Can Social Media Save A Life?

By Ryann Tanap

 

Like many who have social media accounts, I regularly check my timelines and feeds for intriguing articles, updates and happenings. Two years ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through one of my accounts before going to bed and one post immediately stood out among the rest: It was a suicide note.

Frantically, I read my friend Mark’s post. It detailed his internal suffering over the years, which he no longer wanted to endure. The comment section grew at an alarming rate. People asked questions, both directly to Mark and to each other. Some people were pleading with him to reconsider. Others offered comments of hope.

Over the next few days, I saw something I did not expect. Hundreds of comments on Mark’s post evolved into a community of people coming together to help find Mark, who had gone missing. People used his previous posts on other social media platforms to piece together his possible location. Some contacted the authorities—and thankfully, those authorities located him before he took his life.

Social Media On The Rise

We live in a world driven by technology. We see the media regularly report on new apps for our smartphones and the latest trending celebrity tweets. Whether we’re commuting to work, studying in a coffee shop or spending time with our family and friends, being connected digitally is part of our lives. An entire generation of young people is growing up with devices in their hands, regularly engaging in social media.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform. That number has since grown significantly: Today, 70% of the public uses social media, with many people using more than one platform.

Some researchers are beginning to identify connections between online social networking and mental health concerns. Among these concerns are varying levels of self-esteem and addiction to social media, as well as the internet. However, it is uncertain whether signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are the causes or effects of using social media. Since each platform is different and new platforms continue to be introduced, future research is needed to assess the true effect of social media on mental health.

Identifying Mental Health Concerns Online

When used responsibly, social media can be used in positive ways. It can be used to promote mental health to a large audience. I’ve seen individuals share their personal stories of recovery, like those on NAMI.org at You Are Not Alone and OK2Talk. I’ve seen mental health writers connect with one another on Twitter. And as with my friend Mark, during times of crisis, social media can even save lives.

On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, users now have options for getting a friend help. If a user thinks a friend is in danger of self-harm or suicide, they can report their concerns by going to the social media websites’ Help Centers. These online Help Centers have dedicated content about suicide and self-harm prevention, which include online resources and phone numbers for suicide hotlines around the world.

The most helpful feature I’ve seen instituted recently is on Instagram. Users can anonymously flag posts by other users that have content about self-harm and suicide. That user then receives a message encouraging them to speak with a friend, contact a helpline or seek professional help. The same message appears for people who are regularly searching self-harm- or suicide-related content on Instagram.

Recent research by the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office notes that personal social media accounts “can provide an important window into a person’s state of mind.” At the Secretary of the Army Symposium on Suicide Prevention in mid-January 2017, military leaders, mental health professionals and companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn came together to see how social media can be used to connect those in need to care and resources.

How Can I Help?

With social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat dominating our screen time, it’s wise to assume that social media will continue to be a primary method of communication. Therefore, it’s up to us to look out for mental health warning signs while on social media so we are better prepared to assist a friend in need.

If you see any of the following behavior online, it may be time to step in and contact your friend directly to see how you can help:

  • Cyberbullying, which includes:

a. harassing messages or comments

b. fake accounts made to impersonate someone else

c. someone posting unwanted pictures or images of another person

  • Negative statements about themselves, even if it sounds like they are joking, such as

a. “I’m a waste of space.”

b. “No one cares about me.”

c. “I seriously hate myself.”

  • Negative leading statements with little to no context that prompt others to respond, such as:

a. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”

b. “Today was the worst day ever.”

c. “It’s like everyone is against me.”

If someone you know is in immediate danger—for example, they talk about a specific plan for harming themselves—contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This lifeline can support the individual and their family members, and has the ability to connect with local law enforcement, if necessary. If a person has attempted self-harm or is injured, call 911 immediately.

If the threat of physical danger is not immediate, here are some things you can do to help:

  • Report the content on the social media website’s Help Center;
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or
  • Reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting the word “NAMI” to 741741 (standard data rates may apply).

As you scroll through your social media feeds, be mindful of what others post. Being educated about available resources is important for those of us who promote mental health, but knowing when to reach out to a friend who may be experiencing a mental health crisis is even more important: You just might save a life.

 

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

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2017/Can-Social-Media-Save-a-Life

The Pathway To Peace Of Mind

By Larry Shushansky, LICSW

 

To create the roadways of a city, it takes years of planning, developing and building. It’s a never-ending process as new ideas are constantly suggested on how to make everything more efficient and in tune with changing needs.

Peace of mind is developed the same way.

In the 1900’s, scientists believed that our brain was fully developed by age six. We could learn more, sure, but “who we were” was set. Additionally, it was believed that after our teenage years and early years of adulthood, our brain and bodies declined through aging, injury, disease and illness.

“And then,” stated Dr. Lara Boyd, a brain researcher from the University of British Columbia, “studies began to show remarkable amounts of reorganization in the adult brain. And the research has shown us that all of our behaviors change our brain. That these changes are not limited by age…in fact they’re taking place all the time.” Meaning we can reorganize, change and restructure the physical makeup of our brain no matter what age we are.

So, imagine your brain is a city composed of many roadways that have all been under construction since before you were even born. And just like cities, we can create new roadways that enable us to be happier.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the many ways to be happier and healthier, but true change relies on deciding on a new habit or practice and dedicating yourself to it. That’s when your roadways will begin to evolve for good. Here are some important things to keep in mind when you’re working on yourself.

Change

Whatever we decide to think or do, it has to be different than our norm. For example, if we decide to move towards having more peace of mind by going on walks three times a week, and we’re already walking three times a week, we are not going to change. But if we decide to also practice mindfulness while walking, this is different.

Belief

Whether it’s exercise, nutrition, meditation, yoga, tai chi, therapy, medication, religion, spirituality or any other strategies we might use to become happier, we need to believe in what we’re doing and believe we can succeed. Rather than going through the motions, we need to embrace the belief that we are changing our thoughts or behaviors to become happier.

