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Suicidal thoughts are more than “I want to die.”

woman crying

Suicidal thoughts, also known as “suicidal ideation,” is often misunderstood. This is partially due to the stigma on mental illness as a whole, depression, and suicide. We live in a world where individuals do not feel worthy of help until they have a gun to their head or pills in their hand. Why? Because, we have minimized suicidal thoughts.

Suicide is often treated as a joke.

  • “I am going to kill myself if I fail this test.”
  • “This meeting made me want to jump off a bridge.”

Suicidal ideation is often invalidated.

  • “They are not going to hurt themselves; they are just looking for attention.”
  • “You are just being dramatic.”

Suicidal ideation is very common.

Almost everyone will experience suicidal ideation at some point in their lives. However, this does not take away from the danger and impact of suicidal thoughts. Without proper support, passive suicidal ideation (thoughts with no intention of action) can turn into active suicidal ideation.

Suicidal thoughts are more than “I want to die.”

Early detection can be a key in suicide prevention. However, due to lack of conversation, education, and awareness on suicidal ideation, we often miss the warning signs.

Suicidal thoughts include feeling:

  • Hopeless
  • Overwhelmed by negative thoughts
  • Unbearable pain
  • Useless
  • Desperate
  • Like a burden
  • Not good enough
  • Lonely
  • Physically numb
  • Fascinated by death

(mind.org)

Research shows that suicidal ideation often starts by the time you are 8 years old. It is not always in the traditional sense, of “I want to die” or “I want to kill myself.” Often times, it starts as simple as:

  • “My parents’ divorce is my fault. Everything is my fault. I ruin everything.”
  • “I hate my life. Nothing ever goes right.”
  • “I have no friends. No one likes me. I am alone.”
  • “I am ugly, stupid, and useless. No one is going to like me.”
  • “Everyone would be happier if I was never born.”

Imagine if we started teaching people how to cope with suicidal ideation. What if we started education people on how to advocate for themselves and what they are experiencing? Imagine if we made treatment widely accessible and stigma-free. Here are my opinions on a few of the most common questions on experiencing suicidal ideation.

When do I seek help?

When you ask yourself this question, it is time to seek help.

Are these thoughts normal? Does everyone feel this way?

You are not the only one experiencing these thoughts. Suicidal thoughts are very common and occur way too frequently. However, none of that means you do not deserve support. When you are experiencing thoughts of suicide, even if it seems minor, talking to a doctor or mental health professional can be extremely helpful. Without any treatment or support, these thoughts may worsen and consume your life.

Should I talk to my doctor about my suicidal ideation?

It is important to disclose your suicidal thoughts to your doctor so that they may help you to evaluate the severity. Sometimes, a doctor might recommend self-care and allowing yourself time to rest and recuperate. Often times, a doctor might check your vitamin and hormone levels, as deficiencies can be linked to lower moods. In other situations, the doctor may recommend a form of mental health treatment.

Will I be hospitalized if I tell my doctor or mental health care professional?

This depends on the doctor / mental health care professional, your mental health medical history, whether or not you are high risk of harming yourself or others, and any additional factors the provider sees fit. Typically, hospitalization within a psych ward is used for individuals with active suicidal ideation: thoughts and a plan.

How do I talk to my doctor or mental health care professional about my suicidal ideation?

Be honest! Share exactly what you are feeling and be sure to clarify if you have thought of a plan of harming yourself, even if you are not certain you would go through with it. Tell your doctor whether or not you would consider following through on the plan. This can help your doctor better understand where you are at. Explain when the thoughts started. Did something trigger these thoughts? Is there a new stressor in your life? And disclose how often you have the thoughts and when they typically appear. Do they only occur at negative with your intrusive thoughts? Or do they happen when you get behind the wheel of your car? Are they constant? Everything you can share with your doctor about your suicidal ideation can be extremely useful in diagnosis and treatment plan.

What if my doctor does not believe me?

Often times, especially when it comes to mental health, we will be invalidated or ignored. That does not mean you do not deserve support. What you are feeling is important. You matter and your life matters. If you feel you need help, resources, or support, then you need help, resources, or support. Try different doctors until you find one that not only listens to you but also makes you feel safe to open up. Advocate for yourself. Be tenacious in the way you advocate for yourself. It is your life and your health.

Which doctor should I talk to?

This depends. Mental health care professionals, such as therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers can be a great resource, as they specialize in mental health. If you do not have access to a mental health care professional or have not found one that works for you yet, your primary care physician can be a great start! Your primary care physician may even be able to recommend local therapists, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, treatment facilities, or behavioral health facilities.

