 12, or even earlier in some cases.  Boys are also going through a similar challenge at an earlier age than was previously the case.  We think of puberty as the beginning of sexual awakening, but it is much more than that.  The awakening is not only in our bodies, but also in our brains.  According to Richtel, it is our brains that have not developed fast enough to keep in lockstep with our bodies.  The brain cannot process, nor make sense of, all this new stimulation from the world around us. Sex and all things sexual are only part of the story. The world with its nuances and issues is a bigger part of the puberty experience. Richtel says that the brain of a 12year old is simply not developed enough to be able to process the quantity of new information being forced on it.  The brain of a 12year old has not caught up to the more quickly developing body, and the brain is not ready to cope with all this new available information .  The 12year old is able to access quickly, and without filters, so much information in our technologically driven world that the brain of this child can go into overload.  With this overload comes internal confusion, rumination, obsessive thinking, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, aggression, and the list could continue.  So, our “Why?” now becomes “What?”.  What can we do to effectively confront this crisis?

Most logically, as a child’s or adolescent’s first-line-of-defense, pediatricians should get the extra training that is needed for them to feel more competent and comfortable treating the internal cuts and scrapes of mental health bruising.  Then we need more well-trained and qualified pediatric therapists and psychiatrists to pick up the baton and help the child to continue the healing process.  Although medications may play a part in the healing process as well, I do not believe that it is a total fix and certainly needs to be accompanied by a conversation with a doctor.  These experts in the field of mental health can do something that the medicines cannot do, and that is to acknowledge and validate the turmoil of emotions living inside these kids, and teach the young patient good coping skills that will be part of the child’s tool kit going forward.  

Resources.

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

The Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology’s Effective Child Therapy website can help parents discern what mental health treatments have robust data behind them, and which are most strongly recommended for specific disorders. 

The American Psychological Association allows you to search by Zip code, patient age group, doctor or therapist specialty, type of therapy provided, insurance and telehealth participation, and whether there are openings for new patients. 

The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies’ search tool specifically helps locate psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers who are trained (and ABCT-licensed) in the evidence-based cognitive and behavioral techniques most frequently cited by experts as beneficial for children. 

Off to College

It is very important to me that adults better understand how important it is to pay attention to their children’s journey into adulthood.  It is a long journey with many different stages and many different challenges along the way. 

September is a good time to remember the part of the journey that can be one of the most challenging stages of the process, namely leaving home and starting college.  For many, it is the first time a child will have spent any significant time away from home. Independent from parents.  Independent from rules.  Thrown into a huge bucket of peer pressure.  It is a time fraught with new challenges, adventures, transitions, ideas, and influences.  Many students do fine, but a significant number of students struggle with all this new stimulation coming at one time.  They are presented with a “perfect storm” of challenges and the new experience of independent decision-making.  It is not unusual that by November the number of new challenges and a student’s inability to balance these challenges can be overwhelming to a college freshman (as well as upper-class students as well), who then begin to fall apart and need help coping with depression and anxiety.  

From a distance (remember that most of these kids are away at college), we, the adults in their lives, need to be vigilant and listen to the tone of our children’s voices and words that they use. If we hear anything that causes concern, we need to encourage our kids to seek help.  If there is the slightest concern about their mental health., we need to encourage our kids to seek help.  

If, after listening to and having conversations one-on-one with your child, you are still concerned about his/her/their well-being, then you need to take a next step. For me that would be to find out more about the school’s mental health resources, and reach out to the people connected to those resources for guidance.  For many students, as with the population in general, the stigma of seeking mental health treatment from a counseling center is intimidating. It is important to emphasize that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

However, if going to the college mental health center is uncomfortable for your child, there are other resources that are available today outside of that brick-and-mortar health center.  One that is gaining momentum is telemedicine (you can simply google online mental health resources and you will find a whole list of resources).  Or you can connect with a therapist who you may know or has been recommended to you and see if that therapist will meet with your child by Zoom or FaceTime.

We want our kids to be happy, and reaching that goal is not often easy.  We need to use all available resources in order to help our kids during the times that are so difficult. 

 Below is a list that I found on a website called “timely MD.“   I would like to share it with you, and perhaps you can share it with your child  before he/she/they leaves for school.  Hand it to them, slip it into their suitcase, sit down and discuss it.  Whatever works.

Ways that college students can manage mental health

  1. Take care of health and well-being. … 
  2. Time management. … 
  3. Keep track of mental health concerns. … 
  4. Surround yourself with good people (even if it’s virtually) … 
  5. Practice mindfulness. … 
  6. Avoid drug and alcohol use. … 
  7. Find ways to get involved. … 
  8. Utilize mental health services.