Motivation

“The harder we try, the more we are motivated, the more alert we are, and the better (worse) the outcome, the bigger the brain change,” wrote Dr. Michael Merzenich in Soft WiredTo make a change, it takes commitment and effort. There are times when we just don’t want to get out of bed to do yoga or go for a brisk walk. That’s true for anyone. Occasionally missing an opportunity to practice what we’ve decided to do is okay. But if we allow ourselves to continually take breaks, then we are pausing our progress.

Intention

Our intention should be all-in. I once had a client who listened to guided meditation while he was driving and then later in the day when he was focusing on a project at work. He said he didn’t have time for anything more intensive, and he couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t feeling any better. It takes focus to make change for the better. It helps to set aside specific time so you can focus solely on one thing at that time.

Practice And Repeat

Most of us quit doing what we’re doing once we experience “success.” That’s pretty common. But when we practice beyond “success,” we convert short-term changes into long-term memory and that’s what sticks. It has been found that repetition is effective in helping children learn how to read (imagine if they just stopped after completing their first book?). The same is true when establishing an ever-growing peace of mind.

It’s best to look at creating happiness and peace of mind as an evolving process rather than an end goal. It’s important to keep in mind that we’ll always be moving towards happiness. The roadways to peace are never finished—we’re always under construction.

And we can either let our old pathways determine who we are or keep working on becoming who we want to be. Each step we take enables us to become happier with ourselves, our relationships and with the world. And we can achieve a greater sense of peace and calm as we continue to grow.

 

Larry Shushansky has seen thousands of individuals, couples and families over 35 years as a counselor. Through this and the process he used to get clean from his alcohol and drug addiction, Larry has developed the concept of Independent Enough. Follow him on Facebook here. You can also access his blog through his website at Independentenough.com

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/December-2017/The-Pathway-to-Peace-of-Mind

Self-Help Techniques For Coping With Mental Illness

By Emmie Pombo

 

Living with mental illness is not easy. It’s a consistent problem without a clear solution. While treatments like medication and psychotherapy are incredibly helpful, sometimes people experiencing mental health conditions need to do more day-in and day-out to feel good or even just okay.

Some common self-help suggestions people receive are to exercise, meditate and be more present, which are helpful and work for many people. However, other proven methods aren’t mentioned as often. Many of them are quick and simple techniques that can easily be added to daily routines.

Finding the right coping mechanism takes time and patience, but it can enormously impact how you feel. If you haven’t had success with techniques you’ve tried, or you’re looking to add a few more to your toolkit, here are seven coping mechanisms recommended by mental health professionals worth trying out.

Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind,” according to Marsha Linehan (creator of dialectal behavior therapy). Included in this definition is the idea that no matter what, you cannot change a situation. For example, imagine a tornado is coming your way. Obviously, you can’t do anything to stop the tornado; that’s not possible. But if you accept the fact that it’s coming, then you can act, prepare and keep yourself safe. If you sit around trying to will the tornado to stop or pretend that there is no tornado, you’re going to be in real trouble when it comes.

The same applies to mental illness. You cannot change the fact that you have a mental illness, so any time you spend trying to “get rid of it” or pretend it doesn’t exist is only draining you of valuable energy. Accept yourself. Accept your condition. Then take the necessary steps to take care of yourself.

Deep Breathing

Breathing is an annoying cliché at this point, but that’s because the best way to calm anxiety really is to breathe deeply. When battling my own anxiety, I turned to the concept of “5 3 7” breathing:

  • Breathe in for 5 seconds
  • Hold the breath for 3 seconds
  • Breathe out for 7 seconds

This gentle repetition sends a message to the brain that everything is okay (or it will be soon). Before long, your heart will slow its pace and you will begin to relax—sometimes without even realizing it.

Opposite-To-Emotion Thinking

Opposite-to-emotion thinking is how it sounds: You act in the opposite way your emotions tell you to act. Say you’re feeling upset and you have the urge to isolate. Opposite-to-emotion tells you to go out and be around people—the opposite action of isolation. When you feel anxious, combat that with something calming like meditation. When you feel manic, turn to something that stabilizes you. This technique is probably one of the hardest to put into play, but if you can manage it, the results are incredible.

The 5 Senses

Another effective way to use your physical space to ground you through a crisis is by employing a technique called “The 5 Senses.” Instead of focusing on a specific object, with “The 5 Senses” you run through what each of your senses is experiencing in that moment. As an example, imagine a PTSD flashback comes on in the middle of class. Stop! Look around you. See the movement of a clock’s hands. Feel the chair beneath you. Listen to your teacher’s voice. Smell the faint aroma of the chalkboard. Chew a piece of gum.

Running through your senses will take only a few seconds and will help keep you present and focused on what is real, on what is happening right now.

Mental Reframing

Mental reframing involves taking an emotion or stressor and thinking of it in a different way. Take, for example, getting stuck in traffic. Sure, you could think to yourself, “Wow, my life is horrible. I’m going to be late because of this traffic. Why does this always happen to me?”

Or you can reframe that thought, which might look something like, “This traffic is bad, but I’ll still get to where I’m going. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just listen to music or an audiobook to pass the time.” Perfecting this technique can literally change your perspective in tough situations. But as you might imagine, this skill takes time and practice.

Emotion Awareness

If you live in denial of your emotions, it will take far longer to take care of them, because once we recognize what we’re feeling, we can tackle it or whatever is causing it. So, if you’re feeling anxious, let yourself be anxious for a couple of minutes—then meditate. If you’re feeling angry, let yourself be angry—then listen to some calming music. Be in touch with your emotions. Accept that you are feeling a certain way, let yourself feel that way and then take action to diminish unhealthy feelings.

You can’t control that you have mental illness, but you can control how you respond to your symptoms. This is not simple or easy (like everything else with mental illness), but learning, practicing and perfecting coping techniques can help you feel better emotionally, spiritually and physically. I’ve tried all the above techniques, and they have transformed the way I cope with my mental health struggles.

It takes strength and persistence to recover from mental illness—to keep fighting symptoms in the hopes of feeling better. Even if you feel weak or powerless against the battles you face every day, you are incredibly strong for living through them. Practical and simple methods can help you in your fight. Take these techniques into consideration, and there will be a clear change in the way you feel and live your life.

