Helping Others To Feel Heard Matters

By Quinn Anderson

 

Few opportunities in life allow one to feel as if you’ve made a meaningful difference in another’s life. For me, serving as a NAMI HelpLine volunteer is one of them—and this is why I do it.

With an eye to return to school for clinical social work, last year I sought out volunteer opportunities that would allow me to work with people in the mental health community. I learned of NAMI by sheer coincidence, when a friend introduced me to a fellow volunteer. I had never heard of NAMI, and although she spoke enthusiastically of her experience, the idea of manning a phone line to provide “information and resource referral” seemed less than the intimate, learning experience I was seeking.

I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Not a shift ends that I don’t sit back, reflect and thank my lucky stars for having had the chance to help someone that day; to share their frustrations and fears; to ease their pain; to point them toward hope, even if it’s just a little. As a NAMI HelpLine volunteer, I will often be the only voice of hope in the mental health resource chain who treats a caller with kindness, patience and respect.

On the NAMI HelpLine, we act as a compass to begin navigating a complex system of mental health resources—a process that moments before most likely seemed unnavigable and hopeless for the caller. And the calls are endless. You think an hour will go by and the phone lines might be slow, but they never are. There is always a need somewhere. And the needs are as personal as each human. Each call requires intense empathy, compassion, focus, patience and creative problem-solving, within a moment’s grasp. What we do is personal, and I love it.

We live in a world where listening is a dying art. Our callers need to be heard, not merely “listened to.” They need to know their situation matters. Often when I ask a caller, “How can I help you today?” I hear, “I don’t know if you can,” because prior attempts for help have been met with a lack of compassion and/or respect. Often, our callers have complex circumstances and the stakes are very high.

As a NAMI HelpLine volunteer, at the very least I need to listen and be kind; to let callers know I’m not going anywhere, and I’m going to do my very best to figure things out with them. I genuinely care to go the extra mile, by making sure the caller is okay and that they feel they’ve been heard before I say goodbye.

Almost every call closes with the caller sharing, “I can’t thank you enough. Before I called you, I didn’t know where to start. You’ve helped me so much.” I cannot fully describe how good it feels to be able to speak with a caller—who at the beginning of a call feels helpless and lost—and help empower them with a sense of dignity, calm and hope by the end of the call.

Each volunteer comes to the NAMI HelpLine with “lived” experience. Either we live with, care for, or have cared for a loved one with a mental health condition. We know personally the challenges, heart ache, devastation, helplessness and hopelessness. We are both compassionate and passionate about helping others who call us and are seeking help, because we’ve been there.

I have lived with clinical depression most of my life, and more recently, with anxiety and panic attacks. I understand all too well the loss of vitality, the desperation, the fear, the self-imposed shame and isolation,  the fatigue of living each day bearing the weight of “okay-ness,” the frustration of losing weeks, months and even years to mental illness.

Worse, I know the frustration of working with psychiatrists who seemed to be little more than “dispensaries,” and what it is like to live with the denial that I didn’t need medication (only to finally give in and accept that I couldn’t live well without it). I know the impatience one experiences while waiting for a new medication to kick-in and what it’s like living through the side-effects. I know the desperation when a medication doesn’t work, and the ultimate relief when one finally does work. I know the incredible fortune of having the resources and resilience to find those gifted practitioners who were empathetic, caring healers who worked patiently with me to help me live a fulfilling life in every way. All of this has made me a more empathetic HelpLine volunteer. I field similar concerns every shift. And I am willing to share my story if it helps to alleviate fears.

Prior to my affiliation with NAMI, I had no knowledge of the many resources, both public and private, available to our callers. After almost a year on the NAMI HelpLine, it still amazes me how many resources there are, yet how little is known to most people. I wish I had learned many years ago of some that I now share with callers. It would have made my journey that much more bearable, or at the very least, to know that I wasn’t alone. And that I was heard.

 

Quinn Anderson is a NAMI Helpline Volunteer.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2018-/Helping-Others-to-Feel-Heard-Matters

The Life Vest of Support

By Kate Mallow

 

One of the worst feelings in the world is feeling like you’re all alone. Feeling like nobody could possibly understand what you’re going through or identify with the deep, drowning pain you feel. Throughout my life and journey with mental illness, I’ve felt this way more times than I’d like to admit. With help from my mom, friends, therapy, medication and working in the mental health field, I’ve always managed to come out of those dark moments and even help others who’ve felt the same.

