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Do Positive Thoughts Solve All of Your Problems?

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Positivity is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the practice of being or tendency to be positive or optimistic in attitude. Essentially, positivity is trying to find the good in the bad. However, being a positive person, does not mean you have to feel positive every second of every day.

“Just Think Positive”

Lately, I have seen a trend of “just be positive” content and merchandise. It seems like our society is force feeding us positive energy and positive vibes as a healing power. In my opinion, it feels invalidating. Nothing irritates me more than someone telling me to “just think positive” when I am opening up about my mental health struggles. Wow if only I knew thinking positive would heal me?! Honestly, do people think none of us living with mental health conditions have tried to think positive?

Positive thoughts do not conquer the root of the problem. Positive thoughts do not make the intrusive thoughts disappear forever. Positive thoughts do not cancel out the feeling of hopelessness. Positive thoughts do not help you to feel when you feel nothing. Positive thoughts do not remove the obsessions or the compulsions. Positive thoughts do not force your mind to focus. Positive thoughts do not solve all of your problems.

Today, I feel like the world expects us to heal ourselves by thinking positive thoughts. As someone living with a mental health condition (bipolar disorder), I cannot positive think my manic or depressive episodes away. Positive thoughts do not replace my mood stabilizer medication. Positive thoughts are not the answer to “ending” mental illness, pain, or grief.

When does positivity become toxic?

Toxic positivity, in my opinion, is this idea that we have to feel positive or optimistic all the time. Toxic positivity is this idea that we can solve our problems by thinking positive. We live in a world where “positive vibes only” is perceived as realistic. Life is unpredictable and life can be so challenging. Life is full of obstacles, and trauma, pain and grief occur. The beautiful part of life is that you get the good with the bad. You get to experience a range of emotions, both ones that are perceived as positive and negative. Additionally, You know what feeling happy is because you have felt sad. You know what feeling excited is because you have felt angry. You do not get one without the other.

The whole concept of “positive vibes only” takes away from the idea that bad things happen. There is an obsession on finding the positive in every single situation, even in trauma and grief. This can feel extremely invalidating, specifically to people who are struggling.

Just because you experience a “negative” situation does not mean you are a negative person.

Let us be clear, you can be a positive person, and still feel defeated. You can be a positive person and still have bad days. Furthermore, you can be a positive person and still feel frustrated or angry with the way situations unravel. You can be a positive person and struggle.

In my opinion, positivity is about acknowledging the negatives, the pain, the trauma, and the bad, and allowing yourself space and time to heal from it. Then, taking that pain and turning it into a purpose, whether that becomes a passion project, a piece of motivation, a lesson, or a reminder. From pain to purpose, that is where I believe true positivity lies.

You do not have to be or feel positive every day. Negatives happen. Bad days happen. Trauma happens. Grief happens. But, what you do after you feel, after you struggle, after you heal, that determines who you are.

My whole life has been about changing negatives into positives.

Fran Drescher

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What does it mean to prioritize your mental health?

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Do you believe in the mind body connection?

We prioritize our physical health. As children, we often receive annual wellness check-ups and see a doctor whenever we start to feel sick. We are taught the importance of exercise, good hygiene, and a balanced diet. When we break a bone, we go to the doctor. We do not say “think positive, walk it off, or get over it”.

Our mental health is not treated with the same value as our physical health. Mental health is rarely prioritized. Self-care and self-love are often labeled as selfish. Yet, your mind is a key player in your overall health. A healthy mindset improves many physical symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches, low immune system, chest pain, and more! Still, we lack an emphasis on cultivating our own mental health.

Why should we prioritize our mental health?

When you prioritize your mental health, you engage in self-care that stimulates inner peace, inner happiness, and self-love. You continuously practice and develop new coping mechanisms. And, you learn how to forgive yourself. More than that, you show yourself compassion and understanding. You provide your mind and body with space and time to relax, to heal, and to grow.

Just like with our physical health, taking care of our mental health is important. We are focused on being the “perfect support” for everyone around us. As a result, we push ourselves and our mental health to the back burner. The paradox is that in order to be the support our loved ones need and deserve, in order to be the best version of ourselves, we have to put time and energy into cultivating our mental health. Therefore, it is important to value your mind as much as you value your body. Furthermore, it is important to spend as much time and energy caring for your mind as you do your body.

Your mental health affects how you feel, think, and act. Unlike when you feel sick or when you break a bone, it is not always as easy to recognize the warning signs within your mind. Often times, our mental health has declined a significant amount before we have recognized it. Furthermore, our mental health can dramatically affect our relationship with our loved ones and with ourselves. Therefore, we have to prioritize cultivating our mental health every day.