(If you go to the website, each of these points is discussed further.)

Resources:

These are a few resources that are in United States and Britain. There are resources around the world

National Alliance of Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Heads Together

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Start the Conversation

As I have written before, the mental health crisis for children and teens is growing way too fast.  Believe it or not, 1 in 5 children struggle with mental health issues.  Before we take another step, we need to face the reality of these numbers, and start the difficult conversations about mental health with our kids.  All we want for our kids is a happy and productive life.  Let’s help them achieve that goal.

It is not an easy task to have meaningful conversations with our teenage kids. Their hormones are raging, and they are working really hard to become adults.  Even a teenager going through typical teenage “stuff,” may not be open to intimate conversations with a parent.  (What?  Me? Talk to my parents?)  Teenagers think that anyone over the age of 18 is too old to understand any of their problems or the essence of their teenage journey.  Add in a serious problem, and the conversation is even harder to start.  So, what we adults need to create is a safe environment where sharing is the norm in the relationship, not the exception.   Start by asking simple, non-intrusive questions about school, about friends, about new clothing styles, etc.  You are simply looking to have a conversation, not judge the answers.  And be sure to leave the “door” open.  Let your kids know that there is never anything too silly, too awful, too embarrassing for them to ask or tell.  Let them know you will always be available for them.  You may not like their information, but you will always love them. And, in addition, be sure to share back a bit.

So, how do you begin a difficult conversation with your child?  First, choose a time that will be calm and allow both parties to pay attention. It could be dinner time, bedtime, a walk in the park, or while doing a project together.   If you suggest a conversation, and your child gives you some push-back, let your child know that you want this conversation because you care about them and want to hear about the ins and outs of their lives.  But also let your child know that you are happy to have them choose a time that will feel more comfortable to them.  Choosing the time and place may help your child feel a bit more in control of their situation.  Once the time and place are determined, be sure to listen carefully to their words and validate any feelings that may be expressed by your child.  Validation is critical.  Let them know that you understand how they could have the feelings they are expressing.  You might even share your own similar experiences and how they were handled.  Sharing in return will help your child understand that problems and emotions are normal and can be resolved.

Now that you have developed an ongoing environment of communication and sharing with your child, be direct if you suspect any mental health issues.  Start the conversation with something like, “I have noticed that you seem sad recently.”  OR “I have noticed that you’re not spending as much time with friends recently.” OR “I have noticed that you are not getting your work done on time for school.”  

Listen. Listen. Listen to their answers.  And if you suspect for any reason that there might be an issue with suicidal ideation, be direct and ask your child if he/she is thinking about harming him/herself or about suicide. According to all that I have read, the professionals write that you should not be afraid that you will be giving your child the idea of suicide.  It is more important to ask the question and bring the topic out into the light.  If the answer is yes or even non-committal, immediately contact a health care professional.

Now that you have the tools, start the conversation!

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

 

Pay Attention to the Warning Signs

In my last blog post, I talked about the increasing suicide rate among children and adolescents.  It is not a cheerful subject, but a subject we need to address head on because the numbers of suicides can be reduced if we pay more attention to the warning signs, and then, of course, get our children the help they need.   

According to the website of The American Psychological Association, there is an important list of warning signs we should all learn: 

  1. Physical changes in appearance or hygiene
  2. Increase in alcohol or drug use
  3. Sudden drop in grades
  4. Talking about suicide or preoccupation with death
  5. Risky or reckless behavior
  6. Self-harm such as cutting
  7. Talking about feeling hopeless or having nothing to live for
  8. Researching suicide methods and/or acquiring weapons

As parents, teachers, friends, and relatives of young people, let’s listen to their thoughts and validate their concerns.   Let us make sure the children know we care about their problems.  Let us spend significant amounts of quality time with our children, and encourage them to spend time with their friends.  Encourage conversation (not always the easiest thing to do with kids), and be compassionate about the problems or challenges a child may verbalize.  If you have any concerns at all that there is a problem with your child/student/friend, trust your own judgement.  If you suspect a problem, it is much better to overreact than not to react at all.  And if you suspect even the slightest possibility of suicidal ideation, remove all weapons from the home, and do not leave the child alone.  Immediately consult a mental health professional.

It is just heartbreaking to think that a young, beautiful human being, who should have so much hope for the future, could be so sad, so depressed, or so uncomfortable with their experience with life that this child would feel that death is better than all the possibilities that life has to offer.  Children need to know that their problems are solvable. There is hope for a better future, and you, the adult,  must hear their voices and support their road forward.