Long story short, everyone deserves support.

Even if the thoughts seem insignificant, having someone to share what you are feeling with can be instrumental. You do not have to go through it alone. If someone opens up to you about their suicidal thoughts, do not judge them or invalidate them. If you are unable to provide the support that they need, then help them find someone who can. When your child comes home from school crying, listen to them. Pay attention to the words they are using. Offer support where you can and reach out to a professional to help them develop coping mechanisms that may work for them.

Remember, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death ages 10-25 and 10th leading cause of death overall.

We can no longer stay silent or expect people to suffer in silence.

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Managing mental health and the holidays.

group of people eating together

The holidays can be an extremely stressful time of year.

From the financial pressure to the pressure of hosting the perfect holiday dinner, the holiday season is full of added strain. Not to mention, the heightened stress of year-end work deadlines and midterm / final exams for students. Then, on top of it all, many people live with complicated familial relationships. Some people are experiencing their first holiday without a loved one. Others are living in an emotionally, mentally, physically, or sexually abusive household. Then, there are those who have to hide their authentic self from family members in fear of being exiled. Additionally, the individuals living with an eating disorder feeling extremely uncomfortable at the dinner table in front of family members who make insensitive comments about their weight, body, or eating habits. Furthermore, the individuals whose family members ask inappropriate questions then gaslight and / or invalidate them. Plus, the countless other situations that create heightened anxiety levels.

The holidays are stressful for anyone, whether or not you are living with a diagnosed mental health condition. We are all vulnerable to a decline in mental health during the season. So, what can we do about it?

Allow yourself space and time to express your emotions.

Do not be afraid to feel what you are feeling. Yes, you may have so much to be grateful for. Sure, you are perceived to have it all together. And, yes, the holidays can be about family, joy, and love. None of that means that your feelings are not valid. What you feel and what you think matters. You do not have to suppress your emotions. Suppressing your emotions will only lead to release in unintentional ways, often with anger and irritability.

A few ways to express your emotions are:

  • Speak with a loved one or mental health professional for support.
  • Journal what you are feeling and connecting it to events / situations. Where does it stem from?
  • Meditate on a thought or feeling.
  • Exercise to release stress or anger.
  • Allow yourself to cry or scream it out. Sometimes, we all need a good cry.

Plan ahead.

Are there going to be family members in attendance who make you uncomfortable? Are there certain triggers or situations that arise year after year that negatively impact you? Is there a meal on the table that you will eat? What coping mechanisms are easy for you to utilize when in a place full of people? Plan ahead for what you can do to get through.

  • Do you need to bring a meal, side, or dessert for yourself?
  • Do you have an assertive response planned to the insensitive comments or inappropriate questions?
  • Have you made a list of different coping mechanisms you can use?
  • Do you have a list of reasons you can use to excuse yourself for a few minutes to breathe or utilize a coping mechanism?
  • Who / what is your support system?

A few resources available.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: 741-741
  • Trevor Project: 1-866-7386

Sending you love and strength this holiday season. xx

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What do you mean by self-care?

black and brown brush on saucer

Self-care is only for people with enough time and money, right?

Did you know that the majority of people misunderstand what effective self-care is and how they can benefit from it? Furthermore, surveys have reported that 44% of people believe self-care is only possible for people who have enough time. Surveys have also reported that about 35% of people believe self-care is only possible for those who have enough money.

Self-care does not have to be extremely time-consuming. We all have 24 hours in a day. The difference between the people who incorporate self-care habits and those who do not is simply time management. How do you use your time? Look at your phone’s daily screen time. You can see exactly how much time you spend on elective apps, such as social media accounts (unless your job requires social media), streaming services, and games. If you spend more than 20 minutes a day on these elective apps, there is your time for self-care!

Additionally, self-care does not have to be costly. Despite the misleading idea that self-care is spa days and retail therapy, self-care is actually about forming and maintaining healthy habits. Self-care is about taking care of yourself: mentally, emotionally, and physically. It can play an essential role in maintaining overall wellness. Self-care encompasses more than meditation, journaling, or bubble baths. Although, these can be a small piece of a self-care routine. In fact, “It is a broad concept encompassing hygiene (general and personal), nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.), and self-medication.” (WHO 1998)

How do I incorporate self-care into my daily routine?

As previously stated, self-care is about taking care of yourself: mind and body. This includes a range of areas from hygiene, nutrition, lifestyle, environmental factors, socio-economic factors, and self-medication. Below are just a few examples of the many ways to easily incorporate healthy self-care habits into your daily routine.

