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Let’s talk about Emotional Support

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My loved one is going through a tough time. I want to be there for him/her/them, but I have no idea how to provide the support they need. What do I say? What do I do?

How many of you can relate to this? The truth is that most of us are afraid of witnessing our loved one’s vulnerability, because we were not taught the right things to say. We are often afraid of hurting them or not offering enough support. In the following article, I will discuss emotional support and ways to show up for your loved ones.

What is Emotional Support?

First, emotional support is when we offer compassion and encouragement. We may accomplish this through verbal and nonverbal gestures. Appropriate physical touch and eye contact can go a long way. Words of understanding and validation can offer more support that we realize. Let’s break this down further.

The following information comes directly from the “You Are Not Alone Workbook” written by Francesca Reicherter, Founder and President of Inspiring My Generation Corporation. The workbook is available for sale on www.inspiringmygeneration.org.

First, check in with yourself.

It is important to check in with yourself first. If you are not feeling well, it can be hard to be there for your loved ones in the way they deserve. Support starts with us. It is not being selfish to take care of yourself first. You cannot pour tea from an empty tea pot, just like you cannot give support if you do not feel supported.

Ask non-judgmental, open-ended questions with support.

Ask non-judgmental, open-ended questions with support. It is also important to create a safe place for ourselves and our loved ones to share their feelings. When we create a safe space, we do not judge or make fun of others for their feelings or experiences.

Examples of Questions:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • What has been on your mind lately?

A good conversation also includes supportive statements with the questions. Supportive statements let the other person know that you are there for them. This can help them feel more comfortable to share their feelings.

Examples of Supportive Statements:

  • I care about you, and I am here for you.
  • When I went through a hard time, talking to someone helped me. If you want to talk, I am here for you.
  • If you want, I can help you find an adult to talk to. (recommendations: parents, teachers, counselors)

Actively listen.

When someone is opening up to you about their feelings, it is important to listen. It can be scary to talk about feelings, so it is important to show the other person that we care.

Examples of how to show you are actively listening:

  • Body Language: Nod your head. Use facial expressions. Look at the person speaking to you.
  • Do Not Interrupt: Allow the person speaking to finish talking before you speak.
  • Show You Understand: Respond by repeating what the person shared to show you are listening and hearing what they say.

Examples of Understanding Statements:

  • I am hearing that you feel . . .
  • It sounds like you are feeling . . .
  • If I understand right . . .

Validate their feelings.

Sharing one’s feelings can be scary. Sometimes, we feel like we are the only one feeling this way. When you validate someone’s feelings, you let them know that what they are feeling is okay and that they are not alone. Validating someone’s feelings can make a big difference in how comfortable they feel. When we feel sad, we can also validate our own feelings, because our feelings are important too!

Examples of Validating Feelings

  • It is normal to feel . . .
  • It makes sense to feel . . .
  • With all that you are going through, no wonder you feel . . .
  • That is a lot for one person to handle, you are not alone.
  • Going through . . . can be very hard. I am here for you.

Follow up.

Being there for your loved ones during the conversation is important but checking on them after is just as important. Sometimes, we feel embarrassed after we share our feelings or like we bothered the other person. It is normal to feel that way, but our loved ones will not judge us or make us feel bad for sharing. By following up with your loved ones, you can let them know that they can count on you for support again.

Examples of Following Up

  • I have been thinking about our conversation the other day. I wanted to check in and see how you are doing.
  • I have been thinking about you a lot. If you want to talk again, I am here for you.
  • It has been a few days since . . . happened. How are you feeling? I am here if you want to talk about it.
  • I just wanted to let you know I am happy we talked the other day and that I could be there for you. I am here if you want to talk again.

Purchase the You Are Not Alone Workbook https://inspiringmygeneration.org/product/you-are-not-alone-the-workbook/

Purchase the You Are Not Alone Workbook: Kid’s Edition https://inspiringmygeneration.org/product/you-are-not-alone-the-workbook-kids-edition/

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Why there should be a minimum standard of care across all psych wards

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Psych wards are designed to be a place where someone struggling can feel safe. Whether the person is having thoughts of suicide, struggling with self-harm, experiencing drug or alcohol abuse, attempted suicide, or just needs a safe space, a psych ward is supposed to be the place. Yet, people discharged from a psych ward are 100-200x more likely to die by suicide upon release.

Every psych ward is different, just like every hospital is different. Some have more funding than others, however, that does not mean the standard of care should be different. Many times, when you are admitted into a psych ward, you do not get to choose which one. Often times, it is hard to find multiple options for psych wards near you, if it is voluntary. Plus, you have to consider the financial cost, as it may vary based on insurance, type of hospital, etc.

Many psych ward visits are involuntary. Most people need serious intervention and support at that time. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, you are deserving of quality treatment that benefits you. Treatment that acts as a starting point in your recovery. You do not deserve to come out of the psych ward in a worse position. You do not deserve to be just a checked box that relieves the hospital / state of legal concerns. And you definitely do not deserve to be forced to try a medication that does not work for your actual diagnosis.

Imagine if we had a minimum standard of care that forced hospitals to allocate more funding toward behavioral health.

An individual hospitalized in a psych ward, whether voluntary or involuntary, deserves 1 on 1 time with a licensed mental health care professional that helps both parties get an understanding of the situation. Many struggling do not always know what they are going through and would benefit from exploring what they are feeling and experiencing with help. A lot of people do not have a confirmed diagnosis and may need support in learning what they are experiencing and what treatment options are available to them. When exploring the situation together, the psychiatrist may get a better feel for which medication options may be right for the patient, if the patient needs / wants medication.

Furthermore, group therapy could explore building a coping toolbox. Imagine if a group of people who are struggling with similar diagnoses were working together to explore coping mechanisms.  There could be mixed groups and groups for specific mental health symptoms / conditions / crises. People experiencing a mental health crisis often feel alone and being able to share their journey and their feelings with people who truly get it can be life-altering. Someone with schizophrenia and someone with anxiety disorder are both struggling with real mental illnesses but may need different treatment plans and different types of support. Customizing the experience for every patient to collaborate and connect not only with people experiencing similar situations but also to everyone there would be more rewarding than if it were just one or the other.

In addition, all patients should go home with a customized treatment plan. The treatment plan should include therapy / behavioral health facility recommendations, whether it is in-patient or out-patient. It should also include a list of coping mechanisms the patient feels comfortable with in addition to other coping mechanisms available to try. And the treatment plan should include a safety plan that helps the patient know what they can do if they experience another mental health crisis. 

Lastly, treatment should not be financially out of reach. When someone is held within a behavioral health facility, the cost (or a high portion of the cost) should be covered by insurance. The hospital should also charge a reasonable amount, rather than take advantage of the ability to profit on one’s mental health condition / crisis.

A standard of care within our psychiatric system is imperative to the success of our future. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death from age 10 to 35. People who need support should receive the help and support they need to jumpstart their recovery.

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How Do I Create A Safe Space?

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A safe space is essential for an authentic and supportive mental health conversation.

One of the primary reasons that individuals struggle in silence is the stigma associated with mental health. Essentially, we fear our loved one’s reaction. Will I be judged? Will I be invalidated? Will they not love me anymore? What if they do not understand? What if they do not care? What if they do not believe me? These are just a few of the questions that play on repeat through someone’s head when they want to reach out for help.

Often times, people do not want to struggle in silence. Yet, they feel like they have to, because opening up feels like a burden. In addition, it is devastating to be invalidated.

So, how do we let our loved ones know that we are here for them?