When my father died by suicide last year, I was thrown into a new kind of deep pain. I had helped countless others over the years who had experienced suicidal ideation or lost loved ones to suicide, but actually going through it myself left me feeling confused and unsupported. I’ve heard that mental illness is “not a greeting card illness,” and I think that rings true for suicide survivors as well. There is no card in existence offering condolences to family members who lose someone to suicide.

Fortunately, at the time of my father’s death, I was working for NAMI and my coworkers and supervisors throughout the organization offered empathy and compassion. I imagine others don’t experience such understanding at other organizations that aren’t so well-informed about mental health and suicide. Still, I found myself unsure of who to go to for support. I felt awkward, as if people weren’t sure what to say to me or what kind of condolence to offer. Again, mental illness isn’t seen as a “greeting card” or “casserole” illness; although, a well-meaning neighbor did leave a shrimp platter on my mother’s doorstep.

While I have been immersed in the mental health field—both personally and professionally—for over ten years, my mom had never seen a mental health professional or spoken openly about mental health before my father’s suicide. Almost immediately after he passed, we both began to research support groups and ways to connect with others who had gone through a similar experience. My mom found a support group for survivors of suicide, and through it, met other women who had unexpectedly lost their long-term partners to suicide. At a time when she was feeling most alone, she found peers who could relate to her story and throw her a life vest when she felt like she was drowning in an ocean of isolation.

For me, the most powerful support came from a friend and former NAMI HelpLine volunteer who had also recently lost a parent to suicide. Knowing that there was someone who could relate to my experience, and not judge me for my messy tangle of confusing feelings, made all the difference in the world. That’s the power of peer support. Talking to mental health professionals and receiving various treatments can be an important piece to one’s recovery journey, but there is a special power in talking to others who have been in and through similar situations.

Now I work for an organization that highlights the importance of peer support as a key piece to mental health recovery. At 7 Cups, I work with thousands of volunteers all over the world who both give and receive peer support for their mental health. It shouldn’t be difficult to access and connect with someone who can relate to your struggle. That’s what my friend did for me, and that’s what I hope to be able to do for others who have mental health conditions or lost loved ones to suicide. All it takes is one person to say “I get it” to know that you are not alone.

 

Kate Mallow works with 7 Cups as their Group Support and Teen Community Manager where she combines her passions for mental health and working with volunteers. She has experience working as a crisis counselor with suicide prevention hotlines and has worked with national mental health organizations such as NAMI. 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2018-/The-Life-Vest-of-Support

How Easy It Is To Neglect Your Mental Health

By Trevor McDonald

We all know what taking care of our physical health looks like: eating right, exercising regularly and getting plenty of sleep. But do you know how to take care of your mental health? Neglecting your mental health can be easy, especially since it’s not something we are always taught or reminded to prioritize. However, taking a step back and examining your mental health is key to a happy and healthy life.

If you think you might be neglecting your mental health, here are a few reasons why—and what to do about it.

You’re Too Busy

It’s all too common to put your mental health on the backburner. Between family responsibilities, work obligations, and social situations, it’s no wonder why very few of us actually find time in the day to take care of our mental health. But in the end, if taking care of your mental health is a priority, as it should be, you will find the time.

You can take small breaks throughout the day to do what makes you feel good. Have a standing appointment with your therapist on the calendar. Turn off your phone for a little while. Hit the gym. Or pour yourself a warm bath with a cup of tea. No matter what your version of self-care looks like, make sure to do it routinely.

It’s Taboo To Talk About Your Feelings

So many of us, especially men, are taught to not talk about our feelings. From a very young age, we’re told to “just suck it up” and that showing any kind of emotion is weak. But this is an extremely detrimental thought, both to our relationships and our mental health. Emotions are a key aspect of connection and connection is a key aspect of mental health.

To fight this common misconception, start having more conversations about mental health. Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions are not a choice, but rather a state of being. If you live with mental illness (or not), you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about your feelings and experiences.

You’re Not Sure Who To Talk To

Should you talk to a friend about how you’re feeling? A family member? A professional therapist? All of these are good options, depending on your needs. For example, if you think you have a mental illness, it’s best to consult a mental health professional.

If your mind is full of thoughts that keep spinning around and around, talking it out and discussing your fears, anxieties, ambitions and goals, can help you to slow down your thoughts. With the help of your confidant, you can tackle them in a practical way.

You Can’t Afford To Care

Maybe you’re one of the many people who wants professional counseling but can’t afford it. Mental health care can be expensive. However, you should know there are options.

If you have health insurance, there are many mental health professionals who offer counseling at a discounted rate depending on your financial need. This is referred to as “sliding scale” and you can inquire with the provider what the adjusted rate would be. If you don’t have insurance, you can start by reaching out to your local social services agency by dialing 211. If you’re a student, you can talk to someone at your school’s student health center.