Hygiene (note: pay attention to the additives and chemicals inside your hygiene products)

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Wash your face when you wake up and before bed.
  • Thoroughly wash your hair and body in the shower.
  • Moisturize your skin after you shower.

Nutrition (note: pay attention to organic, non-gmo labels AND what chemicals or hormones are inside the food you are consuming)

  • Eat a well-balanced diet (meal prep can be a great tool if you do not have a lot of time during the week)
  • Consume sufficient levels of necessary vitamins and minerals (supplements may help, speak to a doctor)
  • Avoid highly processed foods.
  • Hydrate.

Lifestyle

  • Engage in 30 minutes of exercise 5x a week. (ex. yoga, running, walking, strength training)
  • Walk 10,000 steps a day (ex. park at the end of the lot and encourage yourself to walk further)
  • Allow your body and mind time to rest.
  • Get enough sleep! Sleep is important for your overall wellness.
  • Meditate for self-awareness in the morning.
  • Journal for 20 minutes in the morning.
  • Read for 20 minutes before bed.

Environmental Factors

  • Pay attention to whom you spend time with. Are they draining you or energizing you?
  • What chemicals are you using to clean your household? Switch out hazardous/dangerous chemicals.

Socio-Economic Factors

  • Take 5-10 minutes each morning to reflect on your religious / cultural beliefs.
  • Create a budget that works for you, your family, and your lifestyle.

Self-Medication

  • Several MINOR illnesses / conditions can be treated without a doctor (such as occasional headaches, allergies, acne, stomachache, minor wounds); however, check in with your doctor if your symptoms worsen overtime, cause lifestyle disruption (severe pain / difficulties), or conditions are persistent.
  • Holistic medicine (such as meditation, aromatherapy, etc.)

Final Thoughts

How you care for your body and mind is up to you. Can you afford an extra 20 minutes everyday to incorporate just one healthy habit? Maybe you wake up 20 minutes earlier to meditate or journal. Maybe you take 30 minutes at lunch to walk or exercise. But do not forget one of the most important factors, that takes no extra time, is incorporating a healthy lifestyle by paying attention to what you put in, on, and around your body. You only have one life, the quality of it can be determined by how you care for yourself.

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Work-life balance or integration?

a woman holding a cellphone and typing on a laptop

What does work-life balance mean?

Work-life balance is the idea that you can divide your time and energy equally between work and important aspects of their life. Essentially, you divide between the demands of the workplace and spending quality time with family members, maintaining a social life, focusing on your personal growth, caring for your health, engaging in self-care practices, participate within your community, and other activities that are important pieces of your personal life. Fundamentally, work and your personal life exist separately, where one ends, the other begins.

The idea of work-life balance was developed to help employees and employers achieve a more balanced lifestyle. In response to the excessive feelings of stress and burnout, we developed an idea of balance and boundaries. However, stress and burnout comes with managing both work and personal demands as separate entities. Thus, the problem with work-life balance is the notion of “balance”. The word balance suggests a weighing balance scale that is balanced (or equal) on both sides. This concept, although ideal in theory, is nearly impossible to reach. The term suggests there would be little conflict between your work and personal life. However, at different points in your life, throughout various stressors / deadlines, one may require more time and energy than the other. They may also interlope from time to time. Yet the notion of “balance” implies that when you spend more time and energy on one area, you are taking from the other.

Thus, in recent years, work-life balance has progressed into a more realistic notion known as work-life integration.

Work-life integration suggests that work and your personal life co-exist and thrive together. Rather than specific boundaries of a traditional “9-5,” integration allows for your personal and professional life to intermingle. For example, you may make time during the workday to pick up your children from school and you may take time after dinner to respond to emails.

Work-life integration allows for you to participate in higher productivity and efficiency levels at work without sacrificing your personal life, mental, emotional, or physical health. It also can be beneficial in prioritizing important things outside of work, like family time, health, and self-care without feeling guilty. Furthermore, integration eliminates the stress of “having it all” in a sense of balance when instead they co-exist and thrive together.

Basically, work-life integration is about feeling content. When your life moves from a focus on producing content to being content, with all aspects of your life, you can not only boost your work productivity, but also grow in different areas of your personal life.

Is work-life integration important?

In my opinion, work-life integration is an essential part of your overall wellness. When you treat work and life as separate entities, there is an added level of stress and pressure. You are constantly trying to enforce boundaries where lines are often blurred. There may be personal emergencies during the workday, and there may be work emergencies during your personal time. Trying to enforce strict boundaries can lead to feelings of guilt and anger and increased stress levels when lines are crossed.