In my opinion, one of the biggest factors is how we discuss mental health on a regular basis. When we use words like “crazy, deranged, and psychopath” to label someone with a mental illness or who may be experiencing a mental health crisis, we are contributing to the stigma. Now, it may not seem like a big deal in the moment, but your loved ones will remember you using those words when they are struggling. This may cause hesitation on whether or not they open up to you.

Another factor, in my opinion, is the occurrence of honest conversations on mental health, emotions, and life experiences. How often do you engage in real conversations about how you are? And how often do you sincerely ask and answer “How are you?” When you show your own vulnerability, it creates a deeper connection. This connection allows someone to feel like they can also be vulnerable. Vulnerability has been given a bad reputation, but the most beautiful connections and conversations are created in the midst of vulnerability.

In addition to how and when we discuss mental health on a routine basis, the way we respond during a mental health conversation / check-in is essential.

Here is the thing: we are all continuously learning how to offer proper support and validation within mental health conversations. It truly is a learning process because the conversation is unique for everyone. Everyone experiences mental health conditions, symptoms, and crises in different ways; thus, the proper responses will vary person to person.

Here are some examples of variations:

  • Where does validation cross the line from helpful to harmful?
  • How much support should you offer? When is it the time to hold their hand and when is the time to just be there?
  • How often do I check-in? If I check-in too much, is it overbearing? If I do not check-in enough, am I being insensitive?
  • Should I share my ideas on what may be helpful, or should I stay out of it?
  • Do I tell someone else what my loved one disclosed to me or do I keep it to myself? What if it has to do with self-harm or suicidal thoughts? If I tell someone, will they never open up to me again?

In summary, yes, the conversation on mental health is very complicated. However, that does not mean the conversation is not necessary. If we do not talk about it, our loved ones will continue to struggle in silence. And silence is deadly.

Here are my tips to creating a safe space during the conversation.

  • Ask open-ended questions. This shows the person opening up that you are interested in a discussion and not ending the conversation.
  • Try to remove any judgement from your tone. If you do not understand, ask a question in a supportive manner. Ex. “I have never personally experienced X, and I want to be supportive, but I am not sure what the best thing I can do for you is. Would you mind explaining it more or how I can help?”
  • Emphasize support. “I am here for you. You are not alone in this. What can I do to offer my support?”
  • Validate feelings. “It makes sense that you feel …”
  • Follow up. The safe space should not end when the conversation does. Let your loved one know that you always have space for them.
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Are you content with life or is life about producing content?

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In an episode of the Normalize the Conversation series released on July 7, 2021, my guest, Alastair Ballentyne proposed this question to me: Are you content with life or is your life about producing content?

At first, I thought I was content with life. I am living my dream with Inspiring My Generation. I am obtaining my master’s in psychology. I have so many incredible things that I am beyond grateful for. I must feel content. Yet, my worth was still tied to my productivity. How much can I offer to others? What new resources or tools can I develop and share? How many blogs can I create? What more can I donate to the mental health community? How many different episodes can I produce? What else can I do? Where am I falling short? My entire thought process is “What else?”

I was so consumed with production and content that I often woke up in the middle of the night and start working. My anxiety was often triggered by taking time away from working to rest or socialize. There were periods of time where I would go more than 24 hours without rest. And this all felt normal to me. The only way to move forward is to continuously push yourself beyond your limits, right?

Our society is obsessed with overwhelming productivity.  

From a young age, we teach our kids to do more. Play more sports. Join more school organizations. Take on more after school commitments. Without it, you will not get into college. If you do not get into a good college, you will not get a decent job.

Then, we get to college. Now, it is all about earning good grades. Participating in school organizations. Joining Greek Life. Maintaining a social life. Resume building. Internships. Real life work experience. Job hunting.

When we enter the work force, taking days off to rest is selfish and it may get you fired. Working past 9-5 hours is expected. You are expected to have it all and do it all.

We are constantly telling ourselves that we have to do more and be more. Our life is consumed by how much we produce. It is not what we can do for ourselves, it is all about what we can offer to everyone else around us. But, in the midst of running ourselves empty trying to live up to society’s expectations, where does that leave us?

Watch the FULL episode to learn more: https://youtu.be/XDbnwzjwxEE

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How is self-esteem tied to mental health?

i hate nothing about you with red heart light

Introduction

Self-esteem is defined by Oxford Dictionary as “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.” In other words, self-esteem is how you feel about yourself. When someone has high self-esteem, they have positive feelings about themselves. On the other hand, someone with low self-esteem has negative feelings about themselves. For example, someone with low self-esteem may believe they are not worthy of love or happiness.

Conversely, mental health encompasses our emotional and psychological well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It is easier to understand mental health when you look at it as a scale ranging from wellness or illness.

How does low self-esteem affect mental health?

Self-esteem impacts every piece of our life. It not only affects how we value ourselves as a person, but also how we take care of ourselves. Someone with higher self-esteem may make more time for self-care and rest. Furthermore, people with higher self-esteem are kinder to themselves, recognize their strengths, and advocate for themselves. On the other hand, people with lower self-esteem may focus on the negatives in their life, make it difficult to move beyond mistakes, and believe they are not good enough.

Lower self-esteem is linked to increased risk of depression and anxiety. We may begin to feel worthless because we believe we are not good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, etc. It can also impact our relationships. When we question our own worth, we often act in ways that demonstrate our insecurities. We may feel like our partner does not love us or feel paranoid about their fidelity.

Feeling comfortable in your own skin is a key part of self-esteem. When we constantly look for validation from external forces, like people around us or our followers on social media, our self-esteem and mental health will be negatively impacted. Thus, our self-esteem develops within ourselves.

What causes low self-esteem?

Often times, we can trace self-esteem damage to rejection and / or lack of positive reinforcement. When our parents, our friends, our partners, or other important figures in our life engage in abuse (whether it is emotional, physical, or sexual), we may feel like we deserve the pain. When we are constantly told our faults, especially by someone we care about, we tend to believe them. Low self-esteem can stem from manipulative relationships, where we are cheated on and / or gaslighted. It can also come from mental health conditions, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or Depression. Recently, we have seen social media play a huge role in children’s self-esteem. We often compare ourselves to everyone around us—from our bodies to materialistic items to followers to likes.

Someone with low self-esteem may fear rejection, abandonment, or change. They may also seek approval from everyone around them. Low self-esteem is often hidden by using humor to point out their perceived flaws.

How can you build self-esteem?

Building self-esteem is important. However, shifting the feelings we have about ourselves is not an easy task. Often times, it involves discovering the underlying reasons behind our negative thoughts and learning how to adapt them. Therapy can be a great tool for this! Therapists can guide you through processing and lifestyle changes to build your self-esteem.

However, if therapy is not accessible to you, there are life-changes you can make now. There is always something you can do for yourself. Healthy lifestyle changes are crucial! Taking care of your body is taking care of your mind. Therefore, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and allowing your body time to rest is a great place to start. It is also important to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself. The more time you spend with people who make you feel not good enough, the more your self-esteem will decline. Remember: what you put in your body, on your body, and around your body affect your physical and mental wellness.

Here are some other things you can do to build your self-esteem:

  • Celebrate your accomplishments. Even the small ones, including making your bed, finishing an assignment at work / school, or eating a balanced meal.
  • Focus on cultivating your inner happiness. Setting boundaries can be very helpful. You do not have to please everyone around you, especially not at a cost to yourself. When you attach your worth to someone else’s happiness, you have no control over your own happiness.
  • Be understanding of yourself and your emotions. It is okay to feel. Whatever you are feeling is valid, but it may not be true. Ask yourself where the thoughts come from.