RESOURCES

Healthy Children

Society for the Prevention of Suicide

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Mental Health Crisis for Children and Adolescents

Child and adolescent mental health concerns are at a crisis level. According to the World Health Organization, the number of children and adolescents who suffer from a treatable mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, or attention deficit/hyper activity disorder (ADHD) is 1 in 6, and the number is definitely on the rise. This mental health situation is not confined to any geographic area or social status, although children from poorer families seem to be at greater risk, with hospital after hospital reporting they are experiencing huge increases in the number of children and adolescents seeking treatment for mental health disorders.

Many journalists and health organizations are writing about the pandemic and how that has impacted kids. The pandemic alone would have presented serious challenges for any human being, but it has taken a particularly large toll on the development of our children. To go a step further, add in the myriad of events taking place around the world, and we find a Tsunami of challenges tugging at everyone’s mental health. However, I find a silver lining in this awful consequence, because I believe that it has pushed the conversation about mental health issues right through the roof. There are so many individuals being affected by mental health challenges that society can no longer ignore the importance of mental health. Today’s world is simply fraught with events that are difficult to intellectually and emotionally process.

Having to quarantine, wear a mask, knowing that large numbers of people are getting very sick from Covid-19, and that huge numbers of people are dying from Covid-19 are all reasons for precipitating anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. But at the same time our world has been overwhelmed by so many more events happening all around us. Hateful speech, racism, mean-spirited politics, and wars surround us, including our children, every day. We, as adults, can barely protect ourselves from the mental traumas we see and hear, which makes it even harder to protect our children from all the negative events. It is simply not possible to put a bubble around our kids to make sure they never hear a troubling conversation or comment, or a news report on television, or a radio broadcast, or read a newspaper article, or see the horrible pictures of a war scene. And all these words and pictures take away from the safety that should be childhood.

So, more children and adolescents are in the throes of a different kind of pandemic, a mental health pandemic. The need for help is rising, and there are simply not enough pediatric psychologists available for the number of children and adolescents who need them. Although the number of children and adolescents who have needed health care has been rising for some time, the pandemic threw the whole balance of need versus supply of pediatric therapists out of kilter. The American Academy of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry have together declared an emergency in child and adolescent mental health.

Many children who have been forced to quarantine at home for long periods of time were exposed to excessive quarreling, abuse, and violence, and witnessed more substance misuse by adults. They were prevented from interaction with their peers, which caused many children and adolescents to forget how to interact with their peers and also prevented them from having a needed social setting in which to grow their social skills. Now that children are returning to in-person school settings, there is more than the usual “acting out” in class, and teachers, acting as ‘first responders,” are asking for and receiving more guidance from outside professionals regarding how to recognize signs of trauma and other negative psychological behavior in children and adolescents. Hopefully, with this guidance, the educational staff will be able to help their students find help for emotional or mental health problems. We are also seeing greater government funding that enables our schools to hire temporary health professionals, including mental health professionals. But we need these health care professionals to be permanent additions to the staff caring for our children. Healthy children make healthy adults, which makes for a healthier society. To that end, the United States Congress is working on passing new funding legislation that would make those temporary positions in our health care system permanent, as well as continuing to fund the Student Mental Health Helpline Act. That Act, first introduced in September 2021, needs to be renewed. When that hopefully occurs, the law will authorize grants to agencies that are primarily responsible for public health or education to develop and maintain student mental health and safety helplines for children who are facing challenges with abuse, bullying, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and related issues.
The federal government is addressing the mental health crisis, but it needs to move faster in getting the allocated money out to the people who will use it to make a difference in the mental health of our children and teens.

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Heads Together

Travel Anxiety

For a few weeks before we travel, I always have anxiety.   As the date of departure approaches, the anxiety increases, and only begins to lessen once we have arrived at the airport and are seated waiting to board the plane.  It never completely goes away until we return home.

When our kids were little, the anxiety was increased by having to organize all of the things that were critical to their everyday lives and making sure that every single “i” was dotted and “t” was crossed taking into account all the possible issues that could arise for the kids and their caretaker when we were away.  And of course, I worried while we were away about how everything was being handled in our absence. Now that our children are all grown with kids of their own, my worries are more simple (simple is relative, right?), and centered around the unknowns of the trip itself.  Being on time for planes, trains, or buses is constantly anxiety producing. The prospect of getting lost, having the right clothing, choosing restaurants that will please both my husband and me, planning each day’s activities, language barriers, and so many other unknowns have also become problems for me.  This anxiety has never prevented me from traveling, but it has made travel more difficult for me.  I tend to try to do my homework and have enough information at hand that if something happens, I will know how to handle it.  Below is a list of hints that I have accumulated over the years and that I find helpful in getting me to the boarding gate and through the trip with less anxiety.  I am happy to share them with you.