A few of the many ways you can prioritize your mental health.

Make time for yourself. This can be as simple as spending 30 minutes reading a book or journaling in the morning. This could also be taking a quick walk or meditating during the day. Spend some time alone with yourself and learn to love the moments of silence.

Do things that bring you joy. The week can feel very long and stressful. There is a lot going on in your world and the world around you. You do not have to sit in all the trauma and fear all of the time. Try to dedicate at least 1 hour a week doing 1 thing that you really enjoy, something that brings you joy, and makes you happy to be alive.

Check in with yourself. How are you really? What are you feeling right now? What kind of headspace are you in? How can you allow your mind some space and time to rejuvenate? What can you do for your mental exhaustion? Which coping mechanisms would be helpful right now? Be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself will only hurt you in the long run.

Listen to your body. Is your body starting to feel tired? Are you constantly running on empty? Honor your body. Acknowledge the stress put on it. When your body needs rest, allow yourself to rest. Taking a nap is not “being lazy,” it is preventing a burnout that takes an extended period of time away from work, school, and / or your day to day.

Listen to your mind. What are you telling yourself? Are you putting yourself down? Are you upsetting yourself? Why are you telling yourself negative things? Listen to what you are telling yourself, become aware of it, and counter it with positives. Treat yourself with the same love and kindness you would a friend.

Pay attention to your feelings. What are you feeling? Where is that feeling stemming from? Pay attention to how these feelings are affecting your mind and body. How are you reacting? What coping mechanisms can you use to validate yourself while simultaneously comforting yourself? Remember, it is okay to not be okay. But, also remember that there are coping mechanisms and resources available to help you through the hard times.

Fining a safe place where you feel content. This can be an actual physical space or an image within your mind. When the world feels overwhelming, when our symptoms are too much to handle, connecting to your happy place can provide a sense of calming. Maybe this place will comfort you, motivate you, inspire you, or help you escape for a few moments.

I will leave you with this thought: Prioritizing your mental health validates you as a human being. If you do not validate and prioritize yourself, who will?

“If I wait for someone else to validate my existence, it will mean that I am shortchanging myself.”

Zanele Muholi

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How do you advocate for your mental health?

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When it comes to your mental health, be tenacious. Advocate for yourself. Find support systems and treatment options that work for YOU.

One thing I have come to realize, through my own journey and hearing the stories of others, is a lack of assertion. When it comes to our mental health, we often take a long time to reach out for support. At first, we tend to ignore our symptoms. Then, we question if they are real or in our heads. Next, we compare ourselves to others. Then, we deny any potential conditions. And, finally, after the symptoms and/or condition have overwhelmed us, we reach out for support.

Why do we wait so long to receive treatment that we deserve? Think about it. When your arm starts hurting, especially after a trauma, do you wait years to get an x-ray? When your vision starts to worsen, do you wait years to get glasses? When you have a cavity, do you wait years to get a filling? When you have a headache, do you wait years to take medication? When you live with a heart condition, do you wait years to go to the cardiologist? Yet, when you live with a mental health condition or you are facing poor mental health symptoms, why do you take years to see a doctor?

Then, once we see a professional, we often assume they know everything. Mental health is a tricky field because it is an invisible illness. The doctors, therapists, and / or counselors do not see a picture of your brain that clearly shows a proper diagnosis that results in a specific treatment plan. Because the professionals are not experiencing the symptoms first-hand and cannot see what is going on inside your mind, mental health diagnoses can become a guessing game.

One of the most common misconceptions I have experienced within the mental health community is this idea that your first diagnosis or your first prescription medication or your first therapist is going to be the right one. What many people do not know is that it can take an average of up to 10 years to receive the right diagnosis. Many people do not know that the average person tries more than one medication before finding the right one for their mind and body. Many people, also, do not know that it can take an average of up to 5 therapists to find the right match.

So, if it can be extremely difficult to receive the right diagnosis and treatment plan, what should I do?

Get curious about your mental health diagnosis and treatment plan; and ASK ANY AND ALL QUESTIONS THAT YOU HAVE.

Be tenacious. Research your symptoms and educate yourself on various mental health conditions that relate to your symptoms. Reach out to others who are experiencing similar symptoms and find out what they have tried. Then, create a list of questions to ask the mental health care professional.

Do not be afraid to be “annoying” by asking too many questions. It is your mental health; you can ask as many questions as you would like to. If you do not understand a diagnosis or a symptom, ask the doctor to explain it to you. Ask questions about the medication being prescribed and what side effects to look out for. Ask about alternate treatment options and next steps. Ask what you can do in addition to taking the prescribed medication and / or attending therapy.