There are also options to talk to others about your mental health beyond professional counseling. You can join a free support group or call a warmline: a phone line where trained volunteers offer support.

There are many reasons why we continue to neglect our mental health, but what really matters is how to end that behavior. Take a second to check in with yourself and if you feel like you are neglecting your mental health, develop an action plan to change that!

Trevor is a freelance writer and recovering addict & alcoholic who has been clean and sober for over five years. He is currently an Outreach Coordinator for Sober Nation. Since his recovery began, he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources, addiction awareness, and general health knowledge. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2018/How-Easy-it-is-to-Neglect-Your-Mental-Health

How not to say the wrong thing

By: Susan Silk and Barry Goldman

 

When Susan had breast cancer, we heard a lot of lame remarks, but our favorite came from one of Susan’s colleagues. She wanted, she needed, to visit Susan after the surgery, but Susan didn’t feel like having visitors, and she said so. Her colleague’s response? “This isn’t just about you.”

“It’s not?” Susan wondered. “My breast cancer is not about me? It’s about you?”

The same theme came up again when our friend Katie had a brain aneurysm. She was in intensive care for a long time and finally got out and into a step-down unit. She was no longer covered with tubes and lines and monitors, but she was still in rough shape. A friend came and saw her and then stepped into the hall with Katie’s husband, Pat. “I wasn’t prepared for this,” she told him. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

This woman loves Katie, and she said what she did because the sight of Katie in this condition moved her so deeply. But it was the wrong thing to say. And it was wrong in the same way Susan’s colleague’s remark was wrong.

Susan has since developed a simple technique to help people avoid this mistake. It works for all kinds of crises: medical, legal, financial, romantic, even existential. She calls it the Ring Theory.

Draw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma. For Katie’s aneurysm, that’s Katie. Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma. In the case of Katie’s aneurysm, that was Katie’s husband, Pat. Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones. When you are done you have a Kvetching Order. One of Susan’s patients found it useful to tape it to her refrigerator.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it. Don’t, for example, give advice. People who are suffering from trauma don’t need advice. They need comfort and support. So say, “I’m sorry” or “This must really be hard for you” or “Can I bring you a pot roast?” Don’t say, “You should hear what happened to me” or “Here’s what I would do if I were you.” And don’t say, “This is really bringing me down.”

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

There was nothing wrong with Katie’s friend saying she was not prepared for how horrible Katie looked, or even that she didn’t think she could handle it. The mistake was that she said those things to Pat. She dumped IN.

Complaining to someone in a smaller ring than yours doesn’t do either of you any good. On the other hand, being supportive to her principal caregiver may be the best thing you can do for the patient.

Most of us know this. Almost nobody would complain to the patient about how rotten she looks. Almost no one would say that looking at her makes them think of the fragility of life and their own closeness to death. In other words, we know enough not to dump into the center ring. Ring Theory merely expands that intuition and makes it more concrete: Don’t just avoid dumping into the center ring, avoid dumping into any ring smaller than your own.

Remember, you can say whatever you want if you just wait until you’re talking to someone in a larger ring than yours.

And don’t worry. You’ll get your turn in the center ring. You can count on that.

Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist. Barry Goldman is an arbitrator and mediator and the author of “The Science of Settlement: Ideas for Negotiators.”

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

What Really Happens in a Therapy Session

When you take your car to the car mechanic, you know what’s going to happen: Your car will get repaired.

When you break a bone and visit your doctor, you know what’s going to happen: Your bone will be set in a splint or cast and eventually heal.

But when you make an appointment to see a therapist, do you know what’s going to happen? Many people aren’t quite certain. Will you just talk? Will you have to discuss your childhood? Will you be “hypnotized?” And what’s the “point” of seeing a therapist, anyway? Why not just talk to a friend?

There is a great deal of uncertainty in our society about what actually happens during a therapy session, what types of issues and problems are suitable for therapy, and what benefits a therapy session can provide. I’d like to address a few typical questions—and misconceptions—about what therapy is, what it isn’t, and how it really works.

Q: Do I have to be “sick” or “disturbed” to go see a therapist?
A: No. Thinking that one has to be “seriously disturbed” in order to see a therapist is a myth.

While some therapists do specialize in severe emotional disturbances—including schizophrenia or suicidal thoughts—many focus on simply helping clients work through far more typical, everyday challenges like mapping out a career change, improving parenting skills, strengthening stressmanagement skills, or navigating a divorce. Just as some physicians specialize in curing life-threatening illnesses, while others treat “everyday” illnesses like flus, coughs, and colds, psychotherapists can serve a wide range of clients with a range of needs and goals, too.