 

Emmie Pombo is a student striving to crush mental illness and addiction stigma. She also advocates for the people who haven’t yet spoken honestly about their struggles. Rooted in Florida, Emmie hopes to eventually diminish any lies surrounding the treatable mental disorders that are becoming more and more prevalent throughout the world.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2018/Self-Help-Techniques-for-Coping-with-Mental-Illnes

My Recovery Started At Breakfast

By Bob Griggs

I left church in a panic. I couldn’t stand being there with all the reminders of my failures as a minister. Driving home, I fought the urge to smash my car into the large elm tree at the end of our block. I called my wife; thank God her phone was on and she picked up. She rushed home, made a few calls, loaded me in the car and drove me to the hospital. A blur at admission, I found myself in the ER banging my head against the wall. A short time later, I heard the click of the lock on the door of the psych unit to which I had been involuntarily admitted. Thirty-two years as a minister, and this is where I ended up.

They gave me a wrist band, some light slippers with friction strips on the bottom and a room without a key. They took my belt, my shoelaces, even my dental floss. That night, the drugs they gave me knocked me out. Still, this drugged sleep was better than all the nights when I had lain awake hour after hour, drenched in sweat, reviewing in my mind the previous day’s failures and humiliations.

The next morning, they gave me a breakfast tray with three strips of bacon, French toast, OJ and coffee. This bacon was perfect—kind of crunchy, but not too dry, the absolute best thing that I had tasted in months. The French toast also made my taste buds sing.

Following the worst day of my life, I had slept—like a zombie, maybe, but slept nonetheless—and then I enjoyed my breakfast. In my growing depression, I had lost the ability to enjoy anything, but that morning, I enjoyed my breakfast. Such a little thing, an institutional breakfast on a tray, but it was the first good thing I had had in a long time.

Breakfast has since become a symbol of hope for me. My depression had taken my hope away—or so I thought. But a breakfast tray proved me wrong. I learned that, at its simplest and most basic level, hope is a lot tougher and more resilient than I had given it credit for. At its core, hope is simply having something to look forward to, and most anything will do. For example: If they served a good breakfast today, maybe they will serve one again tomorrow. I hope so.

Once you start hoping for one thing, it’s a lot easier to hope for other things: Maybe there will be a good breakfast tomorrow. Maybe I won’t hurt as much tomorrow. And on and on.

Releasing My Burden

Besides breakfast, not a lot good happened during my first days on the psych unit. I needed to be there, but I hated being there. Every day, I went to group therapy twice. At first, I just endured it, then I began to really listen to the stories some of my fellow patients were telling. My heart ached for them—so much pain, loss and anger. Not me, though. I kept everything bottled up inside, not telling anyone, not even my wife, how much I was hurting. Nobody knew I was beating myself up inside for my every failure, for every person I thought I’d let down, for all the things I’d left undone.

Something about group, though, and the courage of the other patients who had opened up finally propelled me to tell my story. And once I started, it all came pouring out. Afterward, one group member asked me to have lunch with him. Another member told me that I was just the kind of minister she had been looking for—a real person who would understand her and not make her feel guilty.

As I shared more in later groups, other patients and the group leader helped me talk about my successes and my failures. They helped me realize I didn’t need to be so hard on myself; nobody’s perfect. I began to see my failures as part of what it is to be a human being. I wasn’t alone.

“Forgiveness” is the word for this. And forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness, has been essential to my recovery. In the worst of my depression, my mistakes became self-accusative thoughts with a life of their own, haunting me at night, preoccupying my mind during the day. First in the group, then later in therapy, I learned to forgive myself, to let my go of my mistakes.

When I returned to work about a year after my hospitalization, I returned with a much clearer sense of self and with a willingness to ask for help when I needed it. For me, asking for help is a learned skill. For many years, I had tried to be a minister without asking for help. I took responsibility for everything, making it all my job. As my therapist once said, I tried to carry the church around on my back. No wonder I was exhausted and stressed beyond endurance.

I worked for another eight years after my hospitalization, and partly retired two years ago. I have since hit a few rough patches from time to time, and there have been some nights when sleep did not come easily. But I never felt tempted to run my car into the elm tree at the end of our block or bang my head against the wall. Besides, I know that no matter how badly things are going with me at any given moment, all I need to do is close my eyes and remember my tray with the bacon, French toast, OJ and coffee.

 

Bob Griggs is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ living in St. Louis Park, Minn. He is the author of A Pelican of the Wilderness: Depression, Psalms, Ministry, and Movies. He is also a regular volunteer at Vail Place, a clubhouse for people living with mental illness.

 

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/April-2018/My-Recovery-Started-At-Breakfast

Your Relationship Bill of Rights

By Rebecca Matthes,

When we enter into long-term relationships—and certainly marriages—we may keep in our mind a list of the things we’d like to get from (and, one hopes, are willing to give to) a partner. Recent research suggests certain gestures are especially important for fostering satisfaction and are closely associated with couples’ long-term success. Collectively, these can be thought of as a Relationship Bill of Rights.

“Expectations are essential, and if you’re not expecting good stuff, then you very likely won’t get it,” says social psychology professor Eli Finkel, who directs the Relationships and Motivation Lab at Northwestern University and is the author of The All-Or-Nothing Marriage. “We should be honest with ourselves about what things are essential for us to get through the marriage, focus on those things, and let the other things go.”

This goal, he says, shouldn’t be put aside when couples face conflict, because every partner has the right to disagree—and to be imperfect. “It’s constructive to think of difficulties not only as unpleasant circumstances to be endured but also as opportunities to learn about each other and deepen the relationship,” Finkel says. “I’m optimistic about people’s ability to make progress on problems.” But he notes that resolution is more likely if partners’ beliefs about relationships are not based on the theory that people must find the one and only individual who’s perfect for them. The idea that any given partner is “meant to be”—or not—can make someone more likely to discard a relationship when hard times hit, convinced that the search for an ideal mate needs to continue elsewhere.

