Mental Health Conditions Are Legitimate Health Conditions

It is widely accepted that if you have a health problem, you would see a medical professional who specializes in that problem’s proper treatment. If you have high cholesterol or are at risk of a heart attack, you see a cardiologist. If you have digestive problems, you see a gastroenterologist. If you have acne or other skin problems, you see a dermatologist.

But if you are faced with a mental health problem, is your first instinct to see a mental health professional?

Society has taught many of us to answer no. At least, this was the case for me when I was away at college. At the time, I attempted to balance academics, extracurricular activities and a part-time job—all while neglecting my own well-being. My solo circus act eventually came to a head one day in my foreign language class. I felt anxiety taking over my body, and I began crying uncontrollably. When my professor walked in, I rushed up to him and felt my throat tightening. Somehow, I managed to speak through my tears.

“I can’t be in class today,” I said between sobs. He nodded and encouraged me to speak with him during his office hours later that day. When we met, everything that had been going on in my mind poured out. I told my professor that my friend wanted to die and had attempted suicide over the weekend. I felt powerless and out of control. I couldn’t think straight. Then, my professor told me something that had honestly not occurred to me until that very moment.

“I am sorry to hear this. I really think you should go to the counseling center on campus. I think they can help you,” he recommended.

It was as if a wave of clarity hit me. Why didn’t I think of that? Why had I been isolating myself in my dorm room, sitting alone in fear? I hadn’t even considered going to the health center, let alone the counseling center. Looking back, I realize that it was because I never considered my mental health to be a health problem. I didn’t realize that my brain was just as important as the rest of the organs in my body.

The Brain And Mental Health

The brain is the most complex organ in our body and we’re constantly learning about how mental health conditions “live,” function and develop inside our brains. Additionally, mental health conditions can be hard to treat, as there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan. Two individuals with bipolar disorder may respond very differently to the same medication. Mental illnesses are often far more nuanced than physical illnesses—they’re not a perfected science. Perhaps this is why society has a hard time considering mental health conditions “actual” health conditions.

What is indisputable is that mental health conditions are in fact legitimate health conditions, just like physical illnesses. Additionally, half of all mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24. That is why early engagement and support are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing the promise of recovery. Additionally, mental health conditions can be lifelong conditions. However, with the right treatment plan, living well is possible.

Myself? After several years of pretending that I didn’t need help anymore, I decided to seek out a therapist. I’ve since been diagnosed with anxiety and depression. And with the support of loved ones, I go to therapy every week and am getting the treatment I need. I now see the importance of addressing any concerns with my health, especially my mental health, before they become serious.

Isn’t it time we all saw mental health conditions as legitimate health conditions?

 

Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/Mental-Health-Conditions-are-Legitimate-Health-Con

How Depression Made Me A Man

“Be strong!”

“Toughen up!”

“Don’t cry!”

Never did someone stand over me as a kid and yell, “Let it out! It’s okay to cry! It’s human to hurt!” From my football coaches to my own father, it seems as though the social norm for men is to be some kind of impenetrable mountain of muscle that feels no pain and has no emotion. If we’re not hunting or fighting or eating a bloody, rare steak, then we’re not men. As a kid, I idolized the manly behemoths on TV. From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, I wanted to be just like them. And I didn’t only want to mimic their physical appearance, but I wanted to be as happy and carefree as they seemed.

Our culture depicts men as heroes and symbols of strength and popularity, almost to the point of being invincible. Every little boy wants to be invincible. When my parents fought—yelling and breaking things in the house—all I wanted to be was invincible against how sad they made me feel. I wanted to be invincible against the feelings I had when that girl I had a crush on in 5th grade said, “No thanks, you’re too fat for me” after I finally worked up the courage to ask her to be my girlfriend; instead, I ran away and cried in the boy’s bathroom during second period. I wanted to be invincible when my youth football coach called me a “pussy” because I got hit and I said it hurt; instead, I questioned why feeling pain made me less of a man.

All these feelings, emotions and a twisted view of masculinity had a hold on me. Rather than accept and process my emotions, I learned to ignore and compartmentalize them. I kept my issues and pains to myself and tried my hardest to push them down as deep and far away from the surface as I could.

Then, the day came when the flood couldn’t be held back any longer and the levees broke. For so long I had hidden my pain, my confusion, my depression and I had become good at pretending to be “okay” with everything life was throwing at me. But one day it was not “okay” anymore. My mental illness had been ignored for so long and it would not be quieted any longer.