Having a healthy self-esteem is vital to your quality of life. You deserve to love yourself as much as you love those around you.

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Your mental health crisis is not your fault.

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You are not alone.

You deserve help and support.

Your mental health crisis is NOT your fault.

Introduction to Mental Health Crisis

A mental health crisis occurs when a person is in danger of hurting themselves or others and / or prevents them from being able to care for themselves.

What can lead to a mental health crisis?

  • Relationships changing / ending
  • Conflicts with loved ones
  • Grief / loss
  • Trauma
  • High levels of stress
  • Feeling lonely
  • New / changes in medication

A mental health crisis / emergency is a real crisis. Thus, we need to address a mental health crisis with the same urgency and importance as any other health emergency. However, unfortunately, due to the lack of conversation and awareness, many people do not know that support is available. Therefore, most people do not know what to expect during or after a mental health crisis.

Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

Below I have included a list of common warning signs of a mental health crisis.

  • Simple daily tasks become difficult (brushing teeth, changing clothing)
  • Increased or decreased energy levels
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling depressed or withdrawn
  • Isolating yourself from loved ones or life in general
  • Feeling easily irritated
  • Out-of-control behavior
  • Engaging in violent or destructive behavior
  • Engaging in abusive behavior toward others
  • Psychosis (lose touch with reality, example: hearing voices and seeing things that are not there)
  • Paranoia
  • Self-harm
  • Substance Abuse

Warning signs may not always be present nor easily identifiable. It is okay if you miss the warning signs. It is okay if you experience a mental health crisis while you are in therapy or seeking treatment. You still are valid in your mental health crisis, and you still deserve support. It does not mean you have “failed.”

Am I at risk for suicide?

Mental health crises may result in suicidal thoughts, especially if the individual is experiencing feelings of depression, worthlessness, hopelessness, guilt, and / or loneliness. Although our society does not always take thoughts of suicide seriously, it is important to take it seriously. When facing a mental health crisis, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and suicide attempts often occur.

Feeling suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts is often more complex than “I want to end my life.” Below I have included a list of common warning signs for suicide.

  • Constantly thinking about dying
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Withdrawing from loved ones
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Saying goodbye
  • Giving away personal possessions
  • Making / updating a will
  • Purchasing a means (Example: firearms, pills)

Please note, if someone has a history of suicide attempts or has lost someone to suicide, their risk for suicide may be heightened.

If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or may be experiencing a mental health crisis, here are a few free resources available to you.

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: 741-741
  • Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
  • In immediate danger? call 911

What to Do for Your Mental Health Crisis

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, it may be difficult to assess the situation or express what you are feeling to others. Although it is normal to feel unprepared and confused, it is important to know what options are available to you. The first question I recommend asking yourself is “Am I in danger of hurting myself or others?” From there, you can decide on next steps. If you feel that you are in danger of harming yourself or others, call 911 for immediate assistance. However, if you do not feel that you are in danger of harming yourself or others, you may reach out to a crisis hotline (such as the numbers listed above), a mental health professional, or family physician. A professional can help you assess the situation to see if you should schedule an appointment with a professional or be admitted to a hospital.

Many people facing a mental health crisis often feel uncomfortable calling 911. 911 can help you, especially when you feel like you are in immediate danger. It is important to explain the crisis with as much detail as possible when you call 911, so the responder has an idea what to expect. You can also request someone trained to work with mental health condition, such as a Crisis Intervention Training Officer (CIT). CITs are trained to help deescalate situation through specific training and access to helpful resources.

What to Do for Your Loved One’s Mental Health Crisis

Similarly, to the section above, assessing the situation first is imperative. It may be difficult and confusing to assess the situation, especially when the individual cannot easily express what they are experiencing. However, the best place to start is identifying if the individual facing a mental health crisis is in danger of harming themselves or others. If they are in danger, you may follow the same 911 protocol listed above.

If they are not in immediate danger, there are a few ways you can provide support.

  • Help your loved one reach out to a professional
  • Offer crisis hotline resources
  • Provide support and encouragement to your loved ones
  • Ask your loved one how you can help them
  • Do not take control, but rather offer suggestions
  • Give your loved on space

Sometimes when we offer support to others, we drain ourselves. You are important too. Take care of yourself. Do not be afraid to reach out to a professional or crisis hotline for your own mental health. This does not take away from your loved one, but it allows you to provide the support they need without emptying your own cup.

Final Thoughts

Because of the stigma on mental health, lack of education and awareness, and high costs of treatment, many people who experience a mental health crisis do not reach out for support. Please know that you deserve support, and you deserve help. There are many options and resources available to you. And there are many nonprofit organizations offering free services, free crisis support, and grants to help cover treatment costs. You are not alone. You do not have to go through this alone.

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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?

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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?

lighted candle

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

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Why I love a pain to purpose story.

man with arms outstretched admiring view from mountain cliff

I do not want to know who you are. I want to know why you are who you are.

To me, a pain to purpose story is the story of how you found yourself in the midst of loss, sorrow, failure, and / or despair.

A pain to purpose story is your authentic story. The story encompassing both the victory and the defeat. It is full of lessons you learned along the way. It describes the journey to self-discovery and self-awareness.

From pain to purpose is where empathy and dedication meet. In my opinion, loss and defeat teach you more than success and happiness. Without the pain, you never have the opportunity to discover who you truly are. When the world breaks you, when you feel lost and alone, when you feel like giving up, that is when true strength and courage develop. That is the moment when you learn how much you can handle and how much strength is within you.

It is about the climb up the mountain. Anyone can start at the top of the mountain and be successful. But how many people fall to the bottom repeatedly, yet keep trying to climb? How many people can get stuck under a pile of rocks and still have the desire to get back up and try again? These are the people with true passion and desire. And these are the people who are going to change the world for the better.

When I connect with someone, one of the first things I say is, “I would love to learn more about you and your journey.”

I want to know who you are. And I want to know why you are who you are. I want to see your heart and your passion. In my opinion, authentic connection occurs at the point of vulnerability. It helps you to understand the other individual and relate to them. More importantly, when you are able to share your story, it shows that you are comfortable with your past. It shows that you are not running away, but rather running toward something bigger than yourself. You know who you are. You are driven not by a standard of success but by a purpose.

When you take your pain and turn it into purpose, your mission is not to just release your pain but to help others avoid feeling that same pain. And, lastly, it shows that you are not going to give up when life gets tough. Because, I promise, life will get tough.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody!”

Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa (2006)

Your past, your defeat, your loss, your pain is not who you are. None of that defines you. Your success does not describe you. Your journey, on the other hand, defines you. It shows how far you have come and how far you are willing to go to change the world.

If we all work together, if we all take our pain and turn it into purpose, the world does not stand a chance at remaining the same. We will change the world. We will remove the stigmas, the prejudices, and the barriers that have worked against us for far too long.

Read My Pain To Purpose Story

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Is there really a mind-body connection?

woman relaxing in yoga mat

Even though we consider our emotional and physical health as two separate entities, they are actually connected.

The mind-body connection works both ways.

It is a scientific fact that our chemistry and biology impact our mood and emotions. Similarly, our mood and emotions impact our chemistry and biology. What does that mean? Here is an example: when we encounter a headache or stomachache while facing high stress, we are experiencing the mind-body connection. Another example: when we face physical illness or injury, we often become more susceptible to mental health symptoms, like anxiety and depression.

The mind-body connection can impact your overall health and wellness.