The following rights have consistently been found to form a baseline that gives couples the best chance of going the distance.

You have the right to your partner’s attention.

Your partner’s attention is likely to improve your satisfaction with a relationship, whether it’s spontaneous—like an unexpected afternoon text that makes you smile—or in response to your requests. A 2017 study on relationship experiences published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that on the days when their partners had supported them or said something that made them feel loved, people reported higher relationship quality.

Couples often show attention to each other in the little things they do. Jennyvi Dizon, 37, a fashion designer in New York City, is touched every time her husband of 15 years picks up a treat for her at the grocery store or remembers that she needs almond milk for her breakfast. “He says it’s his job to remember,” she says. “He really believes in the saying, ‘Happy wife, happy life.'” In return, she makes a point of tucking him in when he goes to bed every night, though she herself often doesn’t go to sleep until a few hours later.

How to get it: If your partner is kind, but not naturally attentive, it may help to explain the sort of attention you need and then to give positive feedback when you get it. And if busy schedules conspire to keep you from each other, engineer some together time. As Finkel explains, “Spouses who spend more time together engaged in actual conversation tend to be happier than those who spend less. And spouses who pursue more leisure activities together—including outdoor activities, sports, card games, and travel—are at reduced risk of divorce.”

Proposed amendment: The arrival of a child typically causes couples to take a short-term happiness hit because their attention is diverted from each other to the new addition; newborns in particular tend to be quite vocal about their own rights. New parents spend less time talking or doing activities together, and their relationship satisfaction declines as a result, making this a time to be even more conscious of finding or making moments to focus on each other.

You have the right to a partner who will try to work out your differences.

All long-term relationships encounter sore spots and conflicts. Ignoring these problems won’t make them go away, even if partners do so because they sincerely don’t want to pick a fight. “No relationship can thrive when the two parties hold in frustrations that need to be shared and resolved,” says Leon Seltzer, a clinical psychologist in Del Mar, California. “When couples stop trying to work out their differences and revert to passivity to keep the peace, they hold more and more inside of them and their alienation grows. The frustrations tend to leak out through sarcastic, taunting remarks, thinly veiled criticisms, or increasing inattention to the other’s needs.”

Illustration by Eric Palma
Illustration by Eric Palma

Addressing problems as they arise improves spouses’ psychological well-being and ratings of marital quality, especially for women. One study of 205 married couples found that wives who believed that their husbands did more emotional work were more satisfied with their relationships.

Once differences are out in the open, even those that might have seemed irreconcilable in one’s imagination can often be addressed with a compromise or a conscious agreement to disagree. “You can learn to validate the hardcore differences that exist—and will always exist—between you and your mate,” Seltzer says. Consider a scenario in which one partner is far more extraverted than the other. Rather than sitting at home seething, or endlessly haranguing a husband or wife who doesn’t want to go out, partners who open a conversation might discover that their mate really doesn’t mind if they sometimes socialize without them.

Monica and Melvin Pullen, both 42, of Lititz, Pennsylvania, had been married for about four years, and were expecting their first child, when they bought their first home with the understanding that both would continue to work. However, once their daughter arrived, “I knew immediately that I didn’t want to return to work,” Monica says. But she kept it to herself. After about six months, the family started to feel the financial strain. Finally, she confessed her feelings. “He was fine with my staying home; we would just need to downsize.” As they prepared to do that, a new job came along for Melvin that allowed them to get by without needing to move. Still, Monica says, “the experience taught us to be upfront, open, and honest about what we want, regardless of the outcome.”

How to get it: “The party that initiates the discussion must do so with tact, diplomacy, and restraint—and the willingness to respect the other’s reluctance to engage on a topic that might make them feel very vulnerable,” Seltzer says. If your partner is prone to conflict avoidance or stonewalling, you may need to maneuver around those defense mechanisms: “I know this topic makes you uncomfortable, and that’s the last thing I want, but I think pushing it under the rug is keeping us from being closer. Can we talk about this in a way that helps us both understand why it’s so button-pushing? I want us to be closer and more trusting of each other.”

The discussion should help each of you better understand the other’s needs—and you’re both entitled to a partner who will validate your position, even if they don’t agree with it. “Resolution doesn’t always take the form of one person having to change their views or behavior,” Seltzer says. “It’s empathic understanding that minimizes the conflict.”

Proposed amendment: In some cases, as a couple ages, confronting problems head-on can actually lose some of its positive effect and even turn counterproductive. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology suggests that for older wives, more marital “work” is associated with decreased satisfaction with their union. A research team led by Jakob Jensen of East Carolina University proposed that as we age, our marital priorities shift away from conflict resolution and toward maximizing the emotional rewards of maintaining a relationship.

Illustration by Eric Palma
Illustration by Eric Palma

You have the right to a partner who’ll share the load.

This is a right well worth defending, in part because it appears to deliver significant benefits to both partners.

The stark division of household labor that was nearly ubiquitous in households of the past is less common today, with both outside earnings and domestic responsibilities more likely to be shared by partners. A 2018 study, published in Socius and led by Daniel Carlson of the University of Utah, compared national data from the early 1990s and 2006 and found that contemporary couples shared more household tasks than did couples in even the recent past, and that this advantaged many aspects of their relationships, starting with their sex lives. “Sharing housework is associated with greater feelings of fairness, teamwork, and overall relationship quality,” Carlson says. “In particular, feelings of teamwork—communication, cooperation, and shared vision—are important to sexual intimacy.” These feelings foster a partnership based on reciprocity and mutual gratification, he has found, improving a relationship’s quality and lowering the risk of its dissolution.

It isn’t necessary that couples split the work precisely in two, research finds—which is fortunate, because most couples still do not do so. In about 31 percent of families with two parents working full-time, women still handle more household chores and responsibilities; 59 percent report that they share them equally. And in more than half of these families, women continue to do more to handle children’s schedules and activities, according to 2015 data from the Pew Research Center. But Carlson’s work still shows measurable benefits to a couple’s sex life as long as neither partner does more than 65 percent of the domestic work. Partners tend to be satisfied with relationships in which the work is divided, not necessarily equally, Carlson says, but in a way they both feel is fair.

