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.

 

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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Five Things to Do When You Feel Overwhelmed

Let’s face it – at some point, everyone feels overwhelmed. Whether it’s school, your work or another aspect of your life, there are times when we feel like the world is closing in on us and we feel trapped. While it’s more common for some to feel this way than most people, make no mistake – most people you know have felt overwhelmed about their lives at some point.

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What Does It Mean to Stay Grounded?

I’ve been reading a book called “The Empath’s Survival Guide” which is all about how to live and succeed if you’re an empathic person (no, I did not mean empathetic – there’s a difference!). I’m hoping that once I finish I can offer a solid review of the book but for now, there’s some word choice in the book that’s caught my eye and led to some questions.

In particular, the author’s constant reminder to ‘stay grounded’ and to ‘ground yourself’ was something I noticed immediately. It was in nearly every chapter, sometimes making multiple appearances, and it made me think – what does it mean to ground yourself? I don’t mean in the sense of staying humble and keeping your ego in check, but actually keeping your feet on the ground and remaining present.

This I how I think of ‘grounding yourself’: being present in the world around you and not living inside your head. I’m sure there are many other aspects of being grounded, but these are the main criteria that I try to follow if I’m looking to be a grounded person.

So, how do you stay present? Different things work for different people, and understanding that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution in this situation can go a long way toward maintaining toward being mentally healthy. Some people meditate, others pray to their higher power. People write in journals, listen to soothing music and go for a run. Sometimes it involves exhausting your body; other times it involves exhausting your mind. Regardless, you’re challenging yourself to be in the moment and seeing how long you can stay there.

Some people need more time than others to stay grounded. I know people who only need five minutes a day to meditate and they are refreshed and ready to go; others need more time or need to do more strenuous activity. I am one of those people, and I’m okay with that. The important thing to remember here is that you have to do what works for you. While it’s okay to try things that you’ve seen work in others, don’t put yourself into a box when it comes to staying ground. If it’s healthy and effective, that is all you need to worry about.

I stay grounded in a number of ways, but one of my favorites in the past month has been to go for a run. Now that the weather in DC is nice, I’ve been able to exercise outside, and it’s made me more grounded than anything else in recent weeks. I’m able to exist among the trees and plants on the sidewalks and enjoy the fresh (city) air as I exercise. Though I only currently run twice a week, it’s become something I look forward to and keeps me present – it’s hard to exercise that long if you’re not present in your task!

One more thing – sometimes trying to be grounded doesn’t work. That’s okay. Don’t put pressure on having an activity ‘cure’ you or boost your mood. Sometimes being grounded just means that you remain busy. By remaining busy, you might be able to keep things like depression and anxiety at bay. Whether it’s a big victory or a little one, a win is a win when it comes to mental health challenges. I wish you good luck with yours.

What do you do to stay ‘grounded’? What do you wish you’d do more of to be present in the moment? I want to know!

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Some Thoughts to Close Out Mental Health Awareness Month

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking as we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s been an interesting month for me – since I am in the middle of the process of weaning off my medication, I have been a little removed from mental health advocacy. I’m focusing on making sure this process goes smoothly and answers my questions – mainly, do I need to be on medication right now? I might have to go back on it weeks, months or years from now, but making sure the process goes well is my main focus.

Anyway, this month has been encouraging. I think the best thing I’ve seen is that this month has distinguished the difference between mental health and mental illness. Mental illness might not affect everyone, but mental health does. Taking care of yourself is important in all aspects of life, and this includes mental health.

Bringing awareness is also a very underrated aspect of improving the mental health conversation. Because it’s such a nuanced topic, it’s not enough to just say ‘be aware’ about mental health and leave it at that. It needs to be a discussion, an ongoing conversation to make sure people are looking out for each other and themselves. We make choices every day that improve or worsen our mental health, and it’s important to recognize the impact of these choices.

I was encouraged by the #RealConvo Instagram campaign and learned a ton from Mental Health America about how we can use different things in our life to boost our mental health. I read posts from people who don’t normally talk about mental health – they were honest and open and I loved seeing it. I feel like the conversation surrounding mental health improves every year, and things like Mental Health Awareness Month are a good reminder of how far this conversation has come.

