Is Mental Health Still Stigmatized?

I have a short answer and a long answer to the question above. The short answer? Yes, it is. The long answer? Give me a second.

When I ask questions in my posts, I often turn to Google to gauge how legitimate my question is. This time, though, I looked for something more specific – the dates of the results on the search page. I knew there would be articles, posts and web pages asking my same question, but I wanted to know if they were old or new. And what I found was that there was a mix of both. I’d see a study from 2012 next to a blog post from 2015 all jammed between two articles from May 2019. What did that show me? That this question is an ongoing discussion about how we deal with mental health in the United States.

The long answer to this question: while it is still stigmatized, it seems like that stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. That’s what I feel comfortable saying.

That answer doesn’t sound long, does it? Look at what I wrote though. The stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. What I’m saying is that I believe it’s not as bad as things used to be. Usually, that would imply that things are good in the present. But the argument that things are better than before is a dangerous argument to make (see: most of History). Will taking that approach with mental health help in the long run?

I’m encouraged at the number of celebrities who are being more open about their mental health. I feel proud when I see a professional athlete say they’ve gone through tough periods of depression or anxiety because I was an athlete growing up; I understand how brave you have to be to do that. I know these stories help other people who struggle with their own mental health and that’s wonderful (I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s truly wonderful). But we also have to acknowledge that if there wasn’t such a strong stigma, a famous person talking about mental health wouldn’t be so groundbreaking in a country where 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. And yet, it is.

Has the stigma surrounding mental health decreased? Sure, you could say that. But if you do, look at where it used to be. That might reframe how you answer the question. And honestly, there’s plenty of ways to discuss/debate this topic. Is the stigma decreasing? Are people being more open about mental health? How can we reduce the stigma, or just overcome it?

All are valid questions, but there’s a reason I asked the question the way I did – I wanted you to react. When you read that question, you had an instant reaction. It might have been yes, no or somewhere in between, but you thought something. A key way to break down a stigma – any stigma – is to talk openly about it. So we need people to think about it and talk about it. Whether they think they’re right or wrong, opinionated or not. Because as long as mental health is stigmatized, there’s still work to do.

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Suicide Prevention Resources

People have been writing about the stigma surrounding suicide for a very long time. Has the stigma lessened? Are people more comfortable discussing their struggles? It’s hard to quantify that on a larger scale so I don’t really want to get into all that, but it’s safe to say that this stigma still exists in some way, shape or form. This means that some people might not be getting the care and attention they need as they face suicidal thoughts, ideation or something more extreme, and that is where today’s post comes in.

Part of the reason why this is such a nuanced topic is because when someone is struggling with suicidal feelings, ‘reaching out’ isn’t as easy as it seems. Does that person have anyone to reach out to? Even if they do, do they feel comfortable enough to do so? And if that person does feel comfortable, is the person they’re reaching out to willing/able to help? So many questions…and that’s just one of the many possible scenarios.

But regardless of any of this, everyone should be aware of the suicide prevention resources that are available – whether you’re the one struggling or the one providing help. Below are some links and descriptions to some of the more well-known suicide prevention resources, websites and phone numbers. If you have any questions about anything I’ve listed, let me know and we can talk about it!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

First off, know the number (1-800-273-8255) and know that anyone can call 24/7 for FREE. But this suicide prevention center offers many other resources other than just the hotline – there’s an online chat if you can’t talk on the phone as well as specific resources for Veterans, LGBTQ+, Attempt Survivors and other groups of people who could be at risk.

Crisis Text Line

Talking on the phone isn’t always the best option, and that’s where the Crisis Text Line can help. By texting ‘TALK’ to 741741, you can have a confidential text conversation with someone. The first priority for the Crisis Text line ‘is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy.’ In fact, this line is used for all types of crises, and more than 100 million text messages have been since in the six years since its inception.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

The SPRC is the only federally supported resource center specifically about suicide prevention and as such, offers a ton of information on the best techniques and approaches for suicide prevention. This site is especially helpful in some of the training they offer including online courses and webinars.

The Trevor Project

Founded specifically to focus on suicide prevention for young people in the LGBTQ community, the Trevor Project offers several free resources to immediately help those in need including the Trevor Lifeline, Trevor Chat, Trevor Text and Trevor Space (you can reach all of these through their ‘Get Help Now’ page).

Veterans Crisis Line

Like many of the resources offered here, the Veterans Crisis Line offers a confidential hotline, online chat and text support but another important resource this crisis line provides is that after a call or chat, you can be referred to a Suicide Prevention Coordinator at that person’s local VA medical center.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline can provide more helpful support not only to people struggling with their mental health but also substance abuse (or both). The helpline makes it a point to note that they take calls in both English and Spanish.

*One more resource I’d like to mention is a ‘Resources’ page I found on the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Not only are there tons of numbers to crisis lines on this page, but also additional resources based on different mental health conditions. This page might provide way more help than I possibly could so that’s why I included it!

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I Might Feel Worthless, But My Experience is Not

One of the most common symptoms of clinical depression and other depressive disorders is feeling worthless. I’d delve more into why this happens and how this affects people, but that’s not my main point today (though I have written before about recognizing the signs of depression).