Self-care is an important piece of overall happiness and productivity. Without recharging, you will exhaust yourself to a point of fatigue and burnout. Burnout is linked to a reduction in productivity, lack of motivation, and symptoms of depression. However, trying to achieve “work-life balance” makes it difficult to set aside time for self-care without feeling guilty.

Integrating work and life to co-exist in harmony that allows ample time for both without feelings of continual guilt can positively impact your mental health.

Is work-life balance integration really possible?

As stated earlier, work-life integration is about finding a state of content within all aspects of your life. Work-life integration is about believing that dedicating time to work or life does not take away from the other. For each person, work-life integration may look different, based on their personal life and work demands.

For some, work-life integration may look like starting the workday after dropping off one’s children and leaving during the “workday” to pick up one’s kids from school but answering emails and working on proposals after the kids go to bed. Or work-life integration may look like taking an extended lunch break to workout, see a healthcare professional, or engage in a form of self-care. It is different for everyone, because it is based on your specific needs and work / life demands. Finding the proper integration may be easier for some than others and may take a while to properly develop. The important part is finding a combination that allows for growth in all areas without sacrificing your emotional, mental, and / or physical health.

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Is anxiety a real mental illness?

white and brown wooden tiles

What is anxiety?

According to the Encyclopedia of Psychology, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.

An individual living with an anxiety disorder typically experiences recurring intrusive thoughts and avoids situations out of fear / worry. They also may experience physical symptoms, such as sweating, trembling, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, stomachache, nausea, muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, loss of libido, breathing problems, and insomnia. (APA, Healthline)

Anxiety is a common emotion that we all experience sometimes. Fear, worry, and nervousness are unavoidable emotions because life is unpredictable. You may anxiety prior to making a life-changing decision, before taking a test, or when facing a problem at work. (NIMH) When we experience fear, worry, or nervousness, it can also be a sign of growth, because we are facing something we have never faced before. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, can be debilitating and disrupt one’s quality of life. Symptoms can impact one’s relationships and / or performance at school or work.  Unlike typical anxiety, anxiety disorders are not temporary worry or fear.

There are various types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders. (NIMH)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) display excessive anxiety or worry, most days for at least 6 months, about a number of things such as personal health, work, social interactions, and everyday routine life circumstances. The fear and anxiety can cause significant problems in areas of their life, such as social interactions, school, and work.

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include:

  • Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
  • Being irritable
  • Having muscle tension
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or unsatisfying sleep

(NIMH)

Panic Disorder

People with panic disorder have recurrent unexpected panic attacks. Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear that come on quickly and reach their peak within minutes. Attacks can occur unexpectedly or can be brought on by a trigger, such as a feared object or situation.

During a panic attack, people may experience:

  • Heart palpitations, a pounding heartbeat, or an accelerated heartrate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensations of shortness of breath, smothering, or choking
  • Feelings of impending doom
  • Feelings of being out of control

(NIMH)

18% of US adults (18+) live with anxiety disorders. (NAMI)

In a given year, approximately 40million adults in the United States alone will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health condition. Yet, because anxiety is associated with an everyday, typical emotion, many people do not realize that anxiety can also be a mental health disorder. In fact, a lot of people view anxiety disorder as “attention-seeking” when it is not.

The symptoms that one experiences with anxiety disorder can vary. Not everyone will experience the same symptoms. However, the symptoms may impact one’s body, mind, and behavior. Anxiety disorder can impact one’s overall mental, emotional, and physical health.

Without proper support, anxiety disorder may worsen overtime. Luckily, anxiety disorders are treatable! Common treatment options include psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and / or medication. It is important to note that medication does not “cure” anxiety but can help to relieve symptoms. When facing an anxiety disorder, learning how to approach certain situations and cope with your emotions can be extremely beneficial. Remember, your emotional reactions can impact your physical reactions.

Anxiety disorders can lead to physical illness.

Did you know that your nervous system is closely linked to your immune system? In fact, your body releases chemicals and hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, when facing anxiety / stress. Your immediate response to the release is often rapid heart rate, increased breathing rate, palpitations, and chest pain. After the stress or feelings of anxiety subside, your body functions as normal. However, with an anxiety disorder, the feelings of anxiety and stress may not subside; therefore, your immune system may be affected. Overtime, as your immune system weakens, you become more susceptible to viral infections and illnesses.

In addition to impacting your central nervous system, the physical effects on your body, can also impact your cardiovascular, digestive, and respiratory systems. Anxiety can increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It can increase your risk of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or cause symptoms of nausea, stomachaches, and loss of appetite. Rapid, shallow breathing can also occur, which may worsen symptoms of asthma.