In fact, most of my clients are successful, high-achieving people who are quite healthy, overall. Most are challenged by a specific, personal goal—like losing weight, creating more work-life balance, finding ways to parent more effectively, or feeling anxious about dating again after a rough break up.

Q: How can I choose the right therapist for my goal/situation?
A: Choosing a therapist is like choosing any other service provider—it’s a good idea to visit the practitioner’s website, and read client testimonials or reviews (if they have any—many do not, for confidentiality reasons). It’s also good to ask friends and family members, or your physician, for referrals (and of course, check to see who is covered in your health insurance network).

If you are hoping to work on a specific issue—overeating, smoking, making a career change—try to find a therapist with expertise in that area. Many list their specialties or areas of focus on their websites. There are therapists who specialize in relationship issues, parenting issues, anger management, weight issues, or sexuality—pretty much any issue, goal, or situation you can imagine. If you’re not sure about someone’s expertise, just call them and ask. If they can’t be of assistance with your issue, they may be able to refer you to someone who can.

Q: What actually happens during a therapy session?
A: Each session is, essentially, a problem-solving session. You describe your current situation, and your feelings about it, and then the therapist uses their expertise to assist you in trying to resolve that problem so you can move closer to having the life you wish to have.

At the beginning of a session, the therapist typically invites you to share what’s been going on in your life, what’s on your mind, what’s bothering you, or whether there are any goals you’d like to discuss. You’ll be invited to speak openly. The therapist will listen and may take notes as you speak; some, like myself, take notes after a session. You won’t be criticized, interrupted or judged as you speak. Your conversation will be kept in the strictest confidentiality. This is a special, unique type of conversation in which you can say exactly what you feel—total honesty—without worrying that you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings, damage a relationship, or be penalized in any way. Anything you want—or need—to say is OK.

Some therapists (like myself) may give clients some homework to complete after a session. That homework might be to set up an online dating profile and reach out for a first date, or to exercise three times a week. It may be to spend some time each day pounding a pillow to safely release pent-up emotions, make a nightly journal entry, or any number of “steps” and “challenges” relevant to your goals. During your next session, you might share your progress and address any areas where you got frustrated, stuck, or off-track.

Of course, every therapist is different, every client is unique, and every therapist-client relationship is distinct as well—which means that there is nouniversal description of a therapy session. Some therapists employ dream interpretation in their work. Others bring music or art therapy into their work. Others incorporate hypnotherapy, life coachingmeditationvisualization, or role-playing exercises to “rehearse” challenging conversations. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, regardless of their approach, a therapist will listen without judgment and help clients try to find solutions to the challenges they face.

Q: Will I have to talk about my childhood?
A: Not necessarily. Many people think that visiting a therapist means digging up old skeletons from your childhood, or talking about how awful your mother was, etc. That is a myth. What you talk about during a therapy session will largely depend on your unique situation and goals. And depending on your goals, you may not actually talk about your past that much. The focus of your therapy is as likely to be your present-day reality and the future that you wish to create.

That being said, if you REALLY do NOT want to discuss your childhood, the intensity of your desire NOT to talk about it might suggest that you should! When people have strong negative emotions—about their childhood or any other topic—it’s typically worth doing some excavating to figure out why that is. Whatever is causing them to feel such strong emotions about the past is more than likely impacting their present-day life in some way, too.

Q: How long will I have to go to therapy?
A: This varies from person to person. I’ve had clients who booked one session, we worked out their issue(s), and they were all set: They marched out and didn’t need a follow-up session. Sometimes, one brave, honest conversation is really all you need.

Other clients have booked sessions with me over a period of several weeks or months, focusing on one issue, resolving that issue, then perhaps moving on to a different challenge. Then there are other clients who I’ve been working with for some time—they appreciate having a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly “check-in.” They may share their feelings, sharpen their life skills as needed, or perhaps enjoy a deeply nourishing guided meditation or hypnotherapy experience to de-stress. As one client put it, “Every two weeks when I meet with you, I leave your office feeling like you pressed my reset button.”

Therapy is really about whatever a client needs—a one-time conversation, a temporary source of support during a life transition, or an ongoing experience to optimize health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.


Q: Is meeting with a therapist over the phone—or through video chat—just as effective as meeting in person?
A: That depends on your personality and preferences. In the state of Hawaii, where I live, at least one insurer that I know of covers doing therapy virtually via video chat (like Skype or Facetime). This makes it a convenient option for people. Many of my clients do enjoy having some, or all, of their sessions via video chat because it means they don’t have to take time out of their busy schedules to drive, park, and so on. They can just close their bedroom or office door, pick up the phone or log in, and away we go—very convenient.