  1. I take deep breaths.  When I find that I am feeling anxious at the thought of the unknowns of travel and getting ready for the trip, I breathe slowly and deeply, concentrating on the tasks at hand.
  2. I make a list of the tasks that need doing.  I cross off each task as it is accomplished (I love that part).  I try to enjoy the packing, buying needed clothing, finding someone to care for our plants and pick up the mail, etc.  I like to read about the place we will be visiting, which helps me plan for some of the unknowns. 
  3. I like to listen to music because it is soothing and helps with the anxiety.
  4. I try to remind myself why we are going on this trip, and try to imagine the trip without feeling anxiety and noticing how good that feels (I know this can be easier said than done).  
  5. I like to think about how I will feel after we return, and what the experience will add to my life. The idea here is to examine all the positives that will result from taking this trip.
  6. I plan a detailed calendar of events for the first few days.  What, where, when for our activities, even including getting from the airport to our hotel, and then how we will be getting to each of our activities. Sometimes I can ease up on the prescheduling after a few days have been organized, but sometimes I like to plan the whole trip. 
  7. I like to make a list of “what ifs,” and then make a list of solutions for the “what ifs” along with local phone numbers. 
  8. I always carry a business card in my pocket with the name, address, and phone number of the hotel in which we are staying.
  9. I don’t rely on additional medication in order to travel, but anyone who needs extra help should reach out to a doctor and work this out.
  10. I always keep in the back of my mind that I can always return home if, for unanticipated reasons, the anxiety gets to be too overwhelming.

Traveling is an incredibly exciting way to enrich our lives.  As anxious as I get before and during a trip, I would not give up the opportunity to travel.  These above hints have been of help to me.

Resources

National Alliance On Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Simone Biles

I have previously blogged about my belief that when famous people talk about mental health issues, the world listens.  After reading the article about Simone Biles that appeared in Time Magazine (December 27, 2021/January 3, 2022), my belief has been reinforced.  

Simone Biles is a world class athlete, the best of the best.  Having been trained to be in control at all times and to stay focused on the “win,” Biles found herself having mental issues as she performed in Tokyo, Japan this 2021 Olympic season.  Given the pressures that are put on athletes to perform, one could reasonably have assumed that Biles would have just pushed forward, not willing to “quit’ in front of the watching world.  Instead, she paid attention to what her mind and body were telling her, and then she told her teammates that her mind and her body were not in sync and she would not be able to continue to compete with the team.  Continuing to try to perform would have put Biles’ safety at serious risk.  In front of the entire world, and knowing she would be judged for her decision, she stood strong, chose to consider her own well-being first and removed herself from the competition. Imagine the pressure. Some people, unable to understand the importance of mind/body synchronization when performing, immediately saw this as quitting.  However, this decision had the same merit as a decision to withdraw because of a broken bone.  This action was not quitting!  This was a decision made to protect herself. 

Imagine how hard a decision that was for Simone Biles, who had practiced her whole life for the Olympics, who had become a world champion, who was expected to win 5 medals at the Olympics, and then having to decide to withdraw for her own safety, health, and well-being.  What would her teammates think? What would her coach think? What would her parents think? What would the world think?  What would all those little girls think of their hero and role model?  But instead of dwelling on those “what woulds,” Biles made a decision that was right for her and with which she was comfortable, and because of that decision, I think that Simone Biles provided a more meaningful role model for her teammates, the world, and all those little girls when she decided to take care of her mental health rather than continuing to compete and presumably winning all the medals she was expected to win.  She let the world know that it is okay to have a bad day.  She let the world know that one should speak up if things are not okay.  She let the world know that it is okay to be imperfect. She let the world know that anyone can have an emotional problem, and having that problem does not reflect a weakness in one’s character.  Facing the problem actually shows strength.  Caring for oneself shows strength.  Simone Biles’ response to her situation will not prompt a sweeping change in people’s comfort level with the mental health conversation, but it will move the meter a little bit forward, and with each advance of that meter the conversation becomes easier to have.

Simone Biles’ decision to take charge of her life and take care of herself showed an enormous amount of strength.  That strength offered the world another chance to have a conversation about mental health.  The more these conversations happen, the more people will begin to hear and absorb the message that mental health is not a pariah and is treatable.  It is not a sign of weakness to confront and acknowledge a mental health issue.  Anyone can have mental health challenges.  And the more often the subject of mental health becomes a topic of conversation, the quicker the subject will become more comfortable to discuss and easier for people to acknowledge, and we will continue to erode the stigma that is still attached to having mental health challenges. 

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