The symptoms might be similar, but each person’s experience with depression is unique because of their personality and life experiences. You and I might both be feeling worthless right now, but the way it manifests itself in our daily lives could look extremely different. However, there’s one important aspect of this struggle that is overlooked, underrated and 100% true: your experience – whatever it is – is worth something.

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A Global Issue – World Suicide Prevention Day 2019

TW: This post discusses suicide

Typically when I post about suicide/suicide prevention, I focus on the issue in America. That’s mostly because when awareness weeks/months happen, it’s mostly about the topic of suicide as it pertains to America. So when I decided to write about World Suicide Day this year (which I’ve never done before), it was one of the first times that I looked at suicide as a global issue. And yes, it is a global issue. Just see what the World Health Organization has to say about it.

The reason that reading about suicide statistics in the United States was troubling for me in the first place was that it had me thinking that the situation was worse in the United States than it was elsewhere. But as I looked up statistics, facts, and figures from other countries, I learned this is just as big of a problem all around the world. And while strategies for suicide prevention have improved in a big way, suicide rates have not decreased in recent years. In fact, it’s estimated that around the world there is a death by suicide every 40 seconds. Every. 40. Seconds.

Just as it was last year, this year’s theme is ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide’ and I truly believe this theme says a lot about how we need to approach the issue – everyone, anyone can be involved in suicide prevention. Whether it’s checking in on a co-worker or giving a friend a call when you think they might be struggling, we all have a role to play in lifting up those around us and making sure they’re doing okay. But make no mistake, it is not up to just one person – we all have a role to play, and it can come down to three key actions to take:

  1. Knowing and recognizing signs of someone at risk
  2. Reaching out to someone in need
  3. Finding out what resources are available depending on the situation

There are plenty of resources that can provide the best information with specifics on this, but those are the three key takeaways that I wanted to mention because a ton can flow from those three main points. It looks easy on paper, and it some ways it is. But the topic of suicide is so nuanced and complex that the actual discussions can be anything but easy.

It starts with educating yourself, and that’s why days of awareness like today exist. I included so many links today because even though I’m not an expert myself, I know where to turn for information now, and it’s been extremely helpful.

One more thing I think you should do today. If you’re on Twitter, go check out the #WorldSuicidePreventionDay hashtag and give it a read. It might be hard, it might be upsetting, but it will also make it clear how big of an issue this is.

This is real. This is happening. And we have to fight it.

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2019

TW: This post discusses suicide. 

Every year that I’ve done this blog, I’ve written about Suicide Prevention Month. Personally, it’s never easy to write, but the information is so necessary that I feel I’d be misleading you by not writing about it. Because it’s not enough to be aware that suicide is widespread in this country – we have to do more than that. But how?

If you think this issue is going away, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the second-leading cause of death among individuals in the 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34 age groups. It is the fourth-leading cause of death among individuals in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups. The AFSP reported that in 2017, there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts, and 4.3% of all adults in the United States admitted to having suicidal thoughts at some point that year.

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But this month is not just about bringing awareness to the prevalence of suicide but educating people on how to prevent it. There are tons of resources available from organizations and advocacy groups that discuss how we can work to prevent suicide and while they’re available year-round, Suicide Prevention Month provides some time to specifically discuss suicide prevention and the best ways to approach it. The National Alliance on Mental Illnessthe Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the CDC all have pages dedicated not only to suicide prevention but to this month especially. 

Next week (September 8-14) is National Suicide Prevention Week and during the week is World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10). There’s plenty more to add to the discussion that will continue as the month goes on whether you’re going to #BeThe1To or talk about #SuicidePrevention or #StigmaFree, but I do want to leave you with this. When it comes to the topic of suicide, asking for help is not easy. Neither is trying to help those who are struggling. But we have to keep fighting – and there’s plenty to fight for.

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Types of Self-Care and Ways to Practice

While exploring my relationship with self-care this week, I realized something. It’s hard for me to practice self-care because outside of a loose definition, I don’t know what it looks like. I’m a person that needs examples of explanations – you can’t just give me a definition and expect that to be sufficient.

That’s where I struggle with self-care. Just practice physical self-care – take care of your physical self I would read. That’s a good idea, but what can I do that will actually accomplish those goals? So, I decided to select five of the most prominent types of self-care and not only provide a brief explanation but toss in a few activities you could do to put it into practice as well.

Physical Self-Care

This might seem like the most obvious one, but it’s obvious for a reason! You have to take care of your body if you want to live a long and healthy life. Oftentimes people see this and think it just means they have to exercise more (and that’s fine if you do!) but it’s also doing the little things throughout your day to make sure you’re feeling as healthy as possible.

Examples of practicing physical self-care: Eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking as much water as you can, getting enough sleep, going to the doctor when you need to

Emotional Self-Care

Emotional self-care is not simply ‘dealing with your emotions’ but dealing with them in a healthy way. We all have healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with our emotions – in this case, it’s not just about being self-aware, but making a concerted effort to make sure we’re trying the healthy activities over the unhealthy ones even if we don’t want to. Especially if we don’t want to.