(Healthline)

Final Thoughts

Although anxiety disorder is commonly overlooked and invalidated, it is a real mental health condition. Anxiety can lead to problematic effects on your physical health if not addressed. Finding the root cause of your anxiety, creating a treatment plan with the help of a mental health care professional, and developing healthy coping mechanisms can play an essential part in managing your anxiety.

If you or someone you know may be experiencing an anxiety disorder, please reach out to your doctor or mental health care professional to learn which treatment options may be right for you.

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Does the way we receive news affect our mental health?

selective focus photography of magazines

RATINGS! RATINGS! RATINGS!

Television ratings are essential to media organizations. Therefore, it is no wonder why every headline and every story are designed to captivate your attention. As media consumers, we are more likely to subscribe to a negative headline then we are a positive one. Why? It holds our attention because it has a significant emotional impact on our brains. Thus, you are more likely to remember negative news than positive news.

With continuous negative headlines and crises, you are more likely to tune into the news for updates. The stress is a driving force in your desire to watch more. You crave the news to stay updated and feel in the know.

It is a 24-hour news cycle.

With smartphones and tablets, the news is available at our fingertips. We know everything that is happening worldwide at all times. It is impossible to ignore the news or not be affected by it.

In 2017, the APA conducted a survey of Americans. Over 50% reported that the news stresses them out. Exposure to the news led to anxiety, fatigue, and interrupted sleep.

The negative, fear-mongering news headlines are overwhelming. What we take in directly affects our nervous system. Our brains register these frightening headlines as threats, initiating a fight or flight response. When the nervous system is affected by stress and fear, your body is likely to release stress hormones (ex. cortisol and adrenaline). The more news we take in, the more often we experience stress responses, the more our mental health declines and physical symptoms occur (fatigue, anxiety, depression, sleep difficulty).

The news affects our mental health.

As you can see, the way we consume news can affect our mental health. On a continuous loop of bad, negative, heartbreaking, or terrifying news can have devastating effects on both our mental and physical health.

High stress levels are linked to higher levels of anxiety, increased risk of depression, mental exhaustion, heart disease, weakened immune system, etc. Therefore, it is essential we change the way we consume the news.

  • Before you turn on the news or check your smartphone social media accounts, check in with yourself. Are you in the right headspace to receive negative / stressful news?
  • Give yourself a break. Make it a habit to only check applications and news channels a couple of times a day or week (depending on situation and your comfort). You are allowed to disconnect from the media and focus on the world in front of you. You can do this through practicing mindfulness exercises.
  • Pay attention to who is delivering the news. Try to only obtain news from sources you find to be reliable, who do research before “breaking” news.
  • Practice self-care after receiving the news. The news can affect your emotional wellness. Practicing self-care or utilizing coping mechanisms can help to reduce the effect / impact.
  • Set boundaries when discussing the news with others. If someone brings up a topic you are not comfortable discussing or not in the headspace to discuss, be assertive. You do not have to be exposed to more negative news or increase exposure to negative headlines when you do not want to.

When watching the news, listen to your mind and your body. How are you being affected? What can you do to reduce the impact?

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Mental health and higher education system.

photography of people graduating

Is college for me?

The question every high school student dreads. Our higher education system is designed to help us gain the necessary tools and lessons needed to be successful within our chosen career paths. College courses teach you how to learn while simultaneously preparing you for work in your field.

Today, college is highly publicized as a necessary step. Most jobs require a bachelor’s degree, while many require a masters or doctorate level.

Research has shown that 50% of students feel their mental health is poor or below average. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death between ages 10-35 and has risen significantly among the 10-24 age group since 1950.

The fact is: Our student population is struggling. According to Healthy Minds Network, 39% of college students in the US are diagnosed with depression. And, according to Imagine America Foundation, 1/3 of students who are diagnosed with depression drop out of college. And, according to a 2018 study by DOI, out of 67,000 surveyed students, 9% had attempted suicide.

Yet, our higher education facilities have only made minimal accommodations available to students.

Currently, in our Higher Education System, we offer “reasonable” accommodations to students living with mental illness who have qualified for disability. Although this seems like a great solution, it creates a wide gap that sets our students up for hardship. Many mental illnesses are often not diagnosed under the age of 18, such as borderline personality disorder (bpd). Furthermore, symptoms of anxiety and depression often begin to form during adolescence, but many children do not receive treatment or support, because symptoms are written off as typical adolescent behavior.