Even though the month might be over, we can’t stop talking about mental health. Maybe it doesn’t have to be in the most obvious or outspoken way. There are plenty of ways to discuss mental health, and you need to do what works for you. Maybe that means writing a social media about that the fact that sometimes, you’re not okay. Maybe it’s just checking in with a friend or loved one and asking, ‘how are you, really?’

The most important part of this is that the discussion doesn’t end. Mental health, as with many things in life, is ongoing. We don’t always have the luxury of picking it up and putting it down as we see fit. So, however, whenever and wherever you have this conversation – even if it’s just with yourself – I hope that you can continue to remind those around you that our mental health is important – whether or not it’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

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Getting Through the Process

I’m a little nervous this week. As I shared a month ago, I’m currently in the process of weaning myself off the medication I take for my anxiety and depression. Since I am at the lowest level of one of the medications, I have been slowly lowering the dosage on the other medication until I am off it entirely, and I have finally reached the time where I go off that medication entirely – a very big step to take.

In our various appointments, my psychiatrist has shared with me that this will likely be the most difficult part of the process. There’s a good chance that while my body goes through withdrawal and gets the medicine out of my system, symptoms of my depression and anxiety could return. While he wasn’t guaranteeing anything (and did mention that all people are different), it’s a very real possibility that he wanted me to be aware of. I would be silly not to be a little scared, right?

That being said, don’t be afraid if you don’t see a post from me at the times I usually post. I will do my best to keep the blog going and keep posting, but I’ll admit that it won’t be easy. One encouraging thing is that I am in a good place to try and do this – the decision was not made on a whim. I have been on my current meds for the past two and a half years, and by taking all the proper precautions I’m ensuring that I am doing this in the safest way possible. Wish me luck this week – I’ll need all the good vibes sent my way!

Have you ever weaned off a medication (any medication) you’ve taken for a long time? Was it weird? I want to hear about it!

Staying in Bed Isn’t Good for My Mental Health

I am not very good at waking up in the morning. I’ve written about this in the past, but it hasn’t made things any easier. When the alarm goes off, I hit snooze. I’ve calculated how long it takes me to get ready in the morning, and I am prepared to use the minimum amount of time to get dressed and head off to work. I’m not proud of it, but that’s my reality.

I’m also not very good at going to sleep at night. This often happens because it’s hard to turn off an anxious brain, but other factors play into it as well. There are plenty of tips out there about falling asleep in an efficient manner, and I’m pretty sure I’ve tried almost every single one. Some have worked better than others, but I haven’t found that secret formula that gets me to fall asleep in a timely manner; I usually sit in bed for a half-hour or more before drifting off to sleep.

But one thing I am getting much better at is not staying in bed. If I’m not sleeping, I’m not in my bed. It’s an important distinction and one that has improved my mental health.

The connection between sleep and mental health is deeper than you realize. Getting the most out of your time in bed could be a key factor in improving your mental health and even though it’s hard for me, I understand those benefits. Though sleep is essential to your health, staying in bed for too long or being in bed too often makes it harder to cope with your mental illnesses. When my depression is the worst, all I want to do is stay in bed and sleep. It’s my refuge, my place of safety from the world. And though it makes me feel better in the moment, I always regret staying in bed for too long and hate myself for it. It’s not a great long-term solution, and it does not improve my mental health.

I remember in college, I could stay in my bed for hours at a time – watching television, doing schoolwork, even eating meals. I developed a dependency on my bed that was not only unhealthy but extremely unhelpful. I don’t have that relationship anymore, and I think that’s because I realized how much of a hindrance this behavior was in my daily life.

I’m not asking much of you this week, but I’d encourage you to be aware of how much time you spend in bed. Is it a place for sleeping, or do you spend more time there than you realize? I’m not asking you to change how you deal with your mental health or mental illness, but becoming aware of your habits – good and bad – is a good thing to do.