Supporting People With Mental Illness Is Everyone’s Business

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Recently, I was wondering about all the different reasons so many people keep silent or feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health.

For those living with mental illness, being silent might be a defense against being outed. It might be because they can’t find a way to express what’s going on in their head. They might feel like they’re the only one in the world facing this experience. Maybe if they explain, they’ll feel like a freak or be labeled a freak, so they choose to remain silent. They might not want to scare or burden their friends and family. They might be afraid of what other people will think or say about them once what’s going on in their head becomes public. These are but a few of the thoughts, feelings and circumstances that can have people living with mental illness be, at best, reluctant to seek the help they deserve.

And then there’s the flip side…

In speaking openly and comfortably about mind health matters, I’ve noticed there are also many concerns colleagues, friends and loved ones have about offering help or support. Some people don’t think it’s their business. Others hope or expect that someone else will take care if it — “It’s not my responsibility.” Some don’t know what to say. For many people they don’t feel equipped to step in and help. Others are concerned about making things worse. And then there is a genuine concern about how an offer of help or support might be accepted.

What can you do to help?

Supporting those with mind health challenges or mental illness to access appropriate help is everyone’s business: yours, mine and ours. The assumption that someone else will help at best may result in delayed treatment; at worst, a loss of life.

Talking about a person’s challenges or suicidal thoughts will not make things worse. I’ve found just having someone to listen, without judgement, to concerns and dark secrets can be a turning point in either getting treatment or the effectiveness of  treatment. Sometimes, especially early on, a person may not be aware of what is happening for them. They may be in denial of the seriousness of their situation and their need for help. As the cliché goes: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” If they choose not to drink, keep on offering the water.

It’s better to have your offer of support rejected than to never make the offer at all.

Why? Because your mind health matters.

To see more from Jacqui, visit Mind Mission

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When I Think of the People I’ve Met on My Mental Health Journey

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So I was driving to work, just drifting between memories and my plans for the day, when there he was. Bubbling into my brain like a shy little ghost: a young man I met in an intensive outpatient group six years ago. He was quiet and very sweet. I remembered the way he would suddenly start talking, calmly and softly, about how badly he wanted to die. We never kept in touch after the program concluded. I crossed my fingers for him, and hoped that he’s healthy and happy wherever he is.

It always happens like that. In my extensive career as a mental health consumer or patient, I’ve met dozens of people who were lost in the world, like me. We’ve shared couches in psych ward common rooms and cigarettes in enclosed patios. We’ve introduced ourselves by name and diagnosis in group therapy meetings. Sometimes we’ve even swapped phone numbers and email addresses, but so far that’s never panned out for me. Even close friendships rarely survive the transition from the therapeutic otherworld back into Real Life.

Still, that connection is never completely lost. I don’t see how it can be. Once you’ve glimpsed another person’s bare wiring, the tangled knots of their life, something is created between you that never really goes away. Even if you don’t say a word, even if you just allow yourself to be seen in one of the buildings where our society cordons people with addictions and mental illnesses, you now share that designation with everyone you met there. All of you are standing on the same foundation of fear and hope, and all of your fates feel tied up together.

Now you’ve let people in, and for the rest of your life they will come back in little memories that can pop up at any time. Whenever this happens to me, it seems important to let the memory stay for a while. It feels like my job to keep all of these people in my mind, not letting anyone go. I want them to know, somehow, that they are still important to me. In full magical thinking mode, I imagine that my concern can help them stay afloat. I don’t really believe in vibes or prayer, but this is all I can do, so I do it.

To my entire family of vulnerable and broken and barely-tied-together people, I think about you often. My fingers are crossed for you today.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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4 Ways to Make the World a Little Kinder for People With Mental Illness

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I’m going to start off by being completely honest: for a while, I didn’t believe mental illness could be real – I thought positive thinking was the solution to everything. I considered myself happy and assumed people could just make a choice to feel a certain way.

But eventually I would learn I was wrong, and thinking that way actually causes harm.

Depression and anxiety are not illnesses I thought would ever be part of my life. Little did I know, they were following me closely as I grew up; the days became darker and the light was more challenging to find. It wasn’t until years of health issues got to me I realized I wasn’t doing well emotionally. Sadness overwhelmed me and my body no longer felt like mine. Decisions like what to eat or what clothes to wear became painful tasks that required all my energy. Being around too many people terrified me.

Sounds and smells triggered horrible memories, and nightmares left me with many sleepless nights.

