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

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

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

Ready Again

I would describe the challenges of the past year, some of them sad and painful, and some of them wonderful and validating, but the point of my blog is to help to remove the stigma from the words mental illness,not to provide a diary of the details of my own journey.  However, I will tell you that all of these challenges coming one after the other , both the good and the bad, made the journey of the past year difficult.  And yet, I have made it through, almost intact, by putting one foot in front of the other, and asking for help when I needed it.

Although taking a pause in writing for my blog, I did continue to read articles and listen to interviews about mental health issues.  I realized that there are a lot of people thinking and talking about the stigma of mental illness, and how that stigma is keeping many people from getting the help they need.  That ongoing conversation helps me believe that we are on a path that will lead us to a kinder and gentler world for mental health sufferers.

People are increasingly talking about mental health.  One of the points that is being made repeatedly is that getting help for a mental illness is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.  They are asserting that anyone, from any country, with any kind of socio-economic background, with any kind of job, with any kind of public recognition, with any kind of family, with any kind of profession, with any kind of financial resources, can be touched by a mental health illness.  Just as with any other illness in this world, mental health illness knows no boundaries, and all men and women are equally susceptible.

Below you will find a list of some of the many organizations that can provide help to those who are touched by mental illness and would like to find a path to achieving wellness:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

A Changing Conversation

Stomp your feet. Bang the drums.  Shout from the roof tops.  I do believe the conversation about mental health is finally changing.  Slowly, people are beginning to talk and write about the mental health world and all of its issues.  There are blogs in which people write about their own experiences with a mental health issue.  There are blogs that present academic treatises about mental health issues.  There are television shows that contain segments about the topic.  There are ads on television and in print that speak to the issue of medication that could help someone with a mental health malady.  Those ads are right up there with the ads about aspirins, tampax and adult diapers.  It is exciting to see the news coverage about mental health.  It is exhilarating to read the many articles that are now being written about mental health issues.  It is downright fantabluous that people are beginning to talk about their own experiences with mental health issues.  Our population is waking up to the fact that mental health issues are a part of the string of illnesses that effect many people.  Mental illness is diagnosable and treatable, and it is no different in its essence than diabetes, and therefore should not carry any stigma with its diagnosis.  A once verboten subject of conversation, the mental health issue has found its way into our more conventional airwaves and cyberwaves.  In short, more people are talking about and thinking about the world of mental health issues.

The Today Show, a very mainstream morning program, covers mental health topics regularly.   Whether one watches the program live or heads to the Today Show website, one will find topics about PTSD therapy dogs, men and depression, and the onset of autumn blahs, just to name a few subjects.  The topics are treated respectfully, and people are always encouraged to seek professional help if they exhibit any symptoms discussed or have questions.  Readers and watchers are also told that mental illness is diagnosable, treatable, and medical in nature.  It is not a figment of the mind.

Online, conversations are being started and projects are being initiated with regard to mental health issues.  Plug into your browser the words “mental illness stigma” and your search will lead you to a number of sites providing hours of reading.  Some of the writing is very academic, but a lot of it is personal.  People are openly sharing their challenges with this illness.  The resulting knowledge creates better understanding.  And the conversation continues to expand every day.  Join the conversation.  Share your stories.  Talk.

PTSD

Perhaps Donald Trump has given us all an opportunity to better understand a serious mental health issue.  I believe that his comments about PTSD have, in a upside down sort of way, been a gift to the mental health community.  Many feel the comments have set progress back in the fight against reducing mental health stigma because they relegate people with PTSD to a level of being lesser people – less brave, less strong, less competent. Such remarks are harmful and insensitive.  However, his comments about PTSD have brought this issue back to the forefront of our discussions, encouraging conversation about the causes of and treatments for PTSD.  Those of us with a mental health issue know that neither having, acknowledging, nor seeking help for a mental health illness is a sign of weakness in any way.  Seeking help is in fact a sign of strength.   One does not choose to have a mental illness, but one can choose to battle that illness and lead a good life.