I couldn’t find any more strength or courage or fight just to keep those around me from finding out how bad I truly felt. I was so conditioned to “man up” that when the pain, sorrow and thoughts of suicide ran through my mind, I had no answer. I couldn’t yell or puff my chest at depression. Depression didn’t care how much I could lift or what car I drove or how many girls I had been with. Depression knew the real me. It knew the little boy who could never face his real problems head-on because the society in which he grew up wouldn’t let him. He was too busy pretending to be strong, too busy pretending to be a “man” to admit he lived with depression.

After my attempted suicide and rehabilitation, things started to become clearer. I learned that pain, sorrow, anger and sadness are a part of life—emotions don’t care if you are a man or woman or household pet. For the first time, I could accept and acknowledge my weaknesses and my pain. Finally, I found myself and have never felt stronger or more of a man.

Coming out about my depression was one of the most freeing and courageous things I have ever done. No longer am I silent or fearful about who I really am. I am comfortable and confident enough in myself to accept and face my demons. I’m no longer ashamed of my depression. And being self-aware and brave enough to face my emotions fills me with more manly strength and pride than any action hero ever did.

I can now step in front of my mental illness and accept it as a part of me, instead of always living in its shadow. And I’m here to tell you fellas to be bold and fearless about who you are. Be strong enough to admit your pains. Be courageous to acknowledge your struggles—regardless of how “un-manly” they may seem.

Depression affects 6 million men per year. So, next time you’re in the locker room talking, I hope that the conversation becomes deeper than football plays and girls. For being a man is what we men make it.

 

Rob “Roro” Asmar is a chef and restaurateur in the DC area. He passionately advocates for mental health through his volunteer and awareness raising efforts and seeks to break the stigma surrounding mental health & men. His open and positive attitude are expressed through his social media platform @RoroMeetsWorld where you can find his cooking and refreshing take on life. 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/How-Depression-Made-Me-a-Man

5 Myths That Prevent Men From Fighting Depression

Depression can be hard to talk about—so hard that a lot of men end up silently struggling for years, only to reach out when they’ve hit rock bottom. Others, sadly, don’t reach out at all. This is one of the reasons why men account for 3.5 times the number of suicides as women.And depression is one of the leading causes of suicide.

Fighting depression is difficult. Not only do you have to fight the illness but you also fight the stigma attached to it. For men, the fear of looking weak or unmanly adds to this strain. Anger, shame and other defenses can kick in as a means of self-protection but may ultimately prevent men from seeking treatment.

Here are some common myths that stand between men and recovery from depression:

Depression = Weakness

It cannot be emphasized enough that depression has nothing to do with personal weakness. It is a serious health condition that millions of men contend with every year. It’s no different than if you develop diabetes or high blood pressure—it can happen to anyone. We show our strength by working and building supports to get better.

A Man Should Be Able To Control His Feelings

Depression is a mood disorder, which means it can make us feel down when there is absolutely nothing to feel down about. We can’t always control what we feel, but we can do our best to control how we react. And that includes choosing whether to ignore our problems or face them before they get out of hand.

Real Men Don’t Ask For Help

Sometimes we need an outside perspective on what might be contributing to our depression. Consulting a professional who has more knowledge of depression and treatment options is the smartest thing to do. Trying to battle a mental health condition on your own is like trying to push a boulder up a mountain by yourself—without a team to back you up, it’s going to be a lot harder.

Talking About Depression Won’t Help

Ignoring depression won’t make it go away. Sometimes we think we know all the answers and that talking can’t help a situation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Often, things that seem like a huge deal in our minds aren’t as stressful when we talk about them more openly with a friend or mental health professional. Talk therapy (or psychotherapy) is a proven treatment for depression. It’s useful for gaining new perspectives and developing new coping skills.

Depression Will Make You A Burden To Others

Being unhealthy and refusing to seek treatment can put pressure and stress on those that care about you, but asking for help does not make you a burden. It makes people feel good to help a loved one, so don’t try to hide what you’re going through from them. What’s most frustrating is when someone needs help, but they refuse to ask for it.

If you (or a man you know) think you might be living with depression, HeadsUpGuys is a website specifically designed to help men fight depression. The site features practical tips, information about professional services and stories of recovery. It also has a self-check that can help determine whether or not depression may be affecting you. Check it out today.