Where feasible, I suggest trying out both ways—do a traditional, in-person therapy session and then try a video session—and see which format is the best fit for you.

Q: Why see a therapist? Why not just talk to a friend or someone in my family?
A: If you are blessed with caring, supportive family members and friends, by all means, share your feelings, goals, and dreams with those people. They are a big part of your support network, and their insights and encouragement can be very helpful. However, people who already know you might not always be completely objective when listening to you. For example, you may want to change your career, and you confess this dream to your wife. She may want to support you 100%, and try her very best to do so, but she may also be dealing with emotions of her own—such as anxietyabout how a career shift will change your lives, not to mention your income. These emotions could make it difficult for her to listen and support you objectively.

This is why working with a therapist can be so valuable. It’s a unique opportunity to share everything you’re feeling, and everything you want to create, without anyone interrupting you, imposing his or her own anxieties onto the conversation, or telling you that you’re “wrong” or that you “can’t.”

A therapy session is a space where you don’t have to worry about hurting anyone else’s feelings—you can be totally honest. It also means you have the potential to solve problems faster and with greater success. In the long run, that’s better for you and everyone else involved in your life, too.

To sum it up:
Therapy is a valuable tool that can help you to solve problems, set and achieve goals, improve your communication skills, or teach you new ways to track your emotions and keep your stress levels in check. It can help you to build the life, career, and relationship that you want. Does everybody needit? No. But if you are curious about working with a therapist, that curiosity is worth pursuing. Consider setting up one or two sessions, keep an open mind, and see how things unfold. You have very little to lose and, potentially, a lot of clarity, self-understanding, and long-lasting happiness to gain.

Suzanne Gelb, Ph.D., J.D, is a clinical psychologist and life coach. She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be: Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back—no matter what has happened in the past. Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TimeForbesNewsweekThe Huffington PostNBC‘s TodayThe Daily LovePositively Positive, and much more. Step into her virtual office, explore her blog, book a session, or sign up to receive a free meditation and her writings on health, happiness and self-respect.

We Want You Here

By Laura Greenstein | Sep. 24, 2018

 

Sometimes life can feel like a burden. It can feel like each day is a challenge. As if making it to your bed at the end of the day is like reaching the finish line of a long race. It can feel as if each interaction is a struggle. As if you only have a limited amount of oxygen, and each word you speak is a drain on your supply.

For those of you who have ever thought about suicide, you know this feeling all too well.

But you should know that you are so strong.

You’re strong for still being here even when your thoughts tell you that being alive isn’t worth the pain. You are strong for carrying the weight of it all on your shoulders for so long. For carrying it by yourself even while thinking you were alone in the way you feel—even while believing that no one and nothing out there could take off some of the weight.

But you should know that you are not alone.

We are a whole community of people who understand what you’re facing. And more than anything, we want to help you. You don’t have to go through this alone. We want you to ask us for help. We want to help you carry that heavy weight because we understand what it’s like to burden it alone. We may not know exactly what you’re facing, but we understand what it’s like to feel hopeless.

But you should know that there is hope.

There are resources. There is help. There is support. There is time. Time that forces everything to change. You may not feel okay today, but that is okay. The awful way you feel is not permanent. You may feel like you can’t bear the pain any longer, you may feel like you don’t have it in you to reach out for help, but you are stronger than you know, and we believe in you.

And you should know that you are worth it.

You are worthy. You are important. Your life is important. You deserve a place on this planet, and we deserve to have you with us.

And you should know that you are an inspiration. 

You have faced more than many can fathom and yet here you stand. Your strength is a source of hope for those who feel the same as you do. Not only should you feel comfortable telling us about your darkest moments, but we want to hear it.

And you should know there is no shame in your story.

To feel shame is, unfortunately, part of our experience. But it is not fair. It is not fair to yourself. Because the way you feel is not your fault. You should never blame yourself for your darkness. Your darkness if a part of your story, and we accept you.

More than anything, you should know that we want you here.

 

Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI. 

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2018/We-Want-You-Here

The Power To Create Change Comes From Within

By Katherine Ponte, BA, JD, MBA, NYCPS-P, CPRP | Oct. 24, 2018

 

Stigma is a shield created by society, made up of misunderstanding and fear of mental illness. When we look away from someone behaving erratically or “strangely” on the street, that’s the fear society ingrains in us. Perhaps we’re scared to consider the possibility that the same could happen to us; that we might be shunned by society, too.