Therefore, because it is difficult to receive a diagnosis from a licensed mental health professional prior to adulthood (18+), many college students do not have a confirmed diagnosis that will allow them to apply for disability. We have seen most colleges add a Wellness or Counseling Center to their campuses. The counseling services are free and available to all students. However, they forget to mention that it may take over a month to get an appointment. Furthermore, they only offer a limited number of sessions, which discriminates against students needing long-term care.

Outside of the limited counseling services, the ADA has required both public and private universities to provide equal access to education for students with disabilities, as long as the accommodations do not fundamentally change the nature of the activity, service, or program. For a mental health to be considered a disability, documentation is required. This would not be a problem if majority of people were not undiagnosed. We do not live in a society of self-awareness with mental health nor where seeking professional psychiatric services is normalized. The stigma and financial barriers making it near impossible for many college students to obtain treatment.

Why are these counseling services insufficient?

Although many college campuses offer counseling services, they do not offer enough. Think about the amount of money invested into a piece of paper. Think about the number of lives lost every year to suicide. One study reported that 1 in 5 students have had thoughts of suicide with 9% making an attempt and nearly 20% reporting self-injury. Yet, funding sufficient counseling services is “too expensive” or “unnecessary.”

Imagine if you are experiencing debilitating anxiety attacks, depressive episodes, or manic episodes, but you have no official diagnosis. You are a financially struggling college student. Your family either does not believe in mental health so they will not help you pay for services, or your family cannot afford to help you pay for services. You also do not have a car and no bus routes drop off near an off-campus counseling office. Therefore, you cannot go off-campus for support. Thus, you call your campus Counseling Center. They have a 6 week wait for an appointment, meanwhile you have midterms next week. Without an official diagnosis and documentation, you cannot qualify for disability. Or you get in before exams, but your diagnosis is not considered “debilitating enough” for accommodation. Therefore, you have no accommodations. The day of your exam, you are experiencing the debilitating anxiety attack, depressive episode, or manic episode. You cannot stand up or pull yourself together to get to class. You genuinely feel helpless, and you desperately want support. But the system that you were told is meant to “set you up for success” is now working against you. You manage to make it to your exam and hide your symptoms long enough. Because your mind was overwhelmed by your mental health condition / symptoms, you were unable to concentrate. You exhausted countless hours trying to study, but you were unmotivated, unfocused, and restless. As a result, you failed your course. However, you were not taking only 1 course, you were taking 4, and all exams lined up in the same week. Exams count for 40-50% of your grade, meaning if you fail one, you likely fail the class. Your GPA drops, you lose financial aid, and can no longer afford to be a student. You either failed out or dropped out.

Does this seem dramatic? Yes? This is the reality for millions of college students.

In comparison to physical illness.

Students experiencing a physical illness are significantly more likely to receive an excused absence and assignment extension. Why? Because it is easier to obtain a doctors note. Have you ever heard of a doctor, let alone a college infirmary, telling a sick patient they have to wait 6 weeks for an appointment? No. When someone is sick, they get into see the doctor right away. Mental health is not treated with the same respect and importance. If the student could not obtain a doctor’s note due to high volume of patients and extended wait times, the professor is often likely to believe the student. However, if the student explained they were experiencing high anxiety or depression, the professor is apt to assume it is an excuse.

Our higher education system does not treat mental illness in the same regard as physical illness. Thus, students who are struggling are often forced to struggle in silence.

Other mental illnesses at play.

When we talk about mental health, we often focus on depression and anxiety. Let us discuss other mental health conditions that may not benefit from the current limited accommodations.

A student living with an eating disorder, specifically anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, is likely to be consuming insufficient levels of nutrients and calories. Therefore, their energy levels are reduced, and it is more difficult to concentrate. These students are not always able to keep up with the high demand of coursework. Research shows that 40% of incoming freshman at colleges / universities are likely to be living with an eating disorder. With 4-6 weeks wait to receive an appointment at the Counseling Center and lack of education / awareness on eating disorders, many students do not receive help. However, their grades are affected. With 40% of the population affected, you would assume colleges would have a system that helps individuals living with eating disorders. Yet not all universities offer ample free nutritionist services nor support in overcoming the eating disorder. Essentially, you are being punished for a mental illness that was not your choice.

Now, let us talk about a student living with ADHD. Under the ADA rules, only some people living with ADHD qualify for disability. Research shows that 5% of college students live with ADHD. Yet, without qualifying for disability, no accommodations are made. Many college courses are not designed to accommodate students with ADHD to begin with. A high percentage of courses require students to sit in silence and take notes for 2–3-hour periods at a time. Then, offer only long, 2-hour exams as grades. There is no accommodation built into the course structure that offers stimulation, positive feedback, or energy release. Again, based on design, you are being punished for a mental illness that was not your choice.

