Fiona Apple singing along to Sinead O'Connor

What We Can Learn From Fiona Apple's Response to Sinead O'Connor's Video

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Earlier this month, Sinead O’Connor posted a 12-minute video about her mental health to social media. Since then, her video has been viewed over two million times, including by singer Fiona Apple, who shared a video in response to O’Connor on Thursday.

Apple’s video addresses one of the comments made during O’Connor’s video in which O’Connor says:

There’s absolutely nobody in my life except my doctor, my psychiatrist – the sweetest man on earth, who says I’m his hero – and that’s about the only thing keeping me alive at the moment … And that’s kind of pathetic.

Apple replies, in a 38-second video, that O’Connor is her hero, adding:

I want you to know that you are my hero as well. I just saw the video of you and I don’t want you to feel like that. I don’t want you to feel like that. You’ve given so much. And I wish I could be there. I wish I could be of some use to you… I’m your friend, that’s all I want to say, and you’re my hero.

A day after posting her message to O’Connor, Apple posted a second video titled “Sinead O’Connor is my hero.” In the video, Apple watches and sings along to a video of O’Connor performing.

If seeing a celebrity in crisis makes you feel helpless, take a page from Apple’s book and reach out. While celebs have a platform that’s easily accessible to fans, it can be harder for us to make an impact on them. If leaving a supportive comment on social media doesn’t feel like enough, don’t forget about the people in your life you can have an effect on. If there’s someone you know who has a history of struggling with their mental health, reach out and remind them you care about them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Why There's No Shame in Taking Medication for Mental Health

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I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. When I was about 9, I started dealing with obsessive thoughts: “oh no, I just thought of a bad word. Am I still a good kid?” Then the running to my parents for validation that I was, indeed, a good kid, ensued.

In middle school and high school, the obsessions changed to fearing my friends were going to change on me. “They’re wearing something they’ve never worn before. Are they suddenly changing interests? They suddenly like something they’ve always said they didn’t. Does this mean I’m losing them?”

As ridiculous as it may sound, these thoughts were very real at the time. This is the nature of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The thing is, you don’t want to think bad thoughts. You don’t want your friends to move on without you. However, the more you don’t want these things, the more your brain sabotages itself and convinces you otherwise.

Once I hit college, I was going into full-blown rituals. Everything had to be done “just right” or else I had to do it over again. It would sometimes take me almost two hours to shower and get dressed. OCD can definitely own you.

Fast forward about five years; I had graduated from college with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work and was working my first full-time job in mental health. My OCD had settled down for the most part after some time had passed. I was doing quite well.

Then, about two years later, I started to experience a change in my moods. I would experience anxiety for no apparent reason, followed by low feelings. This went on for several months until I finally decided to seek help.

I went to my doctor and explained to the PA what had been going on. I broke down and cried right then and there. I was prescribed a SSRI, and little did I know I was on the path to seeing better days.

Upon taking it, I started to notice a change pretty quickly. I felt more at ease. I didn’t feel as anxious, and I didn’t really experience any lows. I was finally feeling the way I was meant to feel.

Over the next several years, I continued to evaluate myself and did a lot of introspection. I was gradually introduced to additional medications for some of the concerns I had had about myself for many years, however finally got the answers I so desperately sought. I was diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) after being convinced I had it since I was 12, and was put on medication. Another medication was added when I noticed I felt down and very lethargic during the winter, and it’s also a twofer: it doubles as help for ADHD as well. After my ADHD, OCD and anxiety diagnoses came at 25, I was in a good place. Next came a diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome at 31 after continuing to learn more and more about myself.

My blend of medications has been more helpful than I can explain. It has helped me go from anxious and scatterbrained to cool as a cucumber, as well as focused and in the zone. Psychiatric medication has an awful stigma attached to it, but the answer is, why? If you’re diabetic, you take something to balance your blood sugar. If you have high blood pressure, you take something to reduce it. How are medications used to treat chemical imbalances in the brain any different? All I know is, I now feel the way I’m supposed to feel: like me.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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The Book That Changed the Way I Saw My Mental Health

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I have long been fascinated and moved by the beauty and complexity of biology. All through school, I lapped up popular science books and TV documentaries like a starved cat confronted with a bowl of cream. I studied it at university; I loved it so much I did a PhD. And once I had recovered from the PhD, I went back to loving it again. For most of my life, the most emotional you would actually see me in public (most of the time) was when listening to science seminars — anything from quantum physics, molecules, natural history to astronomy. I’d get shivers down my spine and tears — actual tears — of awe.

