Kati Morton

How a Therapist Is Using YouTube to Combat Mental Health Stigma

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Kati Morton is a licensed marriage and family therapist from California. Kati has created an online community surrounding mental health, with her YouTube channel at the center of it all. Her channel has nearly 200,000 subscribers from all over the world and is quickly growing. Her videos cover topics, such as anxietydepressioneating disorders, self-harm and much more. They have personally been a huge help to me and so many others. Kati’s focus is to decrease the stigma around mental health. The most important message she wants everyone to know is that they are not alone – even if it feels that way.

Over the past few years, there has been so much change in decreasing the stigma around mental illness through the media. But there seems to still be a long way to go. Kati has been proactive in creating accessible information for anyone, no matter where they are in the world. Technology is instrumental in decreasing the stigma and in encouraging help-seeking behaviors, especially in young people.

I honestly think the more we talk about mental health in school, work and with our loved ones…[and]…share positive mental health information online the more we combat the stigma. We often don’t realize our own stigma for mental health until we are asked to share it. Considering that and fighting against the urge to keep it a secret will lessen the stigma so much more! Also, I definitely feel that technology has moved things along much more quickly than traditional media did. It has given people a place to talk about their mental health anonymously, while reaching others around the world, and be reminded that they are not alone. — Kati Morton

One of Kati’s key messages is that everyone has their mental health, just as they do their physical health. Both need to be looked after. In an ideal world, just as we all go to the doctor every now and then for a check-up, we’ve really got to start doing the same thing for our mind.

We all have mental health, and if we catch any issues early, it doesn’t have to disrupt our life. Just like any illness or struggle, if we ignore it for a long time, it will only get worse. By talking openly about mental health, hopefully people will reach out for help sooner. — Kati Morton

Kati herself makes sure that she looks after her own mental health by seeing a therapist and thinks that it is a great resource for anyone to utilize, even if you don’t have a mental illness. We all need support and someone to talk to from time to time.

I personally see a therapist and I also have a lot of coping skills and other supports. If things are getting tough, I call my therapist, take a break, talk to my friends and family until I feel better. Self-care is so very important! — Kati Morton

The brilliant community that surrounds Kati’s videos are known as “kinions” (a combination of minions and Kati!) and are unique in the YouTube space. The community is very supportive and is a major factor in many people realizing that they are not alone. It has allowed so many to connect with others all over the world who are going through similar situations in their lives. Kati has really fostered such a loving and supportive environment around her videos which is quite different to many others on YouTube.

I think I hold my community to a higher standard than other YouTubers. Firstly, I approve all comments so that no hate or trolling happens on my channel or site. Secondly, because we always talk about how we are in it together and working together, I feel that our community takes pride in it and does their part to keep it happy and healthy. — Kati Morton

The “kinion” community and Kati’s channel is rapidly growing and reaching so many people. Her aim for the future is to continue to build on this, trying to get the message out to as many people as possible both online creating new styles of videos and in person at events and speaking at schools. Making sure everyone knows that they are not alone.

I asked Kati what advice she would give to someone who is struggling, but is unsure of whether they should talk to someone about it. I know personally for quite a while, I was a bit embarrassed and wasn’t sure if my problems warranted help. I realized that this wasn’t the case and if it’s bothering you, it’s enough to speak to someone about it — a lot of that has been to do with her videos. So I asked her, what words of encouragement would you give to someone in a similar position? She said:

Know that you are not alone, and there are many people who spend their whole lives helping those who are going through what you are going through. Also, we don’t have to wait until we feel terrible or at the end of our rope to reach out. Everyone benefits from therapy, and the sooner we start talking about it, the sooner we will feel better.

This was originally published on Story of the Mind.

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Lead photo via Kati Morton’s Facebook page

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3 Reasons My Mental Illness Is Like a Storm

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I struggle with mental illness and have always been attracted to storms for some reason.

Yes, you read that right.

Storms.

I know it sounds kind of weird, but I feel like I identify with them in a way. Somehow their chaos reflects the chaos in my head. I’m not exactly sure how it started, but I can remember feeling this way ever since my symptoms started appearing. And I don’t think I’m the only one.