 

Since recovering from experiences with depression and a suicide attempt in 2010, Joshua R. Beharry has become a passionate advocate for mental health. Josh is currently the project coordinator forHeadsUpGuys, a resource for men in pursuit of better mental health.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/5-Myths-that-Prevent-Men-from-Fighting-Depression

Record Numbers of College Students Are Seeking Treatment for Depression and Anxiety — But Schools Can’t Keep Up

Not long after Nelly Spigner arrived at the University of Richmond in 2014 as a Division I soccer player and aspiring surgeon, college began to feel like a pressure cooker. Overwhelmed by her busy soccer schedule and heavy course load, she found herself fixating on how each grade would bring her closer to medical school. “I was running myself so thin trying to be the best college student,” she says. “It almost seems like they’re setting you up to fail because of the sheer amount of work and amount of classes you have to take at the same time, and how you’re also expected to do so much.”

At first, Spigner hesitated to seek help at the university’s counseling center, which was conspicuously located in the psychology building, separate from the health center. “No one wanted to be seen going up to that office,” she says. But she began to experience intense mood swings. At times, she found herself crying uncontrollably, unable to leave her room, only to feel normal again in 30 minutes. She started skipping classes and meals, avoiding friends and professors, and holing up in her dorm. In the spring of her freshman year, she saw a psychiatrist on campus, who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder, and her symptoms worsened. The soccer team wouldn’t allow her to play after she missed too many practices, so she left the team. In October of her sophomore year, she withdrew from school on medical leave, feeling defeated. “When you’re going through that and you’re looking around on campus, it doesn’t seem like anyone else is going through what you’re going through,” she says. “It was probably the loneliest experience.”

Spigner is one of a rapidly growing number of college students seeking mental health treatment on campuses facing an unprecedented demand for counseling services. Between 2009 and 2015, the number of students visiting counseling centers increased by about 30% on average, while enrollment grew by less than 6%, the Center for Collegiate Mental Health found in a 2015 report. Students seeking help are increasingly likely to have attempted suicide or engaged in self-harm, the center found. In spring 2017, nearly 40% of college students said they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function, and 61% of students said they had “felt overwhelming anxiety” in the same time period, according to an American College Health Association survey of more than 63,000 students at 92 schools.

As midterms begin in March, students’ workload intensifies, the wait time for treatment at counseling centers grows longer, and students who are still struggling to adjust to college consider not returning after the spring or summer breaks. To prevent students from burning out and dropping out, colleges across the country — where health centers might once have left meaningful care to outside providers — are experimenting with new measures. For the first time last fall, UCLA offered all incoming students a free online screening for depression. More than 2,700 students have opted in, and counselors have followed up with more than 250 who were identified as being at risk for severe depression, exhibiting manic behavior or having suicidal thoughts.

Virginia Tech University has opened several satellite counseling clinics to reach students where they already spend time, stationing one above a local Starbucks and embedding others in the athletic department and graduate student center. Ohio State University added a dozen mental health clinicians during the 2016-17 academic year and has also launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to make an appointment, access breathing exercises, listen to a playlist designed to cheer them up, and contact the clinic in case of an emergency. Pennsylvania State University allocated roughly $700,000 in additional funding for counseling and psychological services in 2017, citing a “dramatic increase” in the demand for care over the past 10 years. And student government leaders at several schools have enacted new student fees that direct more funding to counseling centers.

But most counseling centers are working with limited resources. The average university has one professional counselor for every 1,737 students — fewer than the minimum of one therapist for every 1,000 to 1,500 students recommended by the International Association of Counseling Services. Some counselors say they are experiencing “battle fatigue” and are overwhelmed by the increase in students asking for help. “It’s a very different job than it was 10 years ago,” says Lisa Adams Somerlot, president of the American College Counseling Association and director of counseling at the University of West Georgia.

As colleges try to meet the growing demand, some students are slipping through the cracks due to long waits for treatment and a lasting stigma associated with mental health issues. Even if students ask for and receive help, not all cases can be treated on campus. Many private-sector treatment programs are stepping in to fill that gap, at least for families who can afford steep fees that may rise above $10,000 and may not be covered by health insurance. But especially in rural areas, where options for off-campus care are limited, universities are feeling pressure to do more.

‘I needed something the university wasn’t offering’

At the start of every school year, Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CUCARD), says she’s inundated with texts and phone calls from students who struggle with the transition to college life. “Elementary and high school is so much about right or wrong,” she says. “You get the right answer or you don’t, and there’s lots of rules and lots of structure. Now that [life is] more free-floating, there’s anxiety.”