Although I stopped wanting to do the routine science stuff that fits pieces into that picture, I have never stopped looking adoringly at it. So, when I’ve thought about my mental, psychological or emotional health in the past, I’ve very much focused on the biological explanations. I knew there were limitations, social aspects to consider, and that the brain is so complex we may never understand it fully. But it was always my focus. It felt comfortable, interesting and right. I think this was only partly because of my love of science. I think it was also because it made it easier to keep the focus mainly on me — my response to events, my faulty thinking, my difficulties coping and my personal vulnerabilities. This focus made things easier to manage and felt familiar — a kind of self-blame I was used to.

Over the years, I alternated between feeling like the most accomplished Vulcan in the universe who was fully disconnected from emotions, to experiencing utterly uncontrollable, overwhelming feelings that came from nowhere. And at both ends of the spectrum, it felt like my brain was somehow not like other people’s. Either people didn’t get the hurricane in my head or they seemed so vulnerable and needy compared to my ability to not let things faze me.

The disconnection was with myself, but with everyone else too. All around, counselors, psychologists and other people (especially other girls and women) seemed to speak a language I could understand but not speak. They talked of “processing,” “needing to express,” “bottling up or pushing down” feelings. They often wanted to talk about their feelings, even when there were no solutions to be gained or any new information to add by doing so. I always tried to listen when people needed me to, and hoped it helped, but I never fully understood what they were getting from it.

So, a biochemical explanation felt so right intuitively to me. It’s exactly how everything felt — like random wonky wrong chemistry. And then something changed for me. I read “The Compassionate Mind,” a book by Professor Paul Gilbert. It changed me by letting me start somewhere familiar. It started from what was a deceptively biological perspective – evolution. We are born more vulnerable and stay more vulnerable longer than most other mammals. Then follows a no-nonsense explanation of how the human brain works because of this vulnerability. It creates a physiological need for safeness, bonding and compassion that is firmly and biochemically embedded in our bodies and our minds and is as vital for survival as food, shelter or water.

I should confess, I bawled my eyes out through the whole book, and I got through it faster than any book I’ve ever read before. I think my brain had been lulled into feeling like it was on comfortable ground and then it got smacked in its little brain-face with something earth-shatteringly different. And something it couldn’t find a defense against. Suddenly, I didn’t have to understand the language of emotions to get it. I didn’t need “touchy-feely language” or to connect with the spiritual or the intangible in order to get what everyone else what talking about.

Not only did the book explain the need for tapping into our soothing system and the role of compassion for yourself and others; it was the first book I’d encountered that explained why I didn’t want to. In great detail, it explores the barriers people hold towards being compassionate towards themselves and helps them work through these (with a therapist if needed). It acknowledges the very real link some people develop between their soothing system and their threat system, usually through trauma caused by other people.

It explains why self-soothing becomes intricately tied to also feeling unsafe. Suddenly it made sense that some people develop self-harm or self-destruction as the only coping strategies they use for difficult feelings.

This book not only explains why this happens, but it helps us to learn what we can do to slowly shift this. In this regard, to me, the book was totally remarkable and life-changing. It gave me the understanding to commit to a very different therapeutic relationship and approach, which has been transformational for me.

Through this lens, my past approaches to therapy suddenly became really obviously deficient. I had continued to avoid my emotions by talking and engaging with an illness. This had given me validation for my pain, access to support and a level of understanding from others, but one which didn’t necessarily require me or anyone else having to stay present with my actual emotional needs. I talked about irrational thoughts and about symptoms and “doing something nice for myself.” I spent years trying to prop up my brain with drugs, challenging my inaccurate thoughts and trying to change my behaviors. It helped to some extent, but my brain hadn’t actually been experiencing anything physiologically different, despite all this.