I have read countless articles and stories and listened to songs and seen paintings where people use storms to relate to their mental illness, and I can’t help but ask myself, “Why?” Why would so many people, including myself, identify with such a powerful force of nature, and what does it have to do with mental illness? I’ve thought about it for years and have never been able to put it into words, but I’m going to try my best.

So here are just a few reasons why I think people compare their mental illnesses to storms:

1. They’re unpredictable and chaotic.

Mental illness strikes when you least expect it, just like storms. It comes completely out of the blue and turns your skies to grey until all you can see are the negatives. But just as quickly as the storm comes, it leaves again, and you’re left with sun on your face and a light breeze on your skin. You never know what’s going to happen, and that can cause a lot of anxiety. Some get addicted to the unpredictability and the chaos of it all and that’s when recovery becomes difficult. I like people who think like this “storm chasers” because they follow the storm. Some just get so used to stormy weather that they are scared of blue skies, because happiness and stability have become “the unknown.” I am not a stranger to this feeling.

2. The effects can be disastrous and overwhelming.

Storms are incredibly powerful, just like mental illness. It can destroy everything from relationships to the individual themselves and can seem to drown everything good in their lives. Mental illness can often seem out of control, which can be true if the correct treatment isn’t available. It can be catastrophic in some cases and forces you to put your whole life on hold, but things always get better. While it lasts, though, it feels like it is all around you and there is nowhere to hide, and I think storms are similar in a way. They’re out of your control and are all-consuming in the same way that mental illnesses can sometimes feel. It feels as though you are enveloped with emotion and caught in the rain, in a sense, which I believe is why people identify so much with them.

3. They don’t last forever.

Storms don’t last forever and neither do the effects of mental illnesses. There is always hope and there are always blue skies ahead, you’ve just got to survive the storm. And the more storms you survive, the easier it becomes, because you become better equipped to deal with the rain and the thunder and the lightning the next time.

Just make sure you have the support you need and don’t forget to carry an umbrella.

You’ll be OK.

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Thinkstock image via va103

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To the Writer Who Called Mental Health Days a 'Sign of America's Wussification'

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You might have seen it in the news this week: a woman tweeted out her CEO’s reply to an email about taking a mental health day, and it went viral. This story resonated with so many people because 1) the woman, Madalyn Parker, was refreshingly honest about why she needed a sick day, when many in her position would have made up another excuse, and 2) her boss’s reply showed compassion and understanding, an unfortunetly surprising reaction when it comes to mental health in the workplace.

As publications began to cover this tweet, it sparked a mostly positive discussion about mental health in the workplace. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg shared the story on her Facebook page, and the CEO featured in the story, Ben Congleton, has done follow-up interviews about his philosophies about mental health and leadership.

Not everyone has been celebrating this discussion, though. In an opinion piece for The Washington Times, columnist Cheryl K. Chumley wrote a response to the viral tweet called, “Mental Health Sick Days a Sign of America’s Wussification.”

You can probably guess the rest. In a predictable, “tough it out and get over it” manner, Chumley writes:

Let’s just nip this crazy in the bud. This is a mark of America’s wussification — nothing to cheer. Taking a day off because you’re feeling depressed or anxious or otherwise unhappy and distressed is the stuff of Millennial Madness. Suck it up. Go to work. And do what the rest of us do when we don’t feel like going to work — go.

“Suck it up.”

“Millennial Madness”

“Do what the rest of us do.”

Points practically copied and pasted from the book of stigma. And, staying true to form, she perfectly follows dismissal with a large dose of guilt.

What a sad moment for America. Just think back on the generation upon generation of hard workers who braved the likes of the Depression and meager work opportunities and conditions to take whatever jobs were offered — and then think of the plight of Parker, who’s feeling a little down in the dumps and needs a day or two to nap it off, or do some therapeutic ceramic-making. And, oddly enough, who has to share that very private personal health information with work colleagues — instead of, once again, keeping it private.

OK, let’s nip this “crazy” in the bud: this opinion is boring. Sure, it’s anger-provoking. Sure, it’s ignorant. But more than that, it’s unoriginal. Using a story like this as an opportunity to call out millennials for being “soft” and entitled is something we’ve seen again and again. It conflates struggling with a mental illness with not feeling like going to work, as if someone who takes a day off because they’re depressed is like a teenager playing hooky because he didn’t do his math homework.

