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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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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.

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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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Is anxiety a real mental illness?

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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.

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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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Ways to destigmatize mental health

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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 do people with mental illness suffer in silence?

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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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How do you advocate for your mental health?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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