There are articles written about PTSD, and studies done about PTSD and its effect on returning troops.  From these studies we have come to understand its severity among our troops.  We have learned that many soldiers are embarrassed by and afraid of the consequences of having PTSD.  Through these studies, we have learned many soldiers feel they should be able to cope on their own, and that the “problem” will resolve itself.  We have learned that PTSD does not play favorites according to one’s rank.  We have learned that there are approximately 20 suicides committed each day by former soldiers who suffer with PTSD.  We have learned that there is help for PTSD that works, and a PTSD sufferer who gets help is usually able to live a better life.  And most importantly, we have learned that there is a stigma attached to having a PTSD diagnosis that is preventing many people from seeking the help that they need.

We think of PTSD in relationship to the military and a soldier’s reaction to the extreme situations that are experienced on the battlefield, but PTSD can effect anyone who has been traumatized by any life event.  It is important that anyone with PTSD, no matter the source of its cause, should seek out the help he or she needs.

At a CNN Town Hall Meeting, Barack Obama said, “If you break your leg, you’re going to go to the doctor to get that leg healed.  If, as a consequence of the extraordinary stress and pain that you are witnessing, typically, in a battlefield, something inside you feels like it’s wounded, it’s just like a physical injury. You’ve got to go get help.  There’s nothing weak about that. It’s strong.”

 

Related articles and websites

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/10/04/what-donald-trump-got-right-about-ptsd-and-what-he-left-out/

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/PTSD/professional/research-bio/research/index.asp

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/ptsd/

 

A Lifetime Commitment

On May 1, my mom had a stroke.  As sudden illnesses typically do, it took us totally by surprise, especially since this 93 year old woman was driving, grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning her own apartment just a few hours earlier.  As one of her three progeny, I was helping to gather information, make decisions, be an advocate for her care, and participating in the cheerleading squad working towards her recovery.  The picture was bleak, and my sister and I were stretched thin.

I am not writing to tell you about the amazing recovery of a determined woman, but to confide in all of you that I was scared.  I was scared, not only for my mom, but for me.  I was afraid that the intensity of this medical situation would weigh heavily on me, and I would end up in the depths of another anxiety event.  That scared me more than the prospect of dealing with all the details of a hospital stay and the accompanying decisions.

Although I did have some anxiety issues, I was able to easily work my way through these reminders of my illness.  This recent episode is also a reminder that this illness is a lifetime commitment that can be managed with the appropriate tools.

Below are a few organizations that can help you find the appropriate tools.

https://www.adaa.org

http://www.freedomfromfear.org

Speaking Out And Speaking Up

While I was doing research online for my blog, I discovered quite a few organizations that were established specifically to speak to the issue that is so near and dear to my heart.  GET RID OF THE STIGMA THAT SURROUNDS MENTAL HEALTH DISEASE.  There are more advocates speaking up about that stigma than I ever imagined, and I happily read their websites for hours, truly excited about finding this treasure trove of validation.

Brandon Marshall, in conjunction with his wife Michi, started Project 375, an organization whose sole purpose is to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health illness.  Marshall himself had shown signs of erratic behavior, but thought he needed to tough it out and remain stoic in the face of his problems.  That stoicism was not working.  In 2011, Marshall, a highly respected NFL wide receiver, had a decision to make.  Either get the help he needed for his erratic behavior, or Michi was leaving.  Devastated by the possibility of losing his wife, Marshall checked himself into a psychiatric hospital, and there he was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  He spent the next three months at the hospital getting therapy, during which time Marshall realized that being stoic was not the same as being strong.  Instead, he found that it took strength and courage to own his illness and get the help that he desperately needed.  After a period in therapy, his personal and professional life began to stabilize.  As a result of the progress that Michi witnessed, Michi and Brandon reunited.  Marshall and Michi now speak out about his disease, their journey, and the mission of Project 375 to eradicate the stigma of mental health disease and disorders.  Project 375 is making a particular effort to reach out to the male population that is resistant to owning any mental health issues.  Through their programs, Brandon and Michi are trying to educate men to understand that it takes strength, not weakness, to seek the help needed to learn how to live with a mental health disorder.  I was very impressed with this organization and its goal of promoting healing through understanding, and promoting the principle of speaking out and speaking up – of coming out of that old stuffy closet. Continue reading Speaking Out And Speaking Up