Let’s take it a step further. When a student has an allergy attack, they can easily go to the doctor and get a doctor’s note. However, a student facing a panic attack does not have that same luxury. It is not as easy to get an appointment with a mental health professional that same day to receive a doctor’s note in order to excuse an absence from class. What about students experiencing a manic episode or psychosis? They may not even know they are in an episode at that point, let alone be able to get a doctor’s note to excuse them from class.

Not only is there a lack of accommodation built into course structure, but also a lack of accessibility to receive a doctor’s note for an excused absence. Both of these make it extremely difficult for students living with mental illness to succeed in our higher education system.

Mental illness is not a choice.

Currently, our higher education system treats mental illness like it is a choice. The current system works against those living with mental illness, even though research proves suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students. The system provides minimal accommodations that offer little support and create a wider gap between students living with and without mental health symptoms / conditions. Imagine reaching out for support and being told, “We can only help you up to three times a year, but the first appointment available is in 6 weeks.”

Again, with physical illness, this is NOT an issue. We provide immediate support and resources to help the student get better and receive any accommodations needed.

Colleges, state education departments, and federal education department, why is my success at college not as important as someone without a mental illness? You have no problem collecting my tuition payments and loan repayments. If I were on a premiere sports team, there would be accommodations made for my success. Yet, you are not willing to make ample accommodations to help me succeed because mental illness is not your priority.

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Signs you need a mental health break.

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When it comes to our physical health, we often have an idea how far we can push ourselves. When we are starting to feel under the weather, we recognize the warning signs, and we go to the doctor. Typically, when we get sick, we allow ourselves time to heal. When we break a bone, we visit the doctor, and we allow our body time to heal. Yet, when our mental health is declining, we often do not recognize the warning signs until we are burnt out.

Mental exhaustion is a normal occurrence. However, it can be avoided if you recognize the warning signs, practice routine self-care, and allow your mind and body time for rest to rejuvenate.

Mental health breaks are needed, especially during stressful times. We all need rest. If you allow time for both physical and mental rest, you can actually boost your productivity levels and enhance overall wellness.

Nonetheless it can be difficult to recognize when it is time for a break. When you start to feel off or a little different than normal, taking a break can be extremely helpful.

Here are some signs that you may need a mental health break:

  • Are you making yourself physically sick from emotional strain and / or high levels of stress?
  • Do you feel uninterested in activities you once found pleasurable?
  • Are you experiencing low energy levels?
  • Do you feel disengaged / detached from people in your life or from your life in general?
  • Are you having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep?
  • Is it difficult for you to get up in the morning?
  • Have your eating habits changed?
  • Are you experiencing lower levels of productivity than normal?
  • Is it difficult for you to concentrate?
  • Do you feel unmotivated?
  • Has your mood changed lately?
  • Do you feel more down and / or depressed?
  • Are you feeling irritable?
  • Are you experiencing higher than normal levels of anxiety?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, it may be time for a break.

Please note, a lot of these symptoms are similar to the symptoms of depression. Reaching out to a therapist or counselor for support and guidance on your mental health may be helpful.

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Beyond all labels, who are you?

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If no one told you who you were or how you were to behave, who would you be?

Societal standards influence how we perceive ourselves, how we behave, how we treat others, what career path we choose, what we believe, how we vote, and whom we marry.

In my opinion, societal standards were created to control how we define ourselves. We were put into a box at birth based on our gender, race, culture, economic background, religion, and parental occupations. We grow up to fit into the box by making choices based on society’s expectations. Most of these choices are subconscious choices.

Peer Pressure

As children, we are always warned about “peer pressure.” What no one tells us is that peer pressure extends beyond your friends tempting you to engage in behaviors such as drinking and doing drugs. Peer pressure is the idea of societal expectations. These expectations influence our behaviors, even if they go against our values and principles.

You are not meant to fit into the world, the world is meant to fit you.

How many times have you heard the question, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” Yet, we have somehow built a society consumed by fitting in, from beauty standards to clothing to hobbies to careers to the type of music we enjoy to the major we choose in college to the way we use social media. Somewhere along the way, society has decided that in order to be accepted, you have to be the same as everyone else.

Many of these standards were created for economic interests. They were created to feed your insecurities so that you may purchase products and make lifestyle changes that increase someone else’s bank account while diminishing your own self-worth anytime you step away from the box.