That’s perhaps why, for many students, mental health issues creep up for the first time when they start college. (The average age of onset for many mental health issues, including depression and bipolar disorder, is the early 20s.)

Dana Hashmonay was a freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York in 2014 when she began having anxiety attacks before every class and crew practice, focusing on uncertainties about the future and comparing herself to seemingly well-adjusted classmates. “At that point, I didn’t even know I had anxiety. I didn’t have a name for it. It was just me freaking out about everything, big or small,” she says. When she tried to make an appointment with the counseling center, she was put on a two-week waitlist. When she finally met with a therapist, she wasn’t able to set up a consistent weekly appointment because the center was overbooked. “I felt like they were more concerned with, ‘Let’s get you better and out of here,’” she says, “instead of listening to me. It wasn’t what I was looking for at all.”

During her freshman year, Hashmonay sought out help on campus after she started having anxiety attacks before her classes and crew practices.
During her freshman year, Hashmonay sought out help on campus after she started having anxiety attacks before her classes and crew practices.
Eva O’Leary for TIME

Instead, she started meeting weekly with an off-campus therapist, who her parents helped find and pay for. She later took a leave of absence midway through her sophomore year to get additional help. Hashmonay thinks the university could have done more, but she notes that the school seemed to be facing a lack of resources as more students sought help. “I think I needed something that the university just wasn’t offering,” she says.

A spokesperson for Rensselaer says the university’s counseling center launched a triage model last year in an effort to eliminate long wait times caused by rising demand, assigning a clinician to provide same-day care to students presenting signs of distress and coordinate appropriate follow-up treatment based on the student’s needs.

Some students delay seeing a counselor because they question whether their situation is serious enough to warrant it. Emmanuel Mennesson says he was initially too proud to get help when he started to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression after arriving at McGill University in Montreal in 2013 with plans to study engineering. He became overwhelmed by the workload and felt lost in classes where he was one student out of hundreds, and began ignoring assignments and skipping classes. “I was totally ashamed of what happened. I didn’t want to let my parents down, so I retreated inward,” he says. During his second semester, he didn’t attend a single class, and he withdrew from school that April.

For many students, mental health struggles predated college, but are exacerbated by the pressures of college life. Albano says some of her patients assume their problems were specific to high school. Optimistic that they can leave their issues behind, they stop seeing a therapist or taking antidepressants. “They think that this high school was too big or too competitive and college is going to be different,” Albano says. But that’s often not the case. “If anxiety was there,” she says, “nothing changes with a high school diploma.”

Counselors point out that college students tend to have better access to mental health care than the average adult because counseling centers are close to where they live, and appointments are available at little to no cost. But without enough funding to meet the rising demand, many students are still left without the treatment they need, says Ben Locke, Penn State’s counseling director and head of the Center for Collegiate Mental Health.

The center’s 2016 report found that, on average, universities have increased resources devoted to rapid-access services — including walk-in appointments and crisis treatment for students demonstrating signs of distress — since 2010 in response to rising demand from students. But long-term treatment services, including recurring appointments and specialized counseling, decreased on average during that time period.

“That means that students will be able to get that first appointment when they’re in high distress, but they may not be able to get ongoing treatment after the fact,” Locke says. “And that is a problem.”

‘We’re busier than we’ve ever been’

In response to a growing demand for mental health help, some colleges have allocated more money for counseling programs and are experimenting with new ways of monitoring and treating students. More than 40% of college counseling centers hired more staff members during the 2015-16 school year, according to the most recent annual survey by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

“A lot of schools charge $68,000 a year,” says Dori Hutchinson, director of services at Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, referring to the cost of tuition and room and board at some of the most expensive private schools in the country. “We should be able to figure out how to attend to their whole personhood for that kind of money.”

At the University of Iowa, Counseling Director Barry Schreier increased his staff by nearly 50% during the 2017-18 academic year. Still, he says, even with the increase in counseling service offerings, they can’t keep up with the number of students coming in for help. There is typically a weeklong wait for appointments, which can reach two weeks by mid-semester. “We just added seven full-time staff and we’re busier than we’ve ever been. We’re seeing more students,” Schreier says. “But is there less wait for service? No.”

The university has embedded two counselors in dorms since 2016 and is considering adding more after freshmen said it was a helpful service they would not have sought out on their own. Schreier also added six questions about mental health to a freshman survey that the university sends out several weeks into the fall semester. The counseling center follows up with students who might need help based on their responses to questions about how they’d rate their stress level, whether they’ve previously struggled with mental health symptoms that negatively impacted their academics, and whether they’ve ever had symptoms of depression or anxiety. He says early intervention is a priority because mental health is the number one reason why students take formal leave from the university.