The shield of stigma also stops us from seeking help for our own mental health. When faced with a stressful life event or emotional challenges, we might carry the hurt or confusion inside. Perhaps we avoid facing a potential diagnosis, so our illness only grows worse. Stigma facilitates mental illness turning into the “monster” it doesn’t have to be.

Social perceptions need to change. However, stigma is so deeply rooted in societal norms that it can take a long time to eradicate. And people like me, people living with mental illness, can’t wait on society to change. We need to live now. In fact, we need to be pioneers.

Our Experience Combats Stigma

First, we need to overcome our own belief in society’s fears. This requires finding hope, and specifically recognizing the possibility of recovery. Recovery from mental illness is living a full and productive life with mental illness. With this mindset, we can take ownership of our condition and live a fulfilling life. This can be one of the most powerful forces for change.

Stories of living fully with mental illness can help reshape society’s bias. They also provide inspiration and guidance for other people living with mental illness. This is the power of peer support and sharing lived experience. It creates a cycle of more people finding recovery, and then in turn, society seeing more positive examples of people living well with mental illness. Society needs to see what life with mental illness can and should be—a life of possibility, not a life sentence.

Our Experience Inspires Others

When people share their mental health journeys, it also helps set our own expectations. Recovery is hard and there is no smooth path to get there. It’s also not a cure, it requires continuous patience, discipline and determination. There will be stumbles and uncertainties along the way. This is the reality of mental illness. That’s why relatable, real-life examples are so valuable.

Knowing that others are going through similar challenges can help us build resilience. The result is self-empowerment by the example of others. We, the mental health community, rely less on the image society projects upon us, and instead focus on the image reflected to us by our peers. This is the power from within ourselves and our community.

I believe that this type of person-driven recovery has been overlooked as a way to combat social stigma. It’s become so ingrained that not even people with mental illness think recovery is possible. Too many of us allow society’s fears to become our own. Together, we can reverse the vicious cycle of stigma and instead, power the virtuous cycle of hope and recovery.

 

Katherine Ponte is a Mental Health Advocate and Entrepreneur. She is the founder of ForLikeMinds, the first online peer-based support community dedicated to people living with or supporting someone with mental illness and is in recovery from Bipolar I Disorder. She is on the NAMI New York City Board of Directors.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2018/The-Power-to-Create-Change-Comes-from-Within

Avoiding Holiday Stressors: Tips For A Stress-Free Season

By: Jessica Maharaj

The “most wonderful time of the year” can quickly turn into the most stressful time of the year for many. When compounded by a mental illness, common holiday pressures can create a perfect storm of exacerbated stressors, symptoms and setbacks if not proactively addressed.

The reality is that potential hazards exist at every turn during the holidays. These situations can trigger heightened difficulties for people suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental illnesses. The holidays can also introduce additional stressors such as complicated relationship dynamics at family gatherings, grief over losing a loved one or simply trying to live up to the unattainable expectations of the “perfect holiday.”

While it’s important that all people consider the impact of the holidays on emotional well-being, it is crucial that those with mental illness consider tactics for avoiding pitfalls. Of all the things on your holiday preparation to-do list, the most critical one is maintaining your mental health and practicing self-care.

Major Depressive Disorder With A Seasonal Pattern

Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD), is a form of depression that often accompanies changes in seasons. This disorder results from chemical changes in the brain and body and is best controlled with the help of a mental health professional who understands the nuances of treating this condition. Whether through online, remote care options such as telepsychiatry or in-person treatments, seeking professional support is truly beneficial in proactively managing this condition leading up to, during and following the holiday season.

Symptoms of SAD can become more pronounced as the holidays approach. These tips can help you manage your symptoms during the holidays.

  • Stay hydratedDrink plenty of water and herbal teas, and don’t forget to hydrate your skin with lotions and lip balms. Hydration nourishes the brain and its physical effects can improve your overall mood.
  • Find time to exerciseThe holiday season is a great time to ice skate, ski or hike. If you don’t have access to these outdoor activities, any form of exercise will release endorphins, which can lessen the symptoms of depression.
  • Spend time with loved ones. This offers an opportunity for social interaction, which can help lessen the feelings of loneliness that may come around this time of year.
  • Pamper yourselfTaking a bath, having a warm drink or getting a massage can create a sense of calm and happiness, especially during the stress of the holidays.
  • Indulge without overconsumingTreating yourself can make you happy, but over-indulging in unhealthy food around the holidays can negatively impact symptoms.