I didn’t reach out for help until I began having sudden urges to hurt myself or to end my life. I was embarrassed, felt like I was letting everyone down and I was terrified of how people might react. These feelings are all too common when dealing with mental illness. Stigma is a dangerous thing in more ways than one. It leads to silence when inside people are screaming, which is a huge barrier to getting help.

Mental illness is something I’m sure has touched all of our lives in one way or another. Whether it’s a family member, friend, neighbor, colleague or yourself. I’ve learned that one out of every five people will experience a mental illness, but five out of every five people have mental health, so it’s something that concerns us all. It can be a challenging thing to understand, but it’s even harder to live with it in a world that doesn’t understand. Each day is spent existing or surviving, wishing and hoping to truly live a fulfilling and purposeful life. Everybody deserves that, and with a few small changes in our day to day lives, we can help make it happen.

Here are a four easy ways to make the world a little kinder for everyone:

1. Use inclusive language.

Maybe you’ve heard it before, but mental illnesses are not adjectives. Describing unusual things as “crazy” or saying your “OCD is acting up” when you need to clean your room are just a few examples. By intentionally choosing different words, we can make a big impact. After all, there are more accurate words that can be used to describe things.

2. Practice empathy instead of sympathy.

Feeling connected is something everyone benefits from, and it can play a huge role in surviving mental illness. Did you know there’s a difference between sympathy and empathy, and that one of these can lead to better connections between people? In some cases sympathy might make sense, but it also creates a disconnect between people. Empathy is different because it brings people together, creating that feeling of connectedness we all need. This video does a great job explaining the difference:

3. Random acts of kindness.

You never know what’s going on in someone else’s life or how a small act can make or break their day. It can be as simple as smiling at everyone you pass while walking down the street, handing out flowers to strangers or doing something bold to spread a positive message.

4. Storytelling.

I’m a strong believer in the power of telling stories. It’s probably one of the most impactful ways to educate others. I want to encourage everyone to share their story when they’re ready – whether that’s through art, music, writing, acting, speaking to a crowd or speaking to one other person – whatever works for you. And please, open your hearts to hearing stories and appreciate the courage it takes to share.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Answering 'What Are Your Plans?' as a High School Senior With Mental Health Issues

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I’ll just come right out and say that I have several different mental disorders, among them: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety and trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). The severity of each of these fluctuates. I take medications for some, and I also see a therapist once a week.

I’m now halfway through my senior year of high school. This school year has proved to be much more difficult than I anticipated. Like every other teenager at this stage, I’ve been under the stress of growing up and transitioning into the next phase of life. But when you factor in mental disorders to that equation, a whole other level of stress presents itself. Hardly a day goes by I don’t worry about how I’m going to manage all those “real world” responsibilities — driving, college, maintaining a job; the list goes on. Perhaps I’m thinking too much about the big picture, but it’s beginning to sink in for me that soon these things will be a reality. And I’m genuinely terrified at how my disorders will affect me in completely new ways as I enter adulthood.

In the last several months, it seems like just about everyone I know has been asking me about these things. If I’m being honest, all these inquiries just add even more to the pressure and stress I’ve already been feeling. I know people mean well, and I guess I can’t really get angry at them. To be fair, these are all normal things to ask someone my age.

I applied to only one college, a small state university about 10 minutes away from my house. I recently found out I got accepted and am proud to say I will be attending this fall. I felt it was a good fit for me. I knew I definitely did not want to go away for college. I can’t even imagine how much anxiety I would have living away from home and sharing a room with a total stranger. Still, people ask me why I don’t want to move out and have independence.

I don’t feel like I’ll be ready to get a job any time soon — I’m actually scared to. A big component of my OCD is germs/contamination, and I use hand sanitizer upwards of a hundred times a day. Because of my social anxiety, many everyday interactions make me feel on edge. So I don’t know how I’d be able to handle all the responsibilities that come with having a job. Still, people ask me why I don’t want to get a job. They say, “but it’s such a good feeling to be able to earn your own money that you can spend!”

Similarly, I have a lot of anxiety about driving. I still have not yet gotten my learner’s permit, let alone gotten behind the wheel. When I tell people I don’t want to drive right now, they say, “but don’t you want to be able to have that sense of freedom?”

When people ask me these questions, I wish I could tell them the reasoning behind why I don’t want to do those things. Usually I’ll just respond with “I don’t know” and try to smile and shrug it off.