As colleges scramble to meet this demand, off-campus clinics are developing innovative, if expensive, treatment programs that offer a personalized support system and teach students to prioritize mental wellbeing in high-pressure academic settings. Dozens of programs now specialize in preparing high school students for college and college students for adulthood, pairing mental health treatment with life skills classes — offering a hint at the treatments that could be used on campus in the future.

When Spigner took a medical leave from the University of Richmond, she enrolled in College Re-Entry, a 14-week program in New York that costs $10,000 and aims to provide a bridge back to college for students who have withdrawn due to mental health issues. She learned note-taking and time management skills in between classes on healthy cooking and fitness, as well as sessions of yoga and meditation.

Mennesson, the former McGill engineering student, is now studying at Westchester Community College in New York with the goal of becoming a math teacher. During his leave from school, he enrolled in a program called Onward Transitions in Portland, Maine that promises to “get 18- to 20-somethings unstuck and living independently” at a cost of over $20,000 for three months, where he learned to manage his anxiety and depression.

Another treatment model can be found at CUCARD in Manhattan, where patients in their teens and early 20s can slip on a virtual reality headset and come face-to-face with a variety of anxiety-inducing simulations — from a professor unwilling to budge on a deadline to a roommate who has littered their dorm room with stacks of empty pizza boxes and piles of dirty clothes. Virtual reality takes the common treatment of exposure therapy a step further by allowing patients to interact with realistic situations and overcome their anxiety. The center charges $150 per group-therapy session for students who enroll in the four-to-six-week college readiness program but hopes to make the virtual reality simulations available in campus counseling centers or on students’ cell phones in the future.

This virtual reality program — developed by Headset Health in partnership with the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders — allows students to confront their anxiety in a simulated college scenario.
This virtual reality program — developed by Headset Health in partnership with the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders — allows students to confront their anxiety in a simulated college scenario.
Courtesy The Headset Health

 

Hashmonay, who has used the virtual reality software at the center, says the scenarios can be challenging to confront, “but the minute it’s over, it’s like, ‘Wow, OK, I can handle this.’ She still goes weekly to therapy at CUCARD, and she briefly enrolled in a Spanish course at Montclair State University in New Jersey in January. But she withdrew after a few classes, deciding to get a job and focus on her health instead of forcing a return to school before she is ready. “I’m trying to live life right now and see where it takes me,” she says.

Back at the University of Richmond for her senior year, Spigner says the attitude toward mental health on campus seems to have changed dramatically since she was a freshman. Back then, she knew no one else in therapy, but most of her friends now regularly visit the counseling center, which has boosted outreach efforts, started offering group therapy and mindfulness sessions, and moved into a more private space. “It’s not weird to hear someone say, ‘I’m going to a counseling appointment,’ anymore,” she says.

She attended an open mic event on Richmond’s campus earlier this semester, where students publicly shared stories and advice about their struggles with mental health. Spigner, who meets weekly with a counselor on campus, has become a resource to many of her friends because she openly discusses her own mental health, encouraging others not to be ashamed to get help.

“I’m kind of the go-to now for it, to be honest,” she says. “They’ll ask me, ‘Do you think I should go see counseling?’” Her answer is always yes.

By Katie Reilly

http://time.com/5190291/anxiety-depression-college-university-students/

Recovery and St. Patrick’s Day

Most often, when people in recovery from alcohol and drug dependence think about getting through the Holidays and staying sober, they think about Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. These Holidays are sometimes referred to as the Bermuda Triangle of relapse. March 17th is often forgotten in the mix of holidays, despite its association with pubs, drinking, and parades. The hazards of relapse are all there for the individual who has years of ingrained patterns of using when celebrating this occasion.

These triggers are similar to those associated with the other holidays. Memories of music, the smells of traditional foods, and even the color green can all trigger the positive memories from the past, while the blinders of denial shield the mind from the negative consequences experienced in years gone by. As with other holidays, liquor may appear in places one was not expecting. Proprietors and friends may offer a red solo cup of beer, or a shot of Irish whiskey for your coffee, in a local business. Caught off guard, in a moment of awkwardness, one may be inclined to accept that “wee drop” while others, who can drink without impunity, are enjoying their beverages all around.