None of these things were interacting with that soothing, bonding, safeness and contentment system I’d been reading about. I realized I needed an intervention my brain would understand and experience at a biochemical and physiological level that was fine-tuned to the systems evolution had created — ones created precisely to down-regulate the brain’s “things are going wrong” system. Pills thought to increase neurotransmitters throughout the brain (and body) or to reduce the activity of neurons may help (and may even be lifesaving) – but they did not, by themselves, give my brain anything new to work with.

What I had discovered was compassion focused therapy and its practices. No therapy has been able to change the way I feel like this has. And within the context of a safe, long-term therapeutic relationship, it has been more helpful to me than any other therapy I have tried over many years. It may even become the safe base I can use to access other more well-known therapies, but it was the missing piece in my puzzle — the part that explained why no matter how much cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or talking I did, I had never felt any different or related to myself differently.

This was the first step on a long journey of change, recovery, compassion and indeed more biology. But a very different kind of biology — one so intimately linked with the biology of my fellow human beings, one which is more about things we usually describe with the language of politics, sociology, injustice, trauma, crime and even spirituality, but is nonetheless a vital part of our human biology.

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Why It Took Me So Long to Admit I Was Raped

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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

For the longest time, he was just a number. Truthfully, he was the second person I’d ever done it with.

“Oh we had sex,” I’d told my best friend the next day. But she didn’t know exactly what had happened the previous night. And as for me, I just blocked it out.

It wasn’t until I got with my fiancé that I really started to explore my mental health. The more I delved into my past and my issues, the more I realized there was some dark stuff lurking around in the farthest recesses of my pretty little mind. Sure, I had thought about that night and wondered if I could call it rape, but then I pushed it aside… Every time.

See my rape wasn’t like off of a TV crime show. It wasn’t brutal and aggressive. I wasn’t hurt nor did I feel like I was raped. But I was. That night I was tricked into being somewhere I shouldn’t have been. And then asked to do it… Over and over. No matter how many times I said no or expressed I didn’t feel like it was a good idea (I tried to be polite), I knew I couldn’t stop what was about to happen, so I stopped resisting.

I stopped resisting for the simple reason that I wanted to go home. I wanted this to be over with. I knew he was a big dude, already pinning me down trying to kiss me. My objections were met with, “But it will feel good” or “Just let me do it for a minute.” I was 17. I was scared. I had already been tricked into being somewhere I hadn’t intended to be.

But I wouldn’t call it rape. Technically, I had given in. I had said “OK” after a lot of back and forth. I did not feel like I had the right to say I was raped or sexually assaulted. I felt like I was a slut for a long time. I had let him do that to me. I let it happen. Why didn’t I fight harder? Why didn’t I get more aggressive? Why didn’t I claw his freaking eyes out?

It wasn’t until I saw him at a restaurant while I was with my fiancé that I realized my feelings were valid. I had a long conversation with my fiancé about it. I have a right to say I was raped. Not ever assault is brutal and violent or looks like an episode of Law and Order: SVU. But it can affect you in some of the same ways.

I believe it isn’t until you confront those feelings and call it what it is that you will ever be able to move on. I now feel a sense of freedom from that baggage that I carried for so long. Don’t be afraid to tell someone what you’re going through. Don’t be afraid to face those dark places in your head. And always know that you’re a survivor.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Thinkstock photo via kevinhillillustration.

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How a Facebook 'Like,' 'Love' or 'Share' Could Impact Mental Health

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As a mental health professional, my approach to social media has always been cautious. It might be a novice psychologist or a cultural issue, but my feelings towards social media have taken a more flexible stance as I move forward in this digitally adept world.

I recently witnessed how a joint effort was successful in helping a person receive necessary medical attention due to their mental health condition. It was mind-blowing to personally witness the power of a Facebook “share” and the potential reach these simple practices have.

Another equally heartwarming example, was the outpouring support and love generated by Sinead O’Connor’s recent video, where she opens up about suicidal thoughts. I believe this was an evidence of the powerfully positive effects of social media.