Grief Over The Holidays

One of the greatest holiday stresses is the absence of a loved one who passed away. The empty seat where they would have sat can fill families with a sense of grief, loss and emptiness, as well as worsen symptoms for individuals with mental illness. The following recommendations can help you and your family cope:

  • It’s not all sadKnow that some parts of the holiday will be wonderful, and some parts will be sad. The anticipation of sadness may be stressful, but the holidays provide an opportunity for healing. You can still take joy in the relatives that are present and remember fond memories of holidays past.
  • It is okay to feel the way you feelIt is healthy to acknowledge your feelings and work through them, rather than suppressing them.
  • Take care of yourselfFind healthy ways to cope, such as exercising. Organizing family walks is a great way to get fresh air and enjoy the company of others. Don’t search for solace in unhealthy foods or alcohol. If alcohol is present, drink responsibly.
  • Don’t feel pressured to uphold family traditionsWhile they might be a comforting way to remember a loved one, sometimes family traditions are too painful to bear. Your family will find new ways to celebrate, and your traditions will adjust with time.

Keep in mind that the loved ones you lost would want you to remember them fondly, to enjoy the holiday season, and to find comfort in having the family come together.

Managing Holiday Expectations

The holiday season only comes once a year, and while it’s understandable to aspire for perfection, it’s important to set realistic, attainable goals. The following are a few key tips for avoiding the stress of perfection.

  • Make a budgetWhile the average American household spent nearly $1,000 on holiday gifts in 2017, it’s important not to go overboard. Do your best to stick to a budget while still leaving a small amount extra for wiggle room; the holidays tend to bring out the generosity in us.
  • Come up with a planSpread out your errands, so you don’t become overwhelmed with too many tasks at once, and don’t forget to schedule some relaxation time!
  • Find the best time to shopMalls are less crowded on weekdays and weeknights. If you can manage, try to go during the day and park farther away from the stores. Your time in the sunlight walking to or from your car can boost your serotonin levels. Practicing mindful activities while you wait in line can also help you stay calm among the holiday shopping chaos.
  • Be kind to yourselfAll you can do is your best and your best is good enough. It’s impossible to please everyone, but we are often our own harshest critics.

Keep in mind that the holidays are about spending time with loved ones, not gifts. Your friends and family will be happy to create memories with you, so don’t worry about finding an expensive gift or if they will like it; they will appreciate your efforts and affection regardless of what you give them.

The holidays bring joy and happiness as well as frustration and stress. This holiday season, you may have many things to take care of, but the most important one is yourself.

Jessica Maharaj, a Certified Nursing Assistant, is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at George Washington University while also working at InSight Telepsychiatry. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology with a second major in Biology and a concentration in Human Services from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Jessica was the President of UMBC’s campus chapter of NAMI during her undergraduate career. 
https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2018/Avoiding-Holiday-Stressors-Tips-for-a-Stress-Free-Season

How Schools Can Help Students Respond To Suicide

The rate of teen suicide has steadily increased since 2005. Among youth ages 15-24 years old, suicide is the second leading cause of death. A ripple effect of needs is created when a teenage suicide death occurs. Responding appropriately is critical to ensuring that everyone affected—family, friends and the school community—receives the right type and amount of support.

Grief can have a profound impact on students and may create new mental health issues or worsen existing conditions. Additional factors must also be addressed, including identifying students who may be at risk for taking a similar path (also known as suicidal ideation or suicide contagion).

Professor Ron Avi Astor, who recently spoke with USC’s online MSW program, believes that suicidal ideation is often thought of as just an individual issue treated only in counseling, but schools can help a great deal by addressing possible peer and social dynamics that may contribute to stronger suicidal ideation.

However, many educators feel ill-prepared to help their grieving students, and many school districts aren’t offering the necessary training. The National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement (NCSCB) offers a number of guides for schools, administrators and staff that explain how to respond to crises such as a death in a school. These guides incorporate psychological first aid models, which outline steps to help grieving students through a school crisis, including:

  1. Listen: Pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues from students that show stress and make yourself available to talk.
  2. Protect: Answer questions honestly and communicate what is being done to keep students safe.
  3. Connect: Keep communication open with other adults, find resources that can offer support and help restore student activities that encourage interaction with friends.
  4. Model: Be aware of your own reactions to crises and demonstrate how to cope in a healthy way.
  5. Teach: Help students identify positive coping mechanisms and celebrate small achievements as they begin to get through each day successfully.

When suicide is involved, more effective and specific interventions are needed to address school environments and peer dynamics. As an example, it’s critical for educators and other adults to be able to identify whether a student is at higher risk for suicide contagion. According to the NCSCB, there are certain signs that indicate risk for extreme emotional distress during this time.