The mind-body connection implies that physical changes occur in your body due to your mental state. Optimal emotional health is often achieved when we discover health ways to cope with life’s stressors (and symptoms of mental health conditions, including medication). Life has many stressors, including, loss of a relationship (divorce, friendship, etc.), loss of a loved one, laid off from work, moving, illness or injury, and various other life-changing events. Some life-changing events can be positive, such as having a baby. Others can be very difficult to experience, such as losing a loved one. Without proper coping mechanisms, these life stressors can negatively impact your mental and physical health.

When we feel our best, we tend to have more self-awareness. With that increase in self-awareness, we are more likely to listen to our bodies. In turn, this allows us to offer our bodies what they need, whether it is food, water, or rest. When we feel stressed, on the other hand, we release hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which cause some physical symptoms. These physical symptoms consist of increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and elevated blood pressure. Thus, chronic stress can result in conditions like a weakened immune system, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and stomach ulcers.

You can elevate your mental and physical health. (Here are a few examples)

  • Nourish your body and mind with enough vitamins and minerals.
  • Nourish your body and mind by consuming enough food. Balanced meals can be a great way to refuel.
  • Engage in regular exercise. Exercise is known to release endorphins, which elevate your mood.
  • Breathe. Breathwork and other forms of deep breathing exercises can help to calm your nervous system.
  • Meditate. Meditation is known to reduce stress while enhancing self-awareness.

Final Thoughts

Our health is at the center of everything. Our body reacts to our emotional health, just like our emotional state responds to our physical health. Therefore, instead of treating our emotional and physical health as two separate entities, it is imperative that we look at them together.

Often times, we ignore our mental health when we are experiencing a decline in our physical health. Likewise, we often disregard our physical health while experiencing a drop in our mental health. However, when we work on improving both simultaneously, we are working toward an overall optimal health.

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How has gender identity influenced mental health?

persons hands with rainbow colors

Introduction To Gender Identity

Today, we know that there is a diverse range of gender identities.  However, in the past, gender has been divided into only two brackets “male” and “female.” Because gender identity was considered very black and white before, this has perpetuated a cycle of phobia and stigma, primarily due to lack of education, understanding, and awareness.

Gender identity is how you perceive your gender, how you show this to others, and how you want others to treat you. One’s gender identity is not always the same as the physical features (biological sex) that one was born with. It is important to remember that being gender diverse is not a mental illness, is not caused by a mental illness, and is not a cause of menta illness.

However, the stressful experiences that one may face by identifying outside of the traditional “male” and “female” labels can contribute to an increased risk of multiple mental health conditions and symptoms, including anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide.

Risk factors that decrease well-being and increase risk of mental health conditions and / or symptoms:

  • Feeling different from those around you. This can feel extremely isolating.
  • Feeling uncomfortable in your body, especially as you begin exploring your gender identity.
  • Feeling terrified to be your authentic self, by sharing your gender identity with others. This often creates a fear of being outcasted or unaccepted by loved ones. Rejection can feel devastating and isolating.
  • Feeling worried about opening up to others on how you are feeling.
  • Experiencing pressure to conform with other’s expectations, particularly on what your gender identity and role should be based on biological sex.
  • Experiencing bullying due to your gender identity. Bullying can be either verbal or physical, both are devastating.
  • Feeling misunderstood / unsupported, especially by loved ones.
  • Feeling self-conscious about how you express your gender.
  • Fear and experience of being misgendered, addressed with incorrect pronouns, and / or being addressed be your old name (“deadnaming”).

Statistics

  • LGBTQ+ teens are 6x more likely to experience symptoms of depression than non-LGBTQ+ identifying teens.
  • LGBTQ+ youth are more than 2x as likely to feel suicidal and over 4x as likely to attempt suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
  • 48% of transgender adults report that they have considered suicide in the last year, compared to 4% of the overall US population.
  • Research suggests that LGBTQ+ individuals face health disparities linked to societal stigma, discrimination, and denial of their civil and human rights. Discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons have been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.
  • 38% of transgender people say they have experienced slurs and 28% have experienced insensitive or offensive comments because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
  • 22% of transgender individuals say they have avoided doctors or health care out of concern they would be discriminated against.
  • Approximately 8% of LGBTQ+ individuals and nearly 27% of transgender individuals report being denied needed health care outright.
  • In mental health care, stigma, lack of cultural sensitivity, and unconscious and conscious reluctance to address sexuality may hamper effectiveness of care.

Source: https://www.mhanational.org/issues/lgbtq-communities-and-mental-health

Final Thoughts

Let us be honest, it is extremely difficult to find yourself, figure out who you are, who you want to be, and where your place in this world is, regardless of your gender identity. From forming various types of relationships to applying for school / jobs to managing school / work to navigating unprecedented times (such as the pandemic), life has many stressors. But now imagine the added pressure of exploring your gender identity, discovering your authentic self, but having to hide your authentic self every single day, out of fear. Imagine having no safe space to express yourself.

We all have the ability to learn to be more inclusive. We are not “too old” or “set in our ways” to be kinder people. Educate yourself on gender identity beyond cisgender. If you are not familiar with someone’s gender identity, instead of judging them, ask them about it and / or do your own research. Do not invalidate or gaslight someone for sharing their authentic self with you; listen to them and support them. Love should not be conditional to identity or sexuality based on the society’s norms. Introduce yourself with your pronouns, and someone for their pronouns without making assumptions.  Do what you can with the knowledge you have, while continuously expanding your knowledge and understanding. When you engage in conversations, make sure to listen to people other than yourself.

The world is not solely about making you feel comfortable, it is about making everyone feel seen, heard, loved, valid, worthy, and enough. If you are uncomfortable with the way someone identifies, then educate yourself.

We cannot continue to lose lives because we refuse to make the world a safe place. How someone chooses to express themselves, how someone identifies, who someone loves does not affect you.

Some Resources

The Trevor Project: Text 678678

LGBT National Help Center: (888) 843-4564

LGBT National Youth Talkline: (800) 246-7743

SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline: (8770 360-5428

The National Center for Transgender Equality: www.transequality.org

Trans Lifeline: www.translifeline.org

LGBTQIA+ Terms by @soyouwanttotalkabout: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPqQc1InZ0O/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Gender Identity and Mental Health Resource by Headspace: https://headspace.org.au/assets/Uploads/Resource-library/Young-people/Gender-identity-and-mental-health-web.pdf

Gender Spectrum Resources: https://www.genderspectrum.org/resources

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Is empathy a thing of the past?

photo of people using smartphones

Feeling heard and understood is a human need.

Have you ever needed someone to talk to who just understands? You were looking for empathy. Empathy is how we connect with others. Essentially, empathy is recognizing and understanding the thoughts and feelings of someone else. Empathy is an important part of our relationship with others. Furthermore, empathy is an important part of our relationship with ourselves. By getting in touch with our own emotions, we can learn to understand others’ emotions. This allows us to see things from their point of view.

Empathy is important.

As mentioned earlier, feeling heard and understood is one of the most basic human desires. We crave an authentic connection—a connection where we can be our true selves without feeling judged. Empathy allows us to connect and build strong relationships.

Furthermore, empathy plays an important role in our moral compass. Empathy is similar to compassion. When we have compassion for other people’s feelings, we are more likely to act in a way that does not hurt them. Without empathy, without compassion, we are often more focused on how we feel and receive things than on how our words or actions may be received. However, the difference between empathy and compassion is action. Empathy is passive, meaning we connect to one’s feelings. Compassion, on the other hand, is active, meaning we choose to act to help someone. For example, empathy is “I am sorry for your loss” because I have been there too and know what it is like to lose a loved one. On the other hand, compassion is empathy plus I am going to start a meal train for you to take off the pressure of feeding your family for a few weeks.

