Posted on Leave a comment

Signs you need a mental health break.

wood working internet writing

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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?

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.
Posted on Leave a comment

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?

Posted on Leave a comment

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?

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Do Positive Thoughts Solve All of Your Problems?

down angle photography of red clouds and blue sky

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

Posted on Leave a comment

What does it mean to prioritize your mental health?

smiling woman wearing a sun hat and reading a book

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

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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/

Posted on Leave a comment

What factors can contribute to mental health symptoms and conditions?

time lapse photography of blue lights

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

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

family sitting on grass near building

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.