How to get it: Discuss your expectations with your partner. “I would even recommend writing down the tasks that you have and coming up with a plan to divide them and then track their completion,” Carlson says. “Partners—men especially—often don’t see that they are not contributing to the degree they promise, so having something concrete to point to can be helpful.”

“We had a lot of fights about housework,” says Anna Aquino, 40, of Canal Winchester, Ohio. “The majority of it wouldn’t get done or would fall to me. Because I work from home, I understand I can have more to do, but I would get frustrated, and my husband would get annoyed when things weren’t done. It didn’t seem fair to anyone.” The couple finally agreed to post a chore chart on the fridge. “It saves a load of fights,” she says. The day-to-day chores aren’t split down the middle, since Aquino’s husband works more outside the home, but she says both partners are happier now because “it’s pretty fair all around and everyone agreed to it.”

Proposed amendment: When it comes to sharing domestic responsibilities, couples don’t need to aim for a specific target, but should work to find the breakdown that serves their relationship best. “You could have a good relationship with someone doing 100 percent of the household work,” Finkel says. Your partner might actually love cooking, cleaning up, and caring for kids or pets, while you feel more fulfilled by work and hobbies. “If a couple sees that as fair,” Carlson says, “they certainly can be happy.”

Illustration by Eric Palma
Illustration by Eric Palma

You have the right to honesty about sex.

What are partners entitled to in the bedroom? The answer will vary from couple to couple, but the research finds that it’s not necessarily the presence or absence of sexual activity, a specific schedule or frequency, or even the pleasure derived from it that is most associated with relationship satisfaction. What matters is that both partners’ expectations, whatever they are, are met. That’s why two people can sincerely find satisfaction in a sexless relationship: If neither expects sex, nor seeks it, its absence doesn’t affect how they feel about each other. But sexual expectations can and do change over time, and it’s crucial for a couple’s satisfaction that partners communicate shifts in both their desire and their capability.

“It’s the disparity in partner preferences, whether for frequency or type of stimulation, that can potentially result in the greatest unhappiness,” says sex and marital therapist Michael A. Perelman, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. When such a disparity exists, “communication and compromise skills become critical to mutual satisfaction.” Both partners need to be upfront about their expectations and help their partner understand them. From this place, a mutually agreeable plan can be drafted. If never-uttered sexual concerns are leading one partner to question his or her place in the relationship, the other partner has the right to hear about it, no matter how awkward the ensuing conversation may be.

How to get it: Find a comfortable time to talk about the issues, Perelman advises. For some, it might be while relaxing in bed, a setting that can lead to openness and intimacy; for others, he says, such a conversation will best be broached over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, “in any comfortable place that affords privacy.” Try a gentle opener: “I have a few thoughts about our sex life I’d like to discuss, if that works for you.”

Proposed amendment: Partners should never criticize each other during sexual activity (unless something is uncomfortable or painful). If you’re hesitant to start a conversation, you might unilaterally consult a sex therapist first. “Even if only one person in the couple seeks assistance, it’s highly likely that some relief can be found,” Perelman says.

Illustration by Eric Palma

You have the right to affection.

Sexual passion may wax or wane over time in any long-term relationship, but it’s important that affection carry on. “Giving and receiving affection is associated with feelings of pleasure, acceptance, happiness or contentment, and a sense of being loved or cared for,” says Anita Vangelisti, a communications professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied affection’s effects, specifically in the early years of marriage. She has found that hearing “I love you,” and receiving physical affection outside of sexual intercourse, among other behaviors, predicts higher marital satisfaction for both men and women.

While expressions of affection typically become a little less frequent over time, she says, “partners who maintain relatively high levels tend to be happier.” Research on the physiology of affection has also shown that giving and receiving it are associated with the release of oxytocin, as well as the regulation of stress hormones throughout the day, enhancing well-being and enabling each partner to manage stress more successfully.

How to get it: “Ask for it,” Vangelisti says. You can start by giving more affection to your partner. “Once your partner sees you giving them more affection, they may reciprocate.” You can try to arrange more opportunities for affection by planning relaxed time together. “If one or both of you are always busy and rushing around, it’s more difficult to give and receive affection.”

And don’t fear that “manufacturing” affectionate behaviors, or the opportunities for them, will strip them of their power. Research by Brittany Jakubiak of Syracuse University and Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University has shown that people felt more secure and trusting in a relationship, and more confident that it would endure, after a partner held their hand or threw an arm around their shoulder, even if they were told that the partner had been instructed to show them affection.

Proposed amendment: Be clear about the type of affection you seek and make sure you and your partner both understand how you each define the term. If they think they’re showing affection by taking your car to get washed, while you want hugs and a whispered “I love you,” that’s the kind of misunderstanding that can erode satisfaction with a relationship.

Illustration by Eric Palma
Illustration by Eric Palma

You have the right to the benefit of the doubt.

Relationships flourish when couples attribute the best of intentions to each other all the time. This means that, yes, your partner really should view you through rose-colored glasses, idealizing you in normal circumstances and forgiving you relatively easily when you fall short. “A little bit of positive illusion is better,” Finkel says. “It’s easy to go down rabbit holes of perceived slights, but if we have a general view that our partner is loving and at core a decent person—maybe even more decent than they really are—then when we do have difficulties, we’re better at overcoming them. Some amount of self-delusion is linked to better relationship quality.”

Relationship satisfaction typically starts falling immediately after a couple says “I do,” but many studies have pointed toward a prescription for sustaining it. In just one recent example, Sandra Murray of the University at Buffalo found that partners who continue to idealize their spouse, even somewhat unrealistically, experience less decline in satisfaction with the marriage over three years than people who cannot maintain the same belief.