Empathy is not sympathy.

Empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably. However, empathy and sympathy are very different terms. Unlike compassion and empathy, sympathy is not about understanding someone’s feelings. Rather, sympathy is about feeling sad for someone else who is struggling. Sympathy is simply, “I am sorry for your loss.” Whereas, empathy was “I am sorry” because I can relate to your feelings. And, compassion was, “I am sorry, I have been there too, I am going to help you.”

When we are struggling, we often desire empathy and / or compassion, not necessarily sympathy. Sympathy is not a connection. And, at the base of all human need is the desire for connection.

Are we raising a generation without empathy?

Social media has blessed us with the ability to connect with anyone from anywhere around the world with the touch of a button. Unfortunately, social media has also provided us with the ability to communicate without seeing how people receive our content. Therefore, we have a whole generation learning to communicate based solely on their own point of view and no ability to see the other person’s reaction. We also have the power to push our energy into other people’s lives. Think about the mean comments people write, including to people they do not know. This has created a sense of entitlement where we believe that other people should receive our energy, even if its negative energy filled with hate and pain.

With the benefits and the drawbacks of social media, the question at hand is “is empathy a thing of the past?”

My opinion.

Empathy is a trait that many of us are born with. Empathy can also be learned through emotional training. Many of us are naturally empathetic, but that empathy is not being cultivated. For example, we spend most of our time communicating behind screens. Especially since March 2020, most of us have been primarily virtual. Over the past year, we engaged with screens more than we did with other human beings, face to face. Imagine growing up with that same scenario, where 90% of your communication is done through a screen—think phones, social media, school computers, television, video games. The world around you is you and a screen that allows access to the whole world.

The next generation is not growing up without empathy. Instead, this generation is growing up in a world that discourages the cultivation of empathy. There is no chance to truly connect, not with ourselves and not with others. Because of the amazing advantages technology and social media have provided us, we have started to forget the importance of building deeper connections. Furthermore, we have not been exposed to seeing the fallout of a lack of empathy behind a computer screen. When we press “send,” we do not see the person, how they receive it, or how it affects them.

Remember, feeling heard and understood is a human need. Social media can help bring us closer to people who also understand us. Social media can also bring us closer to people who choose to be mean and share content without thinking. Therefore, social media itself is not the problem, but rather the lack of true connection is.

Empathy is not a thing of the past; empathy is a very much alive. Thus, it is essential we start encouraging ourselves, our loved ones, and the younger generation to connect with the person on the other end of the screen—not simply the screen itself.

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Why do people with mental illness suffer in silence?

monochrome photo of woman

The Facts

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death at ages 10 to 35 years old.
  • Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death at ages 36 to 54 years old.
  • Suicide is the 8th leading cause of death at ages 55 to 64 years old.
  • Overall, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for all ages.
  • There is 1 suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts.
  • An estimated 285,000 individuals become suicide survivors every year.
  • Approximately 130 individuals die by suicide every day.

Yet, we still do not talk about mental health conditions nearly enough.

In fact, we often avoid honest conversations on mental health and judge those who do open up. The world has provided us with an image of who we should be and how we should act. And, when we do not fit into that image, we become the punchline.

It is no secret that there is a stigma on mental health as a whole. There is no doubt that mental health, specifically mental health conditions / mental illnesses, are extremely misunderstood. We all know that mental illness is real, and every single person is vulnerable to experiencing an episode within their lifetime. Yet, we still do not talk about. Instead, we have established a culture of silence. We actually encourage people to suffer in silence every single time we continue the stigma.

What is the stigma?

  • When you laughed at your friend who was crying.
  • The time you said “you are just being dramatic” when someone expressed their emotions or feelings to you.
  • That time you heard about someone self-harming and labeled them “attention-seeking.”
  • The day you heard someone passed by suicide and your immediate thought was “they are so selfish” or “how could they do that to their family.”
  • Every time you told someone to “just think positive” when they described experiencing depression.
  • That time someone opened up to you and you responded, “how are you depressed, you have so much to be grateful for.”
  • When you labeled someone, who was struggling as “crazy, psychopath, sociopath, deranged, maniac, unhinged, or manipulative.”

The truth is, we have all been both a victim and a perpetuator of the stigma cycle.

We grew up in a world where our favorite television shows made fun of people who went to therapy, used fat-shaming jokes for a laugh, displayed the individual living with mental illness as violent, and made light of many mental illnesses. And we grew up in a world where the news described the most violent criminals as “mentally disturbed.” In a world where no one ever educated us about mental health. No one talked to us about how to take care of our mental health like they did our physical health.  These inaccuracies, cruel jokes, and ignorance made mental health conditions either a punchline or a death sentence for most of us.  In fact, until we struggle ourselves or we witness a loved one struggle, we often do not get an accurate representation of mental illness.

We grew up in a world that made a culture of suffering in silence the expectation. That culture is no longer acceptable. The silence ends here and now.

Even so, with a rising suicide rate, why are people still struggling in silence?

Because, we have not created a safe space. We have not chosen to educate ourselves and our peers on how to engage in a validating conversation. Because we choose to judge people for their vulnerability instead of celebrating it. And, because we have allowed a culture of silence to be promoted for far too long.

In today’s world, people fear missing school or work because of their mental health. People are afraid to be honest because someone might laugh, and that invalidation is too much for them to handle. Treatment options are unaffordable for many people. There are still insurance plans that do not cover mental health treatment (including medication and therapy). Medication and therapy are deemed for people who are “crazy.” Why would someone feel safe to open up and seek help with the stigma on top of the lack of treatment accessibility?

Do not get me wrong, we have come a long way in mental health awareness. We have made wonderful progress toward removing the stigma and opening conversations. However, we have so much more to go. The journey is not over, until every single person feels safe enough to say, “I am struggling, and I need support.”

What can I do?

  • Listen to others.
  • Use supportive and validating statements.
  • Engage in conversations.
  • Remove stigmatized words and phrases from your vocabulary.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Check in with your loved ones regularly.
  • Follow mental health organizations, advocates, and nonprofits on social media to learn.
  • Volunteer with mental health nonprofit organizations.
  • Amplify voices of mental health advocates.
  • Amplify voices of mental health professionals.
  • Amplify voices of people who want to share their mental health journey.
  • Take care of your own mental health.
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Is mental exhaustion real?

crop pitiful black woman embracing knees on bed

What is mental exhaustion?

Imagine you are driving a car across the country. At some point, your car is going to run out of gas. Usually, we fill our gas tanks before it gets to empty. But every once in a while, we push it out as long as we can. What do you do when your gas is empty? Do you keep driving? No, you cannot. Eventually, your car will stop moving, until you refuel it. Your mind is just like your car. It needs to be refueled constantly. If you push your mind too far, it too will stop functioning properly.

Mental exhaustion is a form of burnout. This burnout is brought on by experiencing long periods of stress. And it can happen to anyone. We are all vulnerable to burnout, especially when we feel extremely overwhelmed. It is important to remember that stress is not the same thing as burnout. Stress is a normal reaction to new situations, both positive and negative. Thus, it can actually be healthy for the body. Burnout, on the other hand, is stress for an extended period of time. Burnout can affect your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Burnout can make you feel emotionally drained. Everything may start to seem impossible and lead to detachment. Luckily, you can overcome mental exhaustion.

Am I mentally exhausted?