Many of my peers are already driving, have jobs, and/or are going away for college. I have to admit, this sometimes makes me feel a bit inadequate, as if I’m way behind where I “should” be. Part of me wishes I felt able to do these things like other people my age do, and that I wasn’t so scared or anxious. When people constantly ask me questions about doing these things, those internal feelings of inadequacy are amplified. It makes my fears for the future that much more apparent. It’s overwhelming. Again, I realize they’re perfectly harmless things to ask about, and I’m not resentful towards people for asking, but it’s frustrating that I can’t really explain to people what I’m truly feeling.

This feeling of inadequacy is actually quite strange for me and something I’ve only recently begun to experience. I never used to have that sort of attitude toward my disorders or myself for that matter. I am loving and accepting of myself, disorders and all, and I don’t let them define me. But I think the stress of all the changes happening gets the best of me from time to time.

There is no right or wrong path to take in life, nor is there a set “timeline” to follow. Lately it’s been hard for me to remember that. I do what feels right for me, at my own pace. For now, all I can do is take things one day at a time. Every day I do the very best I can, and have to remind myself that is enough, and I am enough.

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11 Things People Who’ve Struggled With Addiction Want Others to Know

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Addiction is a chronic brain disease, that, like many illnesses, has both a genetic and environmental component. In fact, genetic factors account for about half of the likelihood someone will develop an addiction, while environmental factors affect how much influence those genetic factors will have.

Yes, the initial decision to take drugs or that first sip of alcohol is voluntary for most people — but after that, brain changes occur over time, making it harder for someone already susceptible to addiction to resist the urge to take a drug. Co-occurring disorders are also extremely common — about a third of all people living with mental illnesses and about half of people living with severe mental illnesses also experience substance abuse.

But people who have addictions are often shamed, as if they just don’t have the willpower to turn their addiction off. In reality, addictions are complicated, misunderstood and aren’t reserved for people who just lack self-control.

To learn more, we asked people in our community who have struggled with addiction to tell us one thing they wish others understood.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Stop being shocked that I’m an alcoholic. Anyone can fall victim to this terrible addiction. With help, we can overcome. We’re not evil, we’re sick.”

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2. “I worked very hard to get sober. I’m not going back. So please stop cringing every time someone mentions my substance of choice around me. We don’t all need to go quiet and look at the floor because someone is getting high in a movie. I have eight years of
sobriety under my belt, the mere mention of use does not bother me and certainly isn’t going to turn me into a crazed maniac searching for my next ‘fix.'”

3. “We are not our disease. We are people who bleed red blood, too. We are valuable.”

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4. “What we want most in life is to feel good about ourselves.”

5. “Just because I’m in recovery, doesn’t mean that every time I go to the doctor I’m drug seeking.”

6. “It can happen to anybody.”

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7. “I hate how people consider you scum because of it. It’s bad enough being addicted to something. Then when you work on your recovery, and people never look at you the same.”

8. “Addiction can be more complicated than getting high. It can be about self-medicating due to undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues. If you really want to help someone with an addiction, don’t pass judgment. Find out why.”

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9. “Don’t bring up the past of a person who is trying to improve their future.”

10. “If you’ve never been there, you will never completely understand.”

11. “It’s hard to recover if you don’t work on your relationship with yourself, too.”

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.

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How the Internet’s Sending Hope to People Recently Diagnosed With a Mental Illness

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If you’ve recently been diagnosed with a mental illness, the Internet has a few words for you. Twitter users are using the hashtag #IfJustDiagnosed to send messages of hope to people who have just been diagnosed with a mental illness.

Mental health advocate Rachel Griffin started the hashtag using her popular Twitter account, I’m Not Ashamed.

“A diagnosis can be quite a relief to get, because you realize what’s been going on with you has a name, others have struggled with it and that there are treatment options,” Griffin told The Mighty. “But I want people to know that a diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re not yourself anymore. It doesn’t mean the future is bleak. It doesn’t mean you’re damaged, defective or that something is inherently wrong with you.”

She hopes the hashtag will help connect people who’ve been recently diagnosed with a mental illness to their online community.

“I thought it would be a nice way for those who have recovered to say to those who are struggling what they wish they’d heard when they were first diagnosed,” Griffin said.

Here’s more from #IfJustDiagnosed:

What would you to say to someone who was recently diagnosed with a mental illness? Join the online movement, or tell us in the comments below.

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