Furthermore, do not be afraid to ask what external or internal factors can be affecting your mental health. Have you checked your vitamin and hormone levels recently? Are you exposed to hazardous / toxic chemicals? Do you live in an area of high pollution? Does your home have mold? Advocating for yourself is not only sharing your symptoms, but also asking questions that help you and the doctor get a full picture.

Mental health care professionals are humans, just like us, they may make mistakes or overlook certain symptoms. They do not physically or mentally experience what you are experiencing; therefore, it is difficult for them to know everything about what is going on. By researching and asking questions, you can learn more about what they are thinking and collaborate on the best treatment plan.

Understand that the first medication you try may not be the right one.

Everyone’s body is different. Therefore, everyone’s body reacts differently to medications. If prescribed medication, be sure to understand that the first medication may not be the right one for you. And understand that it does not always mean that no medication will work for you. It simply means, this time around, the medication prescribed was not the right fit.

It is also important to remember that just because the medication prescribed to you works for someone else with the same mental health condition, it does not mean that it will definitely work for you. As noted previously, everyone’s body reacts differently.

However, when you start to experience side effects, especially severe side effects that make you uncomfortable, tell your doctor right away. You do not have to wait it out, because the doctor prescribed it. Call your doctor and share your concerns. It may be a normal reaction as the body adjusts or it may be a sign that the wrong medication was prescribed. Advocating for yourself by consulting your doctor will help you explore your options.

Lastly, look at therapy like you look at dating. You may not find your match the first time around, but the perfect match is out there.

Every therapist is different. From energy to method of practice to personal experience to specialty, every therapist brings a different approach and perspective to the table. It may take time to find a therapist that matches your specific needs.

When you are searching for a therapist, do not be afraid to ask questions. What do you specialize in? What approach do you use (ex. holistic, biofeedback, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy)? What is your availability? Ask however many questions you would like, within the appropriate boundaries. You are going to therapy for you. You are the consumer; you are allowed to be selective in your approach.  

When you finally choose a therapist, if you do not feel like the connection is right, look for a new therapist. You do not have to stick with the same one, even if you have been going to them for years. It is okay to change therapists, just like it is okay to change phones.

I, in my searches, use the 3-appointment rule. I go to the same therapist 3 times before deciding if they are the right fit for me. At the first appointment, I am usually nervous, and the therapist knows nothing about me. It tends to feel a little awkward. Plus, the appointment tends to be more of a focus on history rather than my current situation. During the second appointment, I tend to be more relaxed, and the therapist has a general understanding of my background, therefore, we dive a little deeper into my history and current situation. Then, by the third appointment, I have a good idea of the approach the therapist uses and if it feels right for me. This 3-appointment rule has worked out well for me; however, it may not work for everyone. An important part of advocating for yourself is exploring what you are looking for in support and understanding how long it takes you to get a good feel for those part of your support system.

All in all, remember to always speak up. Ask questions. Do not let people patronize you or invalidate you. You deserve to be heard and educated on what you are experiencing. The mental health care system can feel complicated, but you deserve the right support that works for you. Never stop advocating for yourself and your mental health.

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What is the ideal model of mental health care within psych wards?

medical stethoscope and mask composed with red foiled chocolate hearts

Mental health care within psych wards, in my opinion, based on my experience and others whom I have spoken with, has a great deal of opportunity for improvement. In fact, I would personally describe the current mental health system as broken. Did you know that patients hospitalized in psych wards are 100-200x more likely to die by suicide upon discharge?

It is 2021, our eyes are open to the economic disparity more than they have ever been in the past. Yet, we still live in a world where quality mental health care is a privilege NOT a right. There is no valid reason as to why there is no minimum standard of care within psych wards on a national level that sets patients up for success rather than failure.

In the beginning of 2021, Inspiring My Generation partnered with More Than Mental Project to create a petition that addressed this. Below is an explanation of points covered in the petition.

When patients are admitted into the psych ward, many are not thoroughly evaluated.

In fact, most evaluations are a simple, standard check the box. These evaluations are commonly not personalized for the specific patient and their story or experience. This results in the professional assigned to the patient receiving only a partial understanding of the patient. Instead, imagine if the first 24-48 hours after a patient is admitted was an evaluation period where a patient is assigned a case manager who works with the 3 licensed professionals to develop the right treatment plan from the number of individual and group therapy sessions to proper medication (if prescribed), post admission treatment plan, and resources.

Patients are typically required to take a standard medication without a thorough evaluation.