How to get it: “We have a lot of latitude in how we perceive our partner’s behavior,” Finkel says. If you show up late to an important event, your partner could label you inconsiderate—or remember that you’ve been overwhelmed at work but are still trying to get everything done. If you or your partner tend more toward reflexively blaming the other, try thinking about the situation from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for both of you. “It gets us out of our myopia and gives us a broader perspective,” Finkel says. Implementing some psychological distance can help you and your partner feel less angry about conflicts and should strengthen the relationship over time.

Proposed amendment: Beware of the doormat effect. “We have studies showing that if someone is highly forgiving, with no amends made, or if a partner is always difficult, forgiveness may still have beneficial consequences, but it undermines the aggrieved party’s self-respect,” Finkel says. If a problem festers over time, the relationship is likely to suffer. Minor flaws or occasional missteps can be sugarcoated, but more serious issues must be addressed and ideally resolved.

“It’s a shared responsibility,” Finkel says. Partners need to own up to hurtful things they’ve done and express regret, even if they don’t fully believe they are in the wrong. For the hurt partner, there’s a lot of benefit in both hearing an apology and seeing amends. It can help you both put infractions in the past. “Let them be speed bumps, rather than barricades.”

Illustration by Eric Palma
Illustration by Eric Palma

You have the right to gratitude.

Partners who are grateful for each other, studies have shown, feel more satisfied in their relationships. And even when just one partner feels gratitude—whether on an existential level or for simpler things like being brought a favorite drink—both benefit. Amie Gordon of the University of California, San Francisco calls it a cycle of gratitude. “If you start doing nice things, and your partner picks up on it and feels appreciated, it should inspire their own good feelings,” she says. Gratitude can increase people’s motivation to stay in, and improve, a relationship, and make them more likely to engage in more considerate behaviors, like better listening and sacrificing for their partner. Gordon’s research has shown that more grateful people are likelier to maintain long-term relationships.

A recent study in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests it’s the feeling of gratitude that makes a difference, not the acts that engender it. Researchers found that people are equally likely to notice a partner’s sacrifice as not, and they are just as likely to see a sacrifice where there is none as they are to correctly note its absence. No matter: When a person believes a partner has sacrificed for them, accurately or not, the benefits of gratitude accrue. And when they fail to detect a sacrifice, their partner feels less satisfied.

How to get it: Your partner is not obligated to keep a gratitude journal or meditate with you on life’s blessings. So how to elicit it? You can prime a partner’s expressions of gratitude by showing your appreciation for them. “If you feel unappreciated or taken for granted, try doing some of the things you wish they would do for you,” Gordon suggests. “It’s a nice way to jumpstart gratitude in a reasonably well-functioning relationship.” If you’re having trouble accessing your own gratitude, think about what life was like before you were with your partner. That can help counter hedonic adaptation—or becoming accustomed to, and perhaps less appreciative of, the benefits they bring to you. When showing your own gratitude, make it personal. “It’s not just, ‘Hey, thanks for taking out the trash.’ Say, ‘You know how much I hate it; you’re so thoughtful for doing the thing that I hate.’ You’re not just thanking them for the act,” Gordon says, “but for the person they are. It bumps it up a notch.”

Proposed amendment: Gratitude shouldn’t be used to gloss over problems such as emotional abuse. “It’s not healthy to try to feel gratitude because, hey, this person didn’t yell at me today, or get mad when they usually do,” Gordon says. No one should use gratitude to prop up a relationship that they should be exiting.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201811/your-relationship-bill-rights

The Wounds of Childhood Can Be Healed

When many of us think of childhood, we imagine happy, carefree times. Tender feelings of safe, loving relationships with parents and grandparents are often remembered. Those of us who are parents ourselves know there is nothing more precious than the birth of a child and the dreams associated with watching that child grow and thrive into adulthood.

Adults also know that growing up can be painful. The wounds of childhood can persist throughout life, embodied in every muscle and organ of our bodies. Children experience trauma in similar ways as adults, including from abuse, poverty, war, injury, or other adverse events. But there is more to trauma than meets the eye.

There are subtle, often invisible, ways children suffer from trauma, the most common being the loss of human connection. Relational trauma can be experienced by children who feel misunderstood, inferior, unaccepted, emotionally neglected, or socially disconnected. These feelings damage children’s emotional health.

Today, college freshmen rate their emotional health compared to others their age at 50.7%, the lowest level ever (Eagan, et al, 2014). Numerous studies have highlighted the declining emotional health of U.S. students, including a steady rise in anxietydepression, and mental illness (Pryor, et al., 2010; Douce & Keeling, 2014). While these statistics are a cause for concern, the good news is that researchers are beginning to better understand the links between poor mental health, relational trauma, and the brain. As a result, therapies are improving.

In recent years, neuroscientists and psychologists have studied various types of trauma and its effects on children. We know, for example, that when children experience trauma, their growth and development is disrupted. To heal and move forward, research shows that the brain must be stimulated in fresh, creative ways. More than ever, a child needs support from adults who can authentically and respectfully interact with them.

In a groundbreaking new book, Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing Trauma: Lifting the Burdens of the Past,psychologist Sharon Stanley, PhD, demonstrates the importance of sharing traumatic experiences in the presence of those who can see, hear, and feel the many ways our bodies communicate truth. Written primarily for helping professionals, this book also reminds us of the significant role parents, teachers, and mentors play in helping children heal from adverse events or relational trauma. In fact, the neuroscienceresearch and practices that Stanley shares should be at the heart of every healthy adult-child relationship. Gleaned from her book are three important ways all adults can become healers for the children in their lives.

3 Ways to Help Children Heal from Traumatic Life Experiences

  1. Promote Embodied AwarenessBe willing to listen and respect the embodied and subjective experience that each child holds to be true. What does this mean? Neuroscience research shows that every traumatic experience is felt in the human body. When children become aware of their bodies, that awareness communicates important information to their brain. The brain, in turn, makes corrective changes and restores healthy functioning.

    A simple shift in conversation can help children become more aware of their bodies. For example, instead of simply asking, “How do you feel?” you might ask, “How and where do you feel that (fearanger, sadness) in your body?” When children become accustomed to connecting their feelings with bodily sensations, they achieve embodied awareness. “Aided by embodied awareness,” says Stanley, “we can look more closely, hear more accurately, and feel more actively in the moment, a mindfulness that can shift habitual autonomic fixed patterns from trauma.”