I let societal standards control my life for a long time.

Recently, I thought about how much time I have wasted comparing myself to supermodels, actresses, and influencers. I have exhausted so much time trying to change my appearance, from learning new makeup trends, changing my hair style, and redoing my wardrobe—not because I wanted to, but because I “needed” to.

The day before my freshman year of high school, I remember breaking down to my parents because I needed to change my hair color. My natural color was dirty blonde hair, and I was made fun of it in middle school. Other kids would tell me that it was not a “real color.” From the age of 14 to 21, I continually destroyed my hair by bleaching it every 2 to 3 months. But I needed to fit in.

In college, I forced my dad to watch makeup tutorials with me. I was crying, because other people were able to look society’s definition of beautiful with the perfect highlight, contour, and eyeliner wing. I, on the other hand, could not (and still cannot), so I felt ugly in comparison.

I even spent years battling anorexia nervosa trying to be “thin” enough. I woke up at 5am to workout before classes, walked 2 miles to class in 106-degree weather, and worked out till 12am every single day for an entire year. I starved myself, only allowing myself to eat 1 bell pepper and 1 cucumber a day.

In middle and high school, I was bullied over my blog and podcast, “Inspiring My Generation.” I would go through periods of time where I refused to blog and quit my podcast. It was not considered cool, so I started to give up on my dreams of changing the world for the better. In my high school advisor file, it said “Career Goal: wants to have a talk show like Oprah Winfrey and inspire others.” Yet, I felt like I had to hide that part of me for a very long time.

Do you truly love yourself?

When I look back at how certain societal standards influenced my self-worth and my behaviors, I see how much I hurt myself. I never showed myself any love, because I was focused on being whom society told me to be. Every day, I told myself all of the reasons I was not good enough, according to society’s expectations. A few years ago, I realized that of my beliefs were taught to me and all of the stigmas I had developed were taught to me. I continuously experienced anxiety attacks and panic attacks trying to fit into an impossible standard. Ultimately, I lost myself and my sense of purpose. In that brokenness, in that dark hole, was where I learned how the labels created by societal standards were the problem, not me.

Truthfully, I betrayed myself in countless ways. I became obsessed with who the world told me to be. Obsessed with the labels—beautiful, intelligent, cool, successful, athletic, normal, etc. I turned against myself, and I took it out on my own body. In fact, I completely destroyed my physical and mental health for years. Who I was and who I wanted to be were defined by the box society put me in, and I continuously felt like a complete failure trying to live up to impossible standards. Yet, I was trying so hard to not be labeled as “crazy, psychotic, mental, or deranged” that I suppressed it all inside.

Societal standards taught me to not love myself. They taught me to continuously compare myself to who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to look like. And they ultimately left me feeling numb.

Beyond labels, who are you?

Who are you? Without any of the labels that society has given you, who are you? Who are you not?

It is okay if you do not know who you are beyond the labels. It is not easy to discover yourself in a world telling you who to be, how to think, and what to wear. Take some time to yourself. Write down what is important to you, what you believe, and who you are. Then, write down where all of that comes from. Did someone tell you? You may find that most of who you perceive yourself to be was defined by someone else.

Your loved ones, your foes, society, nor the people around you get to define or label you. Only you can define yourself. So, I will ask you again: Beyond all labels, who are you?

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Ways to destigmatize mental health

use your voice inscription on gray background

Mental health has been stigmatized to make people struggling feel alone. Many people feel invalidated or like their struggle is their fault. A lot of people never reach out or seek help. Millions struggle in silence because it is safer than being labeled or invalidated. Due to the lack of conversation and lack of education, the stigma has been able to perpetuate this cycle and narrative.

What can you do?

  • Normalize the conversation about mental health with your loved ones.
  • Talk openly and honestly about your own mental health.
  • Own your mental health story, do not hide it.
  • Discuss your treatment plan like you would with a physical illness—with honest and without shame.
  • Ask people “how are you” with intention of listening and validating.
  • Educate yourself by engaging in conversations, actively listening when others are opening up, and conducting your own research.
  • Educate others around you.
  • Pay attention to the words you use when you discuss mental health.
  • Advocate for mental health to be treated like physical health.
  • Treat your own and your loved one’s mental health like you treat physical health.
  • Display empathy and compassion for those struggling.
  • Validate people who open up about their mental health to you.
  • Follow social media accounts normalizing mental health and reshare important information and resources.
  • Volunteer with mental health nonprofit organizations to actively engage in work that destigmatizes mental health.

Learn more about how you can Normalize The Conversation on Inspiring My Generation’s website