As we know, medication is not a one-size-fits-all. The same medication will not work well for individuals living with different mental illnesses. The same medication will not affect every individual living with the same mental illness in the same way. For example, an antidepressant is known to cause manic episodes in individuals living with bipolar disorder. Thus, if an antidepressant is the standard medication, it can have an adverse effect on various patients. As a result, we should not prescribe medication without a formal evaluation and diagnosis. Furthermore, not everyone is comfortable with medication or cannot continue to afford medication upon discharge. Therefore, these situations should be taken into consideration prior to prescribing the medication. When a medication is started and stopped abruptly, it can create a severe adverse reaction.

Patients are not assigned an effective treatment plan during admission.

After the recommended 24–48-hour evaluation period, over the next 24 hours, the patient should work with an assigned case manager to develop a treatment plan that makes both parties comfortable. The treatment plan should comprise of options recommended by the medical team as well as be considerate of the person’s financial situation upon discharge. Thus, the treatment plan should be customized to the individual. Imagine if the treatment plan included a mix of both individual and group therapy sessions while admitted as well as resources and coping mechanisms to use upon discharge, with additional medication or therapy as recommended, prescribed, and financially reasonable. The system would be setting the individual up for success upon discharge rather than throwing them back into the fast-paced world with little to no support.

Individual therapy sessions are not typically offered, specifically not regularly during admission.

When someone is hospitalized in a psych ward, it is usually a direct result of suicidal ideation (active or passive). This is a critical time, where support is needed. Patients should receive consistent individual therapy sessions focused on exploring what led them to admission, relevant trauma from the past, and transitioning to life outside the institution / facility. Imagine if daily or every other day, patients were receiving therapy that explored their specific situation and symptoms, while creating a solid plan to transition back home.  

Group therapy sessions do not provide enough variety in a range of coping mechanisms nor are they separated by mental health disorder.

Group therapy sessions are a great opportunity to explore coping mechanisms in a safe and fun environment. However, not enough variety is provided within the coping mechanisms. In fact, patients should have the opportunity to explore a range of coping mechanisms during group therapy. Also, patients should also not be “marked off” for not attending group therapy sessions that do not feel right or comfortable for them. There should be specific groups created for specific conditions. For example, imagine if we created specific groups for individuals experiencing suicidal ideation / anxiety / depression / schizophrenia.

While admitted, psych wards should have resources that allow patients to explore various coping mechanisms.

Imagine if psych wards had a range of approved movies, books, art supplies, journals, games, etc. that are constantly available for patients to use. This would be a great way for patients to explore different coping mechanisms that may work for them and create their “coping toolbox.”

Upon discharge, patients should have a valuable resource that sets them up for success.

Psych wards should provide all patients with a completed workbook post release with the treatment plan they followed during admission, their recommended treatment plan post admission, a comprehensive list of coping mechanisms, local affordable options for therapy / counseling, crisis hotline and text line numbers, and a supportive message.

Treatment costs are extremely high. Hospitals and/or governments need to reallocate funding to allow for quality treatment.

Many patients leave the mental health treatment facility drowning in bills from their admission on top of any additional costs (such as ER visits and ambulance). If the costs were significantly reduced, this would help transitioning to life post admission more feasible and less stressful, while simultaneously encouraging more individuals to reach out for help.

After discharge, patients are thrown out into the world with no one checking in on them.

Every hospital should have a case manager that checks in with the patients on a routine basis. We recommend: a monthly check in for the first year, a bi-annual check in for the second year, and then annual check ins afterward. If the case manager feels the individual should be re-evaluated, they may call them in for a FREE evaluation appointment to see if treatment plans need to be adjusted. This creates a safety net for individuals who are struggling upon discharge and can help to reduce the suicide rate among patients discharged.

The federal or state government should reallocate more funding toward psych wards to help cover the costs of treatment.

We strongly encourage the Federal Government to increase spending on mental health and set a minimum per capita spending on mental health to ensure all states are allocating enough money toward making these improvements. Currently, we have the majority of states operating at around 1% of the total budget going toward mental health AND many insurance policies not efficiently covering mental health treatment and medications. Imagine if the Supreme Court passed legislation that requires insurance companies to cover a decent percentage of mental health treatment and medications to ensure it is affordable for ALL, not just the privileged. Furthermore, imagine if our State Governments enforced equal distribution of funds per capita to every hospital with behavioral health wards. Funding would be based on city population size and need, not based on wealth. 


Add your signature to the petition:

https://www.change.org/p/kamala-harris-mental-health-treatment-for-all?utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=custom_url&recruited_by_id=5d2948a0-73df-11eb-9605-43c0b2a74b94

Take part in other Policy Change initiatives spearheaded by Inspiring My Generation: 

https://inspiringmygeneration.org/policy-change/