  2. Create Meaningful RitualsThroughout history, humans have recovered from trauma by coming together to honor struggle and the power of transformation. Unfortunately, ritual and ceremony have all but disappeared in many of today’s Western cultures. Based on years of research with indigenous peoples, Stanley points out the powerful brain-body connections that are made through ritual and how those connections are essential to healing trauma.

    We can help children recover from painful events and hurtful relationships by working with them to create meaningful rituals. Again, body-based activities should be front and center, engaging the right hemisphere of the brain to connect to a child’s subjective way of knowing. Integration of the arts, music, contemplative practices, and dance, says Stanley, can transform the chaos of trauma into relational resources for growth.

    The goal of rituals is to create human connections. When parents and teachers create safe spaces for children to express themselves, explore their feelings, and become aware of the sensations in their bodies, children feel what it means to be human. Stanley suggests that ceremony changes the brain in ways that convert fear to love, facilitating growth and development.

  3. Connect through Somatic EmpathyMuch has been written about the power of empathy. What Stanley does exceedingly well in her book is to differentiate what we often understand as “cognitive empathy,” an attempt to understand what others think, from “somatic empathy,” an ability to feel what others feel. The former is a left-brain activity; the latter is right-brained.

    According to Stanley, “Somatic empathy communicates to people suffering from trauma that they are seen, felt, and understood just as they are, allowing them to feel felt.” Parents, teachers, and all caring adults have the ability to help children heal through our interactions with them and through our mindful attention to their body-based cues.

    For example, when a child aches in his stomach, feels tension in her jaw, or experiences tight sensations in his chest, we can help that child more consciously connect these sensations to a deeper self-knowing. We do this through authentic listening and a sense of respect for how a child feels and experiences those feelings in his or her body. We are consciously present, helping children reflect and gain embodied self-awareness.

    Through compassionate relationships based in somatic empathy, a child’s brain changes in ways that repair the effects of trauma.

Seeking Help when Youth Experience Trauma

The three practices listed above are everyday ways all adults can nurture deep connections with children and teenagers and help them heal from trauma. But often, children need the help of experienced psychological professionals to overcome adverse events and relational trauma in their lives. The good news is that neurobiological research with somatic, embodied healing practices is breaking new ground each year.

Stanley has trained hundreds of practitioners for over a decade in what she calls “somatic transformation.” For helping professionals who want to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of trauma and new ways to work with those affected by trauma, I highly recommend Stanley’s book, based on the most recent research and transformative practices available.

As parents and teachers, we must all become more aware of the subtle cues of relational trauma in our children and in ourselves. Through numerous case studies, Stanley demonstrates that it is never too late to heal the wounds of our own childhoods through body-based somatic healing. When we heal ourselves, we have greater capacity to be in authentic empathy-based relationships with our children.

References

Douce, L.A, & Keeling, R.P. (2014) A strategic primer on college student mental health. (Washington DC: American Council on Education).

K. Eagan, et al., (2014) The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2014(Los Angeles: CA: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, 2014)

J.H. Pryor, et al., (2010) The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010(Los Angeles, CA: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA, 2010).

S. Stanley, (2016) Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing Trauma: Lifting the Burdens of the Past (New York: Routledge).

Author

Marilyn Price-Mitchell, PhD, is the author of Tomorrow’s Change Makers: Reclaiming the Power of Citizenship for a New Generation. A developmental psychologist and researcher, she works at the intersection of positive youth development and education.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-moment-youth/201605/the-wounds-childhood-can-be-healed

How to Control Your Emotions When They Are Out of Control

from Psychology Today

We’ve all been there: We’re freaking out about something that just happened to us — what someone did to us, said to us, or didn’t do for us. And we’re pissed or terrified, or defeated — our emotions have become overpowering. What do we do now to get our emotions under control when they’ve already gotten completely out of control?

There are tons of ways to better manage our emotions in the long run — for example, we can develop positive thinking skillsreappraisal skills, and resiliency, but these skills require effortful practice over long periods of time. Sure, learning these skills is a great idea, but maybe you’re just not sure what to do (take this well-being quiz to figure out what skills to focus on), or you just haven’t gotten to it yet. So what do we do right now to control our already out-of-control emotions? Here are some science-based tips:

1. Cut off the negative thought spirals.

When bad things happen, sometimes we get stuck ruminating about these events, thinking about what happened — or could have happened — over and over. Often it’s these ruminative thought cycles that drive our emotions up, and not the actual event itself. So to control these emotions, we usually just need to stop having the thoughts that are creating them. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

One strategy is to play “I Spy.” It might seem silly, but naming different objects you see around the room can help you redirect your thoughts to other more mundane things, so that your emotions can get a rest and start to calm down. Another strategy to redirect your thoughts is to get up, do something, or change your surroundings — for example, you could excuse yourself to go to the restroom, or if the situation allows, go for a short walk. This approach helps give you a moment to reset and take your thoughts in a new direction.

2. Take deep breaths. 

“Take a deep breath” might seem like a simple platitude, but it actually activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps calm high-arousal negative emotions, like anxiety or anger. So breathing deeply is key when it comes to managing our more challenging emotions.

Because the brain has a harder time making good, rational decisions when emotions are in the driver’s seat, we are also likely to make better decisions if we take a few deep breaths first. So when emotions start to feel overwhelming, pause. Take a couple of deep breaths, and bring those intense emotions down a bit so you can carefully choose what to do next.

3. Generate some positive emotions.

Once you’ve calmed down somewhat, and you’re thinking clearly again, it’s helpful to try to infuse some positive emotions into the situation to help beat back those negative feelings. One way to do this is to look for the silver linings in whatever it is that’s bothering you. For example, did your boss tell you that you must redo the work you just did? A silver lining might be that this experience will help you become better at your job in the future. Or, are you upset about something your romantic partner did? This might be an opportunity to improve your communication skills and advocate for your needs in your relationship. It’s not always easy to find a silver lining, but if you can, it’s a good way to generate positive emotions.