The plan, and the principles applied, is the same as any other plan for early recovery. First, avoid people, places, and things associated with past drinking/using rituals. Remember, this is not a life sentence. Many people in recovery enjoy going to parties and other places where liquor are served, but only after they have developed a firm foundation in recovery! The time this may take varies, but most people in recovery will advise that anyone with less than a year sobriety should avoid being around parties and alcohol like they would the plague. If you have to ask yourself if being around alcohol is a good idea, it probably isn’t.

Next, plan your day. Begin by getting your head on straight. An early morning AA/NA meeting is an excellent start. If one is spiritually inclined, one can follow the true Irish tradition of attending mass on Saint Patrick’s. If one is going to party, party with people that are in recovery also. After work one could attend a meeting when everyone else is off to the pub. In Ireland, Saint Patrick’s Day is traditionally celebrated by attending mass, and then spending the holiday with family and a traditional Irish meal (which is not corned beef and cabbage, by the way). This could be Shepherd’s Pie or salmon served with mashed potatoes. And of course you can’t leave out the Irish Soda Bread, which is a simple to make recipe and delicious served warm with butter.

The key for a successful life in recovery is to replace old drinking/drugging rituals with new rituals, preferably shared with a non-using social support network. So don’t be gloomy on this special holiday dwelling on the old days. Begin a new life centered on new enjoyable activities with clean and sober friends and many years ahead of memorable Saint Patrick’s Days!

By Thomas Finnerty, MHS, LCADC, HS-BCP

Experiencing A Psychotic Break Doesn’t Mean You’re Broken

Each year, about 100,000 youth and young adults experience psychosis for the first time. They might see or hear things that aren’t there. They may believe things that aren’t true. It’s like “having a nightmare while you’re awake,” describes Elyn Saks, a legal scholar and mental health-policy advocate.

Unfortunately, when someone starts having these frightening experiences, doctors and medical professionals often tell them that their life won’t ever be the same. That they may never get better. That the best-case scenario is a sub-par existence where every goal they have is limited by their mental state.

Saks, for example, was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman after multiple visits to a psychiatric hospital. “My doctors gave me a prognosis of ‘grave.’ That is, at best, I was expected to live in a boarding house and work at menial jobs.”

This narrative is not only exaggerated, but it’s also inaccurate. It’s akin to telling someone who recently went into diabetic shock that their life is pretty much over. Having diabetes does require proper treatment and lifestyle adjustments. It isn’t an easy health condition—nor is any illness—but you can still live a productive life. The same goes for psychosis and the mental health conditions it accompanies.

Understanding Recovery

There are two categories of recovery for mental health conditions that involve psychosis: clinical recovery, which refers to decreasing/eliminating symptoms and the time spent in the hospital, and personal recovery, which is “a unique process rather an end point with key recovery themes including hope, rebuilding self and rebuilding life.” This form of recovery involves personal goals and values that make life fulfilling.

Personal recovery has received more attention in recent research to help combat the myth that you can’t lead a good, fulfilling life with psychosis. Even if a person hasn’t achieved a complete clinical recovery (yet), they can still work towards personal recovery. According to a 2017 study, “We should make efforts to scientifically characterize the conceptual framework of personal recovery, so that users, family members, caregivers, and professionals can understand and contribute to the users’ personal recovery and subjective well-being.”

Clinical recovery takes time. And during that time, life shouldn’t be on hold. While a person is in treatment, they can still work towards theirs goals and do things that make them feel fulfilled. That way, once they leave a treatment program or a hospital visit, they have a foundation to continue building the life they want.

Setting Goals Leads To Better Outcomes

Clinical recovery and personal recovery work together and complement each other. According to NIMH’s research project, Recovery After Initial Schizophrenia Episode, it is essential for people experiencing psychosis to have personal goals that drive their treatment. For example, getting a degree for the career they want or getting involved with a specific cause. Working towards clinical recovery is incredibly hard, and having aspirations for the future helps individuals stay motivated and engaged in their recovery process.

This is why giving someone a “grave prognosis” can be harmful and counter-intuitive: Because people experiencing psychosis have better outcomes when they are focused on achieving future aspirations. That’s hard to do when you’re feeling hopeless about your future.

“Fortunately, I did not actually enact that grave prognosis” states Saks, who refused to accept that the psychosis associated with schizophrenia would define her life. “Instead, I’m a chair professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at the USC Gold School of Law; I have many close friends; and I have a beloved husband.” Saks isn’t an exception to the rule. In fact, many medical experts today believe there is potential for all individuals to recover from psychosis, to some extent.