Outlined in its Guidelines on Response for Death by Suicide, those signs include:

  • Presence of a mental health condition, particularly depression;
  • Thoughts or talk about suicide or dying;
  • Changes in behavior, such as extreme acting out or withdrawal from others;
  • Impulsive and high-risk behaviors, such as increased alcohol or substance abuse;
  • Talk of a foreshortened future, with an inability to see their place in it.

As the NCSCB notes, “If school staff and other adults perceive the presence of such risk factors—or if reactions to the death persist without significant improvement, a referral for mental health services may be indicated. Response to a death by suicide should not only include the immediate response, but also long-term follow-up and support.”

Addressing Mental Health Needs

Because suicide is often the result of untreated mental illness, addressing mental health needs is often the best way to try to prevent these tragedies. Many parents and teachers incorrectly believe that school-aged children are incapable of experiencing mental health conditions, but that’s simply not the case.

  • 13% of children ages 8 to 15 experience a mental health condition.
  • 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.
  • 50% of children ages 8 to 15 experiencing a mental health condition don’t receive treatment.

In order to teach children about mental illness and encourage them to seek help, NAMI created NAMI Ending the Silence: free presentations available for students, school staff and families. These in-school presentations teach middle and high school students about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, how to recognize the early warning signs and the importance of acknowledging those warning signs. As one teacher noted in response to the program: “It is amazing what just one day, one talk, can do. You never really know what’s going on in the brain of any particular student.”

Although death and grief can have a profound impact on a school community, resources such as these can provide critical guidance and support for teachers and staff to help their students before and after a tragedy. Hopefully, one day, we won’t need these resources anymore.

 

Colleen O’Day is a Digital PR Manager and supports community outreach for 2U Inc.’s social work, mental health, and education programs. Find her on Twitter @ColleenMODay.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2018/How-Schools-Can-Help-Students-Respond-to-Suicide

10 Things That Changed Me After the Death of a Parent

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I don’t think there is anything that can prepare you to lose a parent. It is a larger blow in adulthood I believe, because you are at the point where you are actually friends with your mother or father. Their wisdom has finally sunk in and you know that all of the shit you rolled your eyes at as a teenager really was done out of love and probably saved your life a time or two.

I lost both of mine two years apart; my mother much unexpected and my father rather quickly after a cancer diagnosis. My mom was the one person who could see into my soul and could call me out in the most effective way. She taught me what humanity, empathy and generosity means. My father was the sarcastic realist in the house and one of the most forgiving people I have ever met. If you wanted it straight, with zero bullshit; just go ask my dad.

Grief runs its course and it comes in stages, but I was not prepared for it to never fully go away.

  1. My phone is never more than 1 foot away from me at bedtime, because the last time I did that I missed the call that my mother died.
  2. The very thought of my mother’s death, at times, made me physically ill for about six months after she died. I literally vomited.
  3. Their deaths have at times ripped the remainder of our family apart. I did my best to honor their wishes and sometimes that made me the bad guy. The burden of that was immense, but I understood why I was chosen. It made me stronger as a person, so for that I am grateful.
  4. I’m pissed that my son didn’t get to experience them as grandparents. I watched it five times before his birth and I feel robbed. He would have adored them and they him.
  5. I would not trade my time with them for anything, but sometimes I think it would have been easier had you died when I was very young. The memories would be less.
  6. Don’t bitch about your parents in front of me. You will get an earful about gratitude and appreciation. As a “Dead Parents Club” member, I would take your place in a heartbeat, so shut your mouth. Get some perspective on how truly fleeting life is.
  7. It’s like being a widow — a “club” you never wanted to join. Where do I return this unwanted membership, please?
  8. Other club members are really the only people who can truly understand what it does to a person. They just get it. There is no other way to explain it.
  9. Life does go on, but there will be times even years later, you will still break down like it happened yesterday.
  10. When you see your friends or even strangers with their mom or dad, you will sometimes be jealous. Envious of the lunch date they have. Downright pissed that your mom can’t plan your baby shower. Big life events are never ever the same again.

Here I sit eight and ten years later and there are still times that I reach for the phone when something exciting happens. Then it hits me; shit, I can’t call them.

Their deaths have forever changed me and how I look at the world. In an odd way it has made me a better parent. I am always acutely aware of what memories can mean to my son and how I will impact his life while I am on this earth. He deserves to know how much he is loved and when I am gone, what I teach and instill in him now, will be my legacy.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-schmidt/10-things-that-changed-me-after-the-death-of-a-parent_b_7925406.html