Another way to infuse some positive emotions into the moment is with a funny video or inspiring photo. These little, positive things can help deflate even the most intense negative emotions. So if you’re feeling really down, do something that generates a little happiness, so you can start getting back to your normal self.

4. Practice acceptance.

It can seem counterintuitive to accept the things that are bothering us, but indeed, it is good advice to “accept the things you cannot change” when you want to control your emotions. No matter how upset we get, our emotions can’t change things that are unchangeable. So ask yourself: What part of this situation is unchangeable? Remind yourself to accept those things and focus your effort on the things you can change for the better.

5. Quit the coffees and soft drinks.

Caffeine gives us energy. Of course, energy is good, but caffeine can end up producing nervous energy — energy that feels very similar to feelings of anxiety or panic. So if you’re feeling extra anxious, and you can’t figure out what’s causing it, it might just be the caffeine.

If you’re already feeling stressed about something, caffeine can exacerbate these emotions, in part because caffeine can negatively affect your sleep. When we don’t sleep well, we don’t manage our emotions as well, so our feelings can get out of control more easily. So limiting caffeine is another good way to keep those emotions in check.

6. Get your heart rate up with exercise.

If you’re still feeling all riled up and can’t seem to get a handle on your negative emotions, try exercise, because it turns out that exercise is an effective way to boost your mood. Do a few sprints, lift some heavy weights, or do some other activity that gets your heart rate up, because the higher the intensity of the workout, the greater the impact on your mood. The physiological changes that happen in your body make exercise a great solution for intense emotions that you’re having a hard time handling with other strategies.

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201810/how-control-your-emotions-when-they-are-out-control

Communicating Is More Than Finding The Right Words

By Keiko Purnell

My last depressive episode left me completely isolated. I didn’t respond to messages for months. Since I didn’t know how long I would be depressed, answering the question “how are you?” became emotionally draining. Actually, that one question was why I stopped talking to people entirely.

“How are you?” is such a knee-jerk opening line to a conversation; most of us don’t even realize we’re saying it, or pay much attention to the typical response of, “I’m good.” But I wasn’t good, or even okay, and saying it just to get past that question felt like a lie I didn’t want to explain.

I never would’ve guessed that I could go such a long period of time without talking to anyone. I know now how painful it was for those who cared about me not to hear anything despite their repeated attempts to reach out.

Peer support—“peer” defined both as friends and as those who identify as having mental illness—can be profoundly helpful to the recovery process and to help keep symptoms at bay. I could’ve really benefited from this kind of support during my depression, but my lack of communication with my friends and family led me to struggle in silence.

Feeling Empathy For Those Who Are Trying

When that dark cloud finally lifted, I was intrigued by how difficult it was for me to communicate with the people I cared about during my episode. I didn’t want to go through that again. I wanted to learn how to be better at communicating, especially in the thick of a depressive episode.

So I read the book, “There Is No Good Card for This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.” It includes many wonderful examples of how and when to say or do something, and when it’s best to say nothing at all and just listen. It’s a relatively short, easy read considering the depth of knowledge it contains about difficult conversations. Some of the scenarios included made me cringe as I reflected on things I’ve said that were less than ideal.

This book was immensely helpful in learning empathy for those trying to make a connection with me during my episode. I learned that my negative reaction to my friends asking me how I was doing was because depression had changed my perception. The book helped me understand that people might say uncomfortable or insensitive things—“how are you doing?”—when they are genuinely trying to connect but don’t know what to say or what may negatively impact someone.

Learning Essential Communication Skills

I also learned how I could be a better support system for my friends facing adversities, because we all end up being the supportive friend at one time or another. Conversations are a two-way street, even if one person is doing most of the talking. How you listen and respond can change the tone and outcome of a conversation. In “There is No Good Card for This,” you can find out what type of listener you are and what you can do to improve or change the way you respond. This can help build confidence during a difficult conversation.

Here are a few tips from the book to start working on:

  • Don’t judge or assume. People deal with life’s hurts in various ways. It’s easy to say how we would behave in a friend’s situation, but trust that your friend is doing what’s best for him/her, even if you don’t agree with it.
  • Listening speaks volume about how much you care. It can be much easier to listen than to find the perfect thing to say. Try to avoid asking clarifying questions or offering suggestions and anecdotal stories in an attempt to connect unless you know this is what your friend wants. If unsure, ask if he or she would prefer for you to listen for support or brainstorm helpful next steps.
  • Small gestures make a big difference: Some people are better at showing they care than expressing it in words. Clipping coupons for everyday essentials, preparing and delivering their favorite meal, or gifting a massage are just a few examples.

Realizing Mistakes Are Just Learning Opportunities

At the end of the day, just knowing my friends cared enough to reach out meant the world to me. I isolated myself because I felt emotionally fragile and didn’t want to be asked how I was doing. I still wanted to cheer and root for them, and to tell them how proud I was of them despite my depression; I just didn’t want them to ask how I was because was still trying to figure that out. I now know that I could have expressed that sentiment, and my friends would have understood. It sounds so easy in hindsight, but I couldn’t even get past “how are you?” to tell them.

Please know that you are not alone if you’ve ever felt like this, and if you would like to talk to someone without fear of judgment, please call the NAMI HelpLine for references to mental health resources—including support groups—in your area or online. If you’d like to speak with a trained peer support specialist, the NAMI HelpLine can also give you a local number that you can call 24/7.

Traditional classrooms do not include courses with the sole purpose of teaching emotional intelligence, sensitivity and empathy, so those lessons tend to come from life experience. It’s important to remember to be kind to yourself and others as you navigate through difficult situations. Look back on mistakes as learning opportunities.

I have learned through this experience that if someone is reaching out to you, their heart is probably in the right place, even if they can’t find the “right” words.

 

Keiko Purnell is a NAMI HelpLine Volunteer.

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/August-2018-/Communicating-is-More-than-Finding-the-Right-Words

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