Experiencing psychosis may feel like a nightmare, but being told your life is over after having your first episode is just as scary. Both personal recovery and clinical recovery are possible—that’s the message we should be spreading to the thousands of young people experiencing episodes of psychosis.

By Laura Greenstein

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/Experiencing-a-Psychotic-Break-Doesn-t-Mean-You-re

6 Ways You Can Help A Loved One On Their Healing Journey

Take a moment to consider all the people in your life: your coworkers, friends, family. At any given time, 1 in 5 of these individuals is living with a mental health condition. You may have noticed them struggling, but if you’re not a trained mental health professional, you may not have known how to help.

However, you can help. You can be supportive and encouraging during their mental health journey. Here are a few tips on supporting the mental health of those you love.

1) Educate Yourself

There are hundreds of mental health concerns; your job is not to become an expert in all of them. When you do notice potentially troublesome symptoms, it’s helpful to determine if those signs may indicate a mental illness. Familiarizing yourself with common symptoms can help you understand and convey your worries. You may also benefit from expanding your knowledge by taking a course or joining a support group of individuals who can relate to the hardships you and your loved one may be facing.

2) Remain Calm

Recognizing that a loved one might need help can be daunting, but try to remain calm—impulsively approaching the individual might make you seem insensitive or aggressive. Try to be mindful and patient. Take time to consider your loved one’s symptoms and your relationship before acting. Writing down how you feel and what you want to say may be useful to help you recognize and understand your thoughts and feelings, and help you slow down while connecting to your good intentions.

3) Be Respectful And Patient

Before talking to someone about their mental health, reflect on your intention to promote healing and keep that in mind. Ask how you can help in their recovery process and be cautious not to come off as controlling. While encouraging a person to seek help is okay, it is not appropriate to demand it of them. Let them know that if they ever wish to talk in the future, you’re available.

4) Listen

Give your loved one the gift of having someone who cares about their unique experience. Don’t bypass their narrative by making connections to others’ experiences. You might recognize a connection to your own experience, however, sharing your story prematurely may undermine their experience. You may be prepared with hotlines, books, or a list of community providers, and although these are excellent sources of support, it’s important to take time to thoroughly listen before giving advice. It’s a privilege to have someone share intimate details of their mental health. Be present and listen before moving forward.

5) Provide Support

One of the best ways to help is to simply ask how. It’s not helpful to try to be someone’s therapist, but you can still help. People don’t like being told what to do—asking how you can help empowers them to take charge of their recovery, while also letting them know you are a source of support.

6) Establish Boundaries

As you support your struggling loved one, it’s important to consider both your boundaries and theirs. When trying to help, you are susceptible to neglecting yourself in the process; boundaries will help you maintain your self-care, while also empowering your loved one. Be sure you’re not working harder than they are at their own healing process.

As a caring person, you may grapple between wanting to encourage and support your loved one while wanting to honor their process and independence. Unfortunately, there are no foolproof guidelines for helping your loved one on their journey towards recovery. However, you can connect to your intentions, convey compassion and maintain your own self-care while empowering your loved one regardless of where they are in their healing journey.

By Shainna Ali

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/6-Ways-You-Can-Help-a-Loved-One-on-Their-Healing-J

The Messy Truth About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

I hear comments all the time:

“My place is so perfect. I’m so OCD.”
“No, it has to be neat and clean. I’m so OCD.”
“You should see how I organized my Star Wars collection. I’m so OCD.”

I was born with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I struggled throughout my childhood, through multiple high schools and left college after just one semester—consumed by my obsessive thoughts. I barely made it through my twenties. In my early thirties, I hit rock bottom. I was bedridden in my parent’s guest bedroom, paralyzed by OCD.

One year included three psychiatric hospitals; intensive outpatient therapy; two months at the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital in Boston; being kicked out of said OCD Institute; and living on the streets of Boston in the middle of winter with little money, no transportation, no job and severe OCD and separation anxiety.

It took hitting rock bottom to get the help I needed. After eight scary therapeutic months, I was “reborn” and moved to Los Angeles a healthy, happy and thriving member of society. I finally understand the point of the therapy my loved ones had desperately been trying to get me into.

Why do most people believe the myth that OCD is just about a hyper-organized desk or color-coordinated closet? The reality is that most of the 3 million people with OCD in this country struggle just to function on a daily basis. They’re not bragging about the “benefits” of OCD.