While social media has received a lot of backlash by the mental health community — especially true with younger and more vulnerable populations — there might also be something quite compelling about social media and its uses to advance the mental health cause.

The mental health stigma is an issue that continues to prevail in society. When we look at high profile celebrities acknowledging their mental health difficulties — such as Selena GomezDemi LovatoSinead O’Connor and Kristen Bell — those experiencing a similar situation might feel a certain degree of relief. Relief in knowing there’s someone out there who has gone through the same thing they did.

These celebrities, with their glitz, glamour and seemingly perfect lives, are human first and foremost. When we — “simple mortals” — are able to humanize these celebrities, we often start practicing self-compassion almost instantaneously; an ability necessary to start practicing self-care.

There are countless websites out there dedicated to raise awareness of mental health (such as The Mighty), and how these companies use their social media to open up the conversation and start connecting with people, is doing wonders to the mental health community and the cause to finally end the stigma.

We hold in our hands powerful tools that, if used appropriately, can end up saving more than one life. In your social media life, I encourage you to give more likes, more loves, more shares. You never know who you might be helping in the process.

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5 Ways to Prepare for College If You Struggle With Your Mental Health

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Editor’s Note: Anna Jarashow Guimaraes is a social worker at Fountain House’s College Re-Entry Program, which helps academically-engaged 18-30 year-old college students, who withdraw from their studies due to mental health challenges, return to college and successfully reach their educational goals.

Returning to college after a summer away can be exciting, and it can also be nerve-wracking, particularly if you are going away for the first time. Being on campus comes with social and academic stress, so it is especially important if you have a struggle with mental health to know what resources are available and to make plans about how to connect with them before you arrive on campus.

Here are some ways you can assure a smoother transition:

1. Locate mental health support services.

If you have a history of struggling with mental health, contact local mental health resources, both on and off campus, before arriving at school.  Research and connect with all support services that you think may be helpful. Having this in place before the semester starts means you do not have to do extra work finding resources if or when you need them. For example, if you plan to work with a local therapist while at school or attend a local cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) group, make an appointment before school starts or during the first week before schoolwork starts to pick up.  Even if you are not sure that you plan to make use of a support, get connected early in the event that you do. It’s like having insurance, you want it in place in case of an issue.

2. Register with your school’s disability services office. 

It is particularly important for students with a mental health diagnosis to connect with their school’s disability services office before arriving on campus. Once you register, most schools will ask you to meet with them to discuss accommodations. Also be aware that some schools require you to register each year. Because most schools require some kind of paperwork in order to register, make sure you get whatever your school requires from your mental health care provider(s) before you go. Some providers need a few weeks notice to produce the right documents, so the earlier you ask for this paperwork the better. Meeting with disability counselors before the semester starts or within the first week is always best, so you have access to support from the start. However, you can reach out to them at any time, so don’t worry if you miss the first week.

3. Get organized, make a calendar. 

Create a personal planner using your school’s academic calendar as a guide. Include school closures, exam periods, and any other important personal or academic events that you know will happen during the semester. As soon as you get each course syllabus, you can add due dates for major assignments. This way you can map out what you need to do well in advance.

4. Have supplies on hand.

Buy as many class supplies ahead of time as you can. Some professors post syllabi before classes start and if not, email your professor and ask for a copy of the class syllabus. If you are able to get it early, check out the books you need or purchase them in advance so that you are good to go for the beginning of the semester. Tip: buying or renting used books online cuts cost! Also, you may want to purchase materials like binders, notebooks, folders, planners, and anything else that will keep you organized.

5. Arrive early and get situated.

Early arrival on campus will allow you time to set up a comfortable living space from the outset. You can even checkout where your classes are to avoid anxiously running around to find classrooms in your first week.

The more prepared you are going in; the better you’ll feel once you get there. You can’t plan for that pop quiz in the first week of class, but you can make sure that you know your resources, know your way around campus, know what the semester might look like and have a comfortable space to spend your downtime.

Here’s to a great school year!

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