Here are some warning signs that you may be mentally exhausted:

  • Experiencing symptoms of depression and / or anxiety.
  • Feeling detached from reality or apathy (not caring).
  • Low energy levels and / or lack of motivation and / or fatigue.
  • Difficulty focusing / concentrating.
  • Feeling irritable and / or angry.
  • Experiencing headaches.
  • Changes in appetite and / or fluctuation in weight (gain or loss).
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Insomnia.

How do I cope with mental exhaustion?

Mental exhaustion is different for everyone. As we know, everyone’s body is different. Some of us display more physical or emotional symptoms than others. Therefore, different coping mechanisms may work better for different people. If the first few coping mechanisms you try do not work for you, do not worry. It can take time to find the best tools for you.

When I feel mentally exhausted, I do three things:

  1. I take a step back and try to pinpoint my stressors. Where is my stress coming from? Once I pinpoint my stressor, I create a plan to help reduce the impact. For example, a few months ago, I faced burnout. I realized that I had been putting too much on my plate with tight self-imposed deadlines for over a year. I was spending upwards of 12 hours a day working. And I was taking time away from sleep to workout and maintain a social life.
  2. Next, I give myself time and space. After, I identified where my key areas for improvement were, I gave myself 3 days off of work to catch up on cleaning, get quality sleep, read for fun, and meal prep. These 3 days were also filled with coping mechanisms, like meditation, long walks, and journaling. After 3 days, I felt a tad better and I was ready to start over. I knew if I had taken any more time off, I would feel even more stressed; therefore, 3 days became my rule of thumb.
  3. Then, I reorganize my priorities. When I started working again, I created lists of between 3 and 5 things I had to accomplish each day. The tasks could be as simple as laundry or as complex as completing a workbook for publication. The shorter list allowed me to feel accomplished each day without putting too much on my plate day after day. I noticed that without overwhelming myself, by the end of the week, I was still accomplishing a lot.

Final Thoughts:

We all need rest. When we ignore the warning signs and push self-care to the back burner, we often are faced with mental exhaustion. It is normal to experience mental exhaustion every once in a while. As humans, we often put a lot on our plates. It is okay to burnout, but there are tools you can use to not only avoid burnout but also help you if you do get to that point.

Today, I make ample time for self-care. I created boundaries on work hours. I set aside 1 hour to workout, walk, or sit outside every day. Also, I make time to fuel my body with the right foods and supplements. Furthermore, I practice mindful eating rather than eating on the go. Small things make a big difference in our overall health.

I will leave you with this question, proposed to me by a friend. Would you rather take 20 minutes a day away from work for self-care or would you rather take 3 days away from work from mental exhaustion?

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Is there a connection between nutrition and mental health?

assorted sliced fruits in white ceramic bowl

The connection between our diet and mental health has been long debated. Mental health conditions are complex. It can be hard to find a direct link between one cause and one illness. However, we do know there is a mind body connection. Also, we do know that nutrition affects our physical health. Therefore, it would be plausible to conclude that nutrition affects our mental health.

Science and research have found links between mental health and high sodium, sugary foods, excessive high saturated fats. Why do highly processed foods often lead to a depressed mood? Simple, the heavier the food makes us feel, the lower our energy levels tend to be. Why else? Highly processed foods often do not have enough of the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that we need. Furthermore, even with our FDA regulations, plenty of foods that we consume on a routine basis include traces of microplastic (think seafood, plastic packaging), chemicals (think pesticides, bpa, and preservatives), and added hormones / antibiotics (think meat). As we know, our physical and mental health are connected. When one declines, the other one often declines as well. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to what we put on, around, and into our bodies.

When we consume highly processed foods, we put things into our bodies that are not easily broken down and are often harmful. For example, processed foods have been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In general, most physical illnesses often cause emotional stress, mental fatigue / exhaustion, and decreased energy levels. All of these factors can affect our mental health. As you can see, there is a link between what we put into our body and how it affects both our physical and mental health.

My Experience:

A few months ago, I was experiencing severe mental exhaustion. It was hard for me to get out of bed, and I spent most of my time struggling to keep my eyes open. In fact, there were multiple days in a row that I did not get up at all. I had severe migraines every day with low energy levels. And, I skipped the gym for 2 weeks (I normally go 1-2 times a day), and I was feeling very down. I felt irritated easily. And, I felt sick constantly. My depressive symptoms seemed to have worsened as well.

I went to the doctor. The doctor ordered 3 blood tests. The first test checked my vitamin, cholesterol, and thyroid levels (a routine test). Next, the second test checked my hormone levels. And, the third test was a MRT blood panel.

The first two blood tests resulted in deficiencies that required me to take daily supplements. The deficiencies were connected to mood instability, decreased energy levels, and muscle pains. My doctor explained that vitamin deficiencies on top of hormonal deficiencies can amplify symptoms. Therefore, my doctor(s) gave me a list of 10 supplements and medications that I needed to take. The doctor explained which supplements I should take in the morning and which in the evening. Of course, I did my own research as well. Then, I found vegan, organic, non-gmo, trusted sources for my supplements.

Next, the MRT blood panel told me which foods my body was sensitive too. It also gave me a LEAP diet plan to help reintroduce foods into my body and see how I react. I learned that almost everything I consumed on a daily basis was not good for my specific body. This included “healthy” foods, like chicken, apples, strawberries, and more. I also learned which medications were not good for my body.

After adjusting my lifestyle to incorporate foods and supplements that were good for my body, I started to see a difference. I noticed my energy levels were increasing. And, I did not need nearly as much caffeine to get through the day. I was able to focus for extended periods of time again. I was not feeling as depressed and irritated on a daily basis. My body did not ache as much. And I did not feel sick every day.

Final Thoughts:

Everyone’s body is different. Therefore, our lifestyle should be tailored to our specific bodies. Some foods may affect your body differently than others. The important piece is educating yourself with the tools and resources available to learn more about how what you put into your body affects your body. Paying attention to labels on food, drinks, and supplements you purchase is also a key part of nutritional eating. Remember, what you consume is what fuels your mind. So, let me ask you, how do you want to fuel your mind?

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The different faces of depression.

woman placing her finger between her lips

I cannot tell you how many times someone has looked at me and said, “You do not look like you live with depression.”

Depression: An Invisible Illness

Mental illnesses and mental health conditions are invisible illnesses. Many of us are covered in invisible scars. Invisible scars marked by every trauma, every intrusive thought, every adverse childhood experience, and every loss. These scars are called invisible because you cannot see them. The person covered in invisible scars, however, can feel all of them. Just because you cannot see someone’s pain does not mean the pain does not exist.

Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness. Symptoms of depression often include decreased energy levels, constant fatigue, and loss of pleasure in things one previously enjoyed. Therefore, a lot of people have an image of depression being someone who lays in bed and cries day after day. What many people do not consider is that many people are able to put on a brave face and hide it.

What does depression look like?

Depression has many faces. Someone can feel extremely depressed and still show up to work with a smile. Likewise, someone can be experiencing severe suicidal thoughts and still spend the day smiling with their family. Someone can be living with major depressive disorder and have on a smile, show up to work every day, take care of their family, workout daily, eat healthy, and laugh with friends. Someone can post beautiful photos showcasing their “amazing” life moments before attempting suicide or moments after self-harming.

Individuals living with depression often have many faces, in particular, the face they show to the world and the face they show to themselves. To the world, the eyes and smile hide the pain, but when in silence and solitude, the pain often feels all-consuming.

The Stigma on Depression.