Well, Hollywood’s general portrayal and perspective of OCD is limited. Movies and TV present OCD as quirky or fun. Characters often use their symptoms to their advantage, almost like a skill or superpower. Hollywood has created the belief that OCD is just double-checking, hand washing or a strong dislike of germs. Hollywood and the media rarely address the reality of this serious condition—it simply seems funny to watch, and not too difficult to live with. So, many individuals with OCD continue to struggle in silence, afraid to seek help.

OCD typically looks nothing like what you see on television. I didn’t wash my hands; I didn’t check, organize or clean; I wasn’t afraid of germs. My OCD was based in my fear of losing control. OCD is complicated like that; it preys on your unique fears and anxieties that have no basis in reality. For some people that’s germs, for others (like me) it’s extremely taboo topics, like self-harm.

To you, these fears and anxieties seem irrational and easy to brush aside, but the actual experience of having OCD is losing that rational perspective. Your brain can’t shrug off these fears. It’s a constant battle between uncertainty and truth inside your brain. That’s why the disorder is a far cry from: “I love when my kitchen is put away perfectly. I’m a little OCD.”

 

Ethan S. Smith currently lives in the Los Angeles area working as a successful writer/director/producer/author and OCD Advocate. Ethan was born with OCD and struggled most of his life until receiving life-changing treatment in 2010. Ethan was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual OCD conference in Los Angeles and is the current International OCD Foundation’s National Ambassador.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/The-Messy-Truth-About-Obsessive-Compulsive-Disorde

Understanding Self-Harm

Self-harm is difficult to understand because it goes against the natural human instinct of self-preservation. Maybe that’s why some people react to it in a negative, judgmental way. They can’t imagine ever being in a state of mind where they would hurt themselves, so they can’t understand why anyone else would.

This lack of understanding can lead to insensitivity and stigma towards people who are often already struggling with serious emotional turmoil. Self-harm is usually a sign that a person is having a tough time coping with their emotions. It’s frequently “used” as a coping mechanism for unmanageable mental health symptoms, although the experts don’t completely understand why some might self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, while others self-harm.

Several mental health conditions are associated with self-harming behaviors, including borderline personality disorder, depression, eating disorders, anxiety or posttraumatic distress disorder. People experiencing these conditions might self-harm for one or more of the following reasons:

  • To help manage unbearable emotions and symptoms
  • To help regain a sense of feeling (for those experiencing numbness)
  • To help relieve stress and pressure
  • To help feel in control
  • To reenact a trauma in an attempt to resolve it
  • To protect others from emotional pain

Any person can self-harm, but the largest percentage of people who engage in these type behaviors are teenagers (17.2%) and young adults (13.4%). According to psychologist Dr. Jennifer Muehlenkamp, “Those are the key ages because youth are experiencing multiple changes at the same time. They’re becoming more independent and transitions such as from junior high into high school or to college creates a lot of change. There’s a lot of new stress and pressures.”

What Should I Do?

Self-harm seems to provide some level of relief from emotional pain, and can become addictive. Like alcohol and other drugs, self-harm is a behavior that a person might feel they need increasingly more of to feel the same effect. It could also lead to other self-destructive coping mechanisms. So, if you or someone you know self-harms, here are a few first steps you can take to change this behavior.

Seek Treatment

Self-harm is a serious mental health symptom that requires evaluation and treatment. If you are having difficulty coping with intense emotions without the use of self-harm, consider talking with a mental health professional about one of the following treatment methods:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on recognizing negative thought patterns and increasing coping skills.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) helps a person learn positive coping methods.
  • Psychodynamic therapy identifies how negative behaviors have been caused or influenced by past experiences and unresolved feelings.

Practice Positive Coping Mechanisms

It’s helpful to understand what triggers you (or your loved one) to self-harm. That way, you can implement healthy coping mechanisms to manage those triggers. Some examples are:

  • Direct the urge at something else – Use a punching bag, scream into a pillow or rip up a magazine
  • Self-soothe – Take deep breaths, take a bath or try meditation
  • Express yourself – Write how you feel or write creatively
  • Create something – Paint, draw or craft
  • Focus on music – Listen to your favorite song or play an instrument
  • Exercise – Run, dance or just go for a walk
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs – Substances can lower your self-control and increase risk of self-injury

Self-harm is a challenging mental health symptom to overcome—and lack of understanding only makes it that much more difficult to work through. When it comes to serious mental health symptoms like self-harm, we need to show others and ourselves compassion rather than judgement. There is no shame in needing support and help.