Examples of practicing emotional self-care: journaling and/or writing down how you feel, creating art (how you define ‘art’ is totally up to you!), going to a place that brings peace (park, lake, home, etc.), having a good cry 

Social Self-Care

This aspect of self-care is all about making sure you’re forming healthy relationships with the people in your life. That doesn’t just mean doing activities that you want to do, though, because social relationships are different for people. For example? Introverts, you’re probably going to need to get out of your comfort zone – just make sure it’s with people you either like or want to get to know. Extroverts, you might be so concerned with being around people that you’re less concerned with the quality of person that’s around you. But at the end of the day, healthy relationships should be the result.

Examples of practicing social self-care: learning how much energy you need to be around other people, having meaningful interactions, nurturing the relationships you currently have

Spiritual Self-Care

Practicing spiritual self-care sounds more complicated than it is because when people see it, they immediately think of religion. And while spirituality can be synonymous with religion, it does not have to be. Spiritual self-care is all about exploring your values and belief systems and trying to focus on something bigger than yourself. It might all sound vague but if you’re doing things that nurture your soul and contribute to a greater good, you’re on the right path.

Examples of spiritual self-care: contributing time or money to a cause you care about, attending religious services (if you’re religious), meditating, introspection and self-reflection

Mental Self-Care

When I looked up mental self-care I saw it being associated a lot with intellectual self-care as well, which helped clear up the definition for me. This one is fairly simple – keep your mind active! Think of this as physical self-care but for your brain. Yes, every now an then it’s nice to turn your brain off and just relax, as long as you’re making time to keep your mind sharp and challenge yourself.

Examples of mental self-care: solving puzzles, reading books, exploring arts and culture

So, is there an activity you see here that you’d like to do more? Something not listed that you think people should know about? Let me know in the comments!

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A Change in Perspective

Since making the decision not to move, I’ve done some thinking about my life. It’s been some time since I’ve made a decision this big, and I feel the same pressure now that I’ve felt when I’ve made a big decision in the past. It’s a feeling of okay, I did this…now what? While making the decision is important, it brings with it all this brand-new, self-imposed pressure. Basically, since I’m not doing the specific thing, what can I do now?

I am not the type of person to only change one aspect of my life at a time. I often feel that when I make a change, it has to touch every facet of who I am and what I do. I don’t like this about myself, but I also know that it’s true. And I want to change.

I’ve hopped, skipped and jumped through my adult life in the three years since graduating college. Every move I’ve made has been done with an eye on making a different move in the future. I’ve never actually been settled in one place and felt at home there because I was always focused on where I’m going next. Instead of letting my life happen, I was trying to pigeonhole everything.

For the first time, I’m in a position where I don’t have a ‘next place’ that I want to go live. I’m just in the place I am now until something changes. But honestly, that part is key. I’ve never had that before. I’m in a spot where I just need to take my life day by day and figure it out. That might sound like a common thing for most people (I feel like a lot of you are reading this and thinking well duh…), but it’s never really hit me like that before.

I thought I would know where I was going in life before I got there – that’s how I’ve viewed things in the past. But maybe that’s not how it is. Either way, I’m learning to take things as they come and improve myself where I can. I’m going to work on making the pressure I put on myself dissipate. One way or another, my life is going to happen. Maybe I’ll understand it before it happens, maybe I won’t. But now, more than ever, I’m along for the ride.

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I’m Back…And Here We Are

Things have been very strange for the past month. Not happy or sad, good or terrible, difficult or easy. Just very, very strange.

This month, I was supposed to move to Europe and begin a job teaching English. It’s something I’d been looking forward to for a very long time. In fact, I’d taken all the necessary steps months in advance because of how sure I was about this situation. But last month, about six weeks before I was supposed to head out, a feeling hit me. It would be easy to just say I had second thoughts and leave it at that, but that wasn’t it.

Sometimes with second thoughts, you’re just afraid that you’re doubting yourself, and it’s not uncommon to go ahead with the decision you’ve made. But once I got that feeling that I didn’t want to go anymore, it stuck and it stayed there. And while I’m not feeling any one type of way about it, it is…weird.

I’m not going to get into the details right now, because that’s not why I’m sharing this. Maybe one day I’ll share that story on this blog, but that day is not today. At the moment, the most important part of this decision isn’t the decision that I’ve made – it’s everything else that’s going to happen to me now. Say what you will, but a decision not to do something is still a decision – it might not sound that way, but it’s true. And now, even though I’m not moving halfway around the world, my life is still going to change. That’s the nature of making any sort of important decision in life. In some form or other, it will change the trajectory of where you’re headed.

I’m sorry I was gone from here for a while – I couldn’t post as much as I wanted because honestly, it’s been hard to wrap my head around what I’m doing these days. But I’m in a good spot in a ton of ways. As I long as I focus on that, I’ll be good to figure out what’s next. I’m hoping to continue to give you all some #premium mental health content going forward in addition to joining me on this journey. Hope you’re along for the ride!