The stigma on depression makes people believe if they do not see someone struggling, if they do not see the tears, the pain, the hopelessness, the fatigue, and the brokenness, then that person is attention-seeking or dramatic. However, you do not see what happens behind closed doors. When someone seems “functional” that does not mean it was easy to get out of bed that morning. Someone with depression can experience bursts of energy as they try to fit in, often times seeming like the life of the party. Yet, that does not mean when they go home, they are not falling apart alone.

Furthermore, the stigma on depression leads to excessive invalidation. “You have no reason to be depressed, look at everything you have.”

I had everything, and I was absolutely broken inside. I kept it all together enough to where I would never let you down, but I kept it too much together to where I let myself down.

Selena Gomez, American Music Awards

Regardless of what you have in life or what your life appears to be in the eyes of others, your feelings, and your thoughts matter. Depression is like any other illness,

Illness is the great equalizer. It does not matter who you are, rich or poor, young or old, fat or thin, sick is sick.

Fran Drescher

We are all vulnerable to physical and mental illness. And, like physical illness, mental health symptoms present themselves differently for different people.  

The stigma on depression also makes individuals struggling believe if they do not have a suicide note in hand then they are not worthy of reaching out for support.

The advice I would give to somebody that is silently struggling is, you do not have to live that way. You do not have to struggle in silence. You can be un-silent. You can live well with a mental health condition, as long as you open up to somebody about it, because it is really important you share your experience with people so that you can get the help that you need.

Demi Lovato

You do not have to struggle in silence, because your depression is “not severe enough.” You are important, and you deserve to get the help and support you need, regardless of who has it worse or how your symptoms present themselves.

Final Thoughts.

Depression is not black and white. It looks differently on everyone. Just because other people cannot see your mental health condition / mental illness does not mean you or someone you know is not struggling. We need to stop invalidating ourselves and others. We need to start listening, learning, and validating.

I will leave you with this,

Scars remind us of where we have been. They do not have to dictate where we are going.

David Rossi

And, yes that includes invisible scars.

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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?

white and black number print

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/

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What factors can contribute to mental health symptoms and conditions?

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What factors can contribute to mental health symptoms and / or conditions?

Mental Health Introduction

What is mental health? In my opinion, mental health is a scale that ranges from wellness to illness. Like physical health, mental health can change overtime. You may not always be experiencing symptoms, and conditions / symptoms may re-appear throughout your lifetime. Also, like physical health, certain mental health symptoms and conditions may be experienced worse than others.

Think of a common cold versus pneumonia. A common cold is still considered an illness. Although it is not as dangerous to your health as pneumonia, it is still treated to prevent the common cold from developing into a worse illness. Now, let us look at depression. When depressive symptoms first appear, one may feel extreme sadness for an extended period of time. One may even begin to feel hopeless in the early stages. However, imagine if depression is recognized and treated before the individual experiences thoughts of suicide.

Just because a mental health symptom or mental health condition does not appear to be “extremely severe” does not mean that the individual experiencing the symptom or condition does not deserve help, support, and/or treatment.

If we look at mental health in the same capacity as physical health, we will gain a new perspective that evolves into a world without the stigma. To better understand mental health, let us explore where symptoms and conditions can come from.

Biological Factors

Like certain physical illnesses, mental illness can also develop from biological factors. For example, there has been research that shows a genetic link between certain cancers and family history of the same cancer. There has also been research that shows a genetic link between Alzheimer’s and a family history of Alzheimer’s. Similarly, there have been studies done that show a link between genetic and certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (evidence is not conclusive).

As we all know, every human being is biologically different, even though we share many common physical features. A person’s biological makeup may determine how one behaves and interacts within their environment. Therefore, biological factors can contribute to mental health conditions.

It is important to remember that genetics is not the only biological factor. Brain chemistry, gender, hormone levels, and nutrition also influence one’s biological makeup. Furthermore, the interaction between the various biological factors and other factors (environmental, psychological, and social) can play an important role.

Brain chemistry can be affected by factors, such as brain damage and drug and alcohol usage / abuse. Brain damage may result from physical health conditions, such as seizures. Why is brain chemistry important? Your brain releases several chemicals that impact one’s mood (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are a few examples).  

Biological gender can also impact one’s mental health, through gender-linked stress, trauma and / or reproductive cycle stages. Research shows that women are perceived to be more susceptible to mental health conditions due to how these factors affect their mood.

Hormone levels also play a role in one’s mental health. Deficiencies in hormones like progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone can influence one’s mood, energy levels, reproductive cycle symptoms, and more.

Lastly, nutrition is a key part of mental health. What we put inside of our bodies has a direct effect on our internal system. Poor nutrition can lead to vitamin deficiencies that not only affect our mood, but also energy levels.

Environmental Factors

There are some factors we have very little control over, such as genetics. However, one factor we have a lot of control over is our environment. Yet, our environment tends to be one of the biggest causes of mental health symptoms and conditions.

Our environment is made up of two key components, physical environment, and social environment. Both aspects of our environment are equally important in maintaining our mental health.

What encompasses our physical environment? Air pollution, work conditions that cause significant stress to the mind / body, weather, smoking (second-hand smoke included), loud noises, exposure to toxic chemicals (ex. household cleaning supplies), physical hazards (ex. dangerous workplace situations), household environment (ex. cleanliness, safety, chemicals, lighting, outdoor space, physical barriers), natural environment (ex. weather, plants / trees), physical barriers (especially for individuals living with a disability), school setting (ex. location, structure, stressors, hazards), workplace (ex. location, structure, stressors, hazards), and recreational facilities (ex. access, structure, location, hazards).

What encompasses our social environment? Stigma on mental health and treatment options (ex. therapy, medication), prejudice / discrimination (ex. racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism), violence (within household or local community), abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), poverty, lack of necessities (food, shelter, water), media (ex. social media, news, television shows), technology (ex. cell phones, computers), relationships / lack of social support (ex. family, friends, self), self-esteem, and lack of physical safety.

All of these factors (and more) can influence one’s overall mental health. Think anxiety, depression, PTSD. It is also important to remember that the interaction between one’s social and physical environment can affect mental health.

Psychological Factors

Lastly, psychological factors are a key part in our mental health development. Psychological factors include our feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and attitude. Psychological factors are something we have a lot of control over, if we educate ourselves and our youth on warning signs and how to cope. Unfortunately, in today’s world, we tend to not discuss how psychological factors can play a key role in our mental health nor do we tend to provide the tools and resources needed to cultivate our mental health in regard to these factors.

Psychological factors include how we cope with life’s stressors (ex. suppressing our emotions, avoidance, healthy vs unhealthy coping mechanisms, defense mechanisms), social support (ex. invalidation, gaslighting), acceptance (from loved ones, especially parents), intrusive / negative thoughts, and personality (ex. use of humor, perfectionist).

Final Thoughts

When we discuss mental health symptoms and conditions, it is extremely important we look at the full picture. Often times, we provide ourselves with a very limited understanding of what can be the root cause of our symptoms and/or conditions. By looking at the full picture and how the various factors interact with each other, we are able to better understand where our symptoms / conditions stem from and how we can make changes to better cultivate our mental health.

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What age is appropriate to begin the conversation on mental health?  

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What age is appropriate to begin the conversation on mental health?  

My answer: it is never too early to start the conversation.

One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding wellness conversations are that you only need to have the conversation once. Like various other wellness and safety conversations, mental health conversations are not a one-time sit-down dialogue when your child reaches a certain age. These conversations should begin at birth.

What do you mean conversations should begin at birth?

Communication can occur in different ways. For example, when a baby is crying, providing support by holding the baby close to your heart, softly singing, or gently rocking them can be not only soothing but also let the baby know they are not alone. Another example would be allowing the baby to scream and cry (as recommended by doctors for the baby’s age) can also teach the baby that it is okay to express their emotions. Then, as your child continues to grow up, providing safe space to express their emotions without judgement is extremely important.

When a child is in grades K-2, these are core years in emotional health. This is when we often begin invalidating and gaslighting them. Although the problems and stressors children face may seem “small” or “insignificant” to us as adults, they are still very real and very difficult for children. By shutting down children when they begin to cry or get upset with phrases like:

  • People are dying.
  • Big girls do not cry.
  • Stop acting like a girl.
  • You are acting like a baby.
  • You are being dramatic.
  • Stop crying.

We are communicating that their feelings are not important, and thus, they should suppress them. Then, as they get older, we often build upon that same destructive message.

In grade school (3-5), we often use phrases like “You are not 5 anymore, grow up” when children express themselves. Often times, we do not pay attention to the drama or problems they are facing, because elementary school bullying builds character and thicker skin. Essentially, we teach them that it is okay for people to be mean to them and it is wrong for them to speak up for themselves.

By middle schools, when gossip and bullying are at an all time high, when children are beginning to explore or understand their sexuality, when their bodies are changing, they are extremely impressionable. This is a key age for self-esteem. However, we often invalidate their problems by saying, “Do not let it bother you. This won’t matter in 5 years.” Essentially, we are teaching them that their feelings do not matter.

Then, we get to high school, where life becomes complicated. Many kids are experiencing or have experienced first love and first heartbreak, grief and trauma of losing loved ones, extreme pressure on grades and SAT scores, stress to decide the trajectory of their life by choosing a college and a major, puberty, bullying, and the list goes on. Instead of having healthy wellness check-ins, we are piling more and more on to their plates with impossibly high expectations.

Then, we see suicide is the second leading cause of death from ages 10-35 in the United States, and we ask ourselves why.

Why is the suicide rate so high among our youth?

Here’s why: we are invalidating them, subconsciously teaching them to suppress their emotions, meanwhile refusing to engage in important conversations.

Imagine if in K-2, we taught kids that it is normal to have feelings AND that all feelings are valid. Imagine if we taught them there are different ways to express their emotions, such as through speaking, drawing, writing, or music.

Imagine if in 3-5, we taught kids what mental health is on a scale from wellness to illness. Imagine if we explained that sometimes, we may move along the scale as the day goes on, and that is normal to not always be happy.

Imagine if in 6-8, we taught kids about early symptom detection. Imagine if we gave them the tools and resources needed to explore their symptoms and emotions, while developing tools to cope with them. Imagine if by the time kids were 13 years old, they understood how to advocate for themselves and their mental health. Imagine if they knew the right questions to ask themselves and their doctors.

Imagine if in 9-12, we taught kids about suicide prevention. Imagine if we taught kids how to have supportive and validating conversations with their peers, as well as warning signs to look out for with themselves and with each other. Imagine if we educated them on various mental illnesses and resources available to them.

Imagine if by the time one graduates from high school, they have all of the tools and resources needed to maintain emotional wellness and cope with life’s stressors and traumas. Imagine if we set the next generation up for success in life, rather than throwing them into the world with no real understanding of mental health or how to maintain it.

So, when should we have the conversation? Every. Single. Day.

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Why is taking a mental health day important?

dreamy woman laying in stylish hammock

Stress is inevitable. The world contains billions of stressors, many of which we will encounter within our lifetime. How we navigate and respond to life’s stressors is directly coordinated with our mental and emotional health. Thus, it is important to offer ourselves time and space to relax and revitalize.

What are stressors?

Stress is not the same thing as a stressor. Have you ever heard of the phrase “fight or flight?” When our mind encounters a perceived threat (or a stressor), it activates a stress response. The stress response is called fight or flight.

Stressors can be positive or negative. Here are some examples of common stressors:

  • Change in Job (Loss / New Job)
  • Retirement
  • Marriage / Divorce
  • Death of a Loved One
  • Transitioning into Adulthood
  • Moving
  • Injury / Illness
  • Imprisonment
  • Financial Problems
  • Workplace (Fear of Firing, Overworked)

It is important to note that not every stressor causes stress (or a stress response). In fact, the response to the stressor varies person to person. Many factors are at play when we encounter a stressor that affects the stress response. One of the biggest factors is our mental health.

How does mental health affect our stress response?

As we know, long-term exposure to stress is linked to burnout, depression, and anxiety. Short-term stress can be just as harmful to our mental health. For example, stress can cause irritability, insomnia, fatigue, sadness, memory problems, and more.

As we go through life, the impact of stress can constantly work against our mental health. This is especially true if we are not making time to care for our mental health. It is really difficult to prosper when we feel overwhelmed. In fact, the more overwhelmed we feel, the more likely we are to experience burnout. This is why mental health days are important.

What is a Mental Health Day?

We all need rest. There is no shame in taking a break. Mental health days are meant to allow yourself space to reduce stress and burnout so that you may comeback with more energy the next day.

Mental health days can be a scheduled day off from work or other important responsibilities. Many people feel guilty taking a day off, especially when it is “not for a serious emergency.” However, your mental health always has been and always should be a priority. Thus, you should never feel guilty for taking a mental health day. That being said, if you still feel that your day off is a burden, try scheduling a mental health day in advance. When you plan ahead, you allow yourself and others to prepare in advance. Nevertheless, mental health symptoms are not planned, therefore, you may need to take an unscheduled mental health day too. That is okay. If your mental health is not well, then you are not going to be as productive as the team needs you to be.

You do your best when you feel your best. So, take care of yourself. You deserve to be the best version of yourself.

What should I do on a mental health day?

Every mental health day may look different. Your mental health days may look different for you than it does for others. Your mental health day should reflect what you need. Do you need time to rest? Do you need to catch up on activities around the house? Do you need pampering? Do you need social time with loved ones? Do you need to practice your self-care routine? Spend the day doing what YOU need. A mental health day is about making YOU feel better.

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PTSD and Fatigue Intertwined

photo of man in military uniform

Introduction to PTSD

Did you know that about 8 million people in the United States live with PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a “serious potentially debilitating condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a natural disaster, serious accident, terrorist incident, sudden death of a loved one, war, violent personal assault such as rape, or other life-threatening events.” (ADAA)

As most people know, PTSD often occurs with depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders. However, what many people do not know is that PTSD can also be linked to fatigue.

Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms are often broken down into 4 categories:

  • Reliving the trauma
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Excessive arousal / alertness
  • Intrusive thoughts

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Recurring nightmares
  • Vivid flashbacks of a traumatic experience
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
  • Agitation and unpredictable temper flares
  • Exaggerated emotional responses to mild stressors
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • “Fight or flight” responses to stimuli

(interventionhelpline.com)

PTSD & Fatigue

When living with PTSD, certain triggers can produce a surge of stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol. When our nervous system is overloaded with adrenaline and cortisol, it can cause elevated blood pressure and rapid heart rate. These physical symptoms increase risk of anxiety disorders and make it difficult for your mind and body to relax.

In addition to the elevated stress hormones and triggers, the reliving, avoiding, intrusive thoughts, and excessive arousal are often overwhelming. Thus, one of the most common symptoms of PTSD is fatigue. Together, it can take a toll on the body. Mental exhaustion and burnout may happen without intervention.

What can you do?

In addition to counseling / therapy, there are four things you can do on your own:

  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Identifying your triggers
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Grounding exercises

(thehopeline.com)