What a simplistic opinion like this doesn’t want to acknowledge is that under federal law, employers are required to accommodate workers who live with mental illnesses. Parker, who Chumley claims was “feeling a little down in the dumps and needs a day or two to nap it off” (because apparently they’re close, personal friends and she knows this to be a fact), has been open about living with depression and anxiety, so under the Americans with Disabilities Act, has a right to accommodations. And because we are humans and not robots, part of these accommodations can actually be creating a safe and welcoming work environment. In fact, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) recommends just that when they lay out what these accommodations look like. Along with offering flexible schedules and being mindful of extra workplace stressors, SAMHSA suggests, “Creating a supportive environment – It is critical for individuals with mental health conditions to work with colleagues and leadership who are positive, open, and welcoming.”

Mental illness or not, this sounds like pretty good advice all around. Creating an open work environment where people are allowed to talk about their mental illnesses and, god forbid, feelings, isn’t a millennial “snowflake” phenomenon, or even just a simple way to adhere to ADA standards. It’s actually a strategy that makes companies better. Shaming people into not taking days off, or forcing them to be secretive about the reasoning, makes it harder for an employee to succeed — which isn’t good for the individual or the company.

In other sectors (although it isn’t always perfectly executed) “mental” health and “physical” health are supposed to be treated equally. The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 requires that insurers offer mental health and substance coverage comparable to coverage for general medical care. If your insurance company should treat mental illness like they would a physical illness, shouldn’t your boss?

As predictable and boring Chumley’s opinion is, in an amazing turn of events, she completely backtracks at the end and in one paragraph sums up her true opinion: OK fine, take a mental health day, but for the love of god at least keep it to yourself.

If you’re that down and need personal time to deal with your mental health, for goodness sake, just call in a sick day. No need to explain. And certainly, no need to take to social media to applaud how everybody, including your boss, thinks you’re great for speaking so openly about your mental disorder. All this open embrace of weakness is just making the American work force look bad.

And there, right there, is what actually bothers me about opinions like Chumley’s, regardless of how boring they are. Because it’s not about work ethic. It’s not about how lazy millennials are. It’s not about the Great Depression. At the core of these opinions is an insecurity, rooted in the misconception that mental illness is a weakness — that showing mental vulnerability is weakness. Underneath all the talk, this isn’t about being strong — it’s about being too afraid to be seen as weak. Because when you value external strength over everything else, it’s not about how you feel, it’s about how other people perceive you. Internal strength, the kind of strength that involves embracing your weaknesses, communicating clearly and honestly with your superiors and knowing when you need a break, that’s the kind of strength that makes employees great. Maybe if we actually want the American work force to improve, we need to send more emails like Madalyn’s.

Lead screenshot via The Washington Times

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Dear Mental Illness Warriors, Your Story Is Gold

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Living with a mental illness is hard. For those of us who struggle, we are painfully aware of the hardship. Dealing with thoughts, countless appointments, soul searching, vulnerability, emotion work, trauma work, medication side effects — the list goes on. A lot of these become second nature — we don’t even notice anymore.

But one thing I always notice is the shame surrounding mental illness.

For the longest time, I told myself I wasn’t ashamed of my illness. I knew it didn’t define me and I was accepting of the fact that it was a big part of my life. But I didn’t want anyone else to know about it. At least, not really.

I didn’t want them to know that when I say I spent six months in treatment for an eating disorder, I don’t mean that I’m recovered now. I don’t want them to know that at the beginning of treatment, I didn’t even want to get better — I knew I was slowly killing myself and I didn’t care. I didn’t want them to know that I take antidepressants, or that I have trouble sleeping and I’ve had panic attacks while driving on the interstate. Because when I put it like that, I can’t help but feel like I’m “crazy.” I often feel like too much for people to accept. Surely they’ll stop talking to me or shy away because I’m too much for them to swallow.

What I didn’t realize is that these experiences I had, the struggles I continue to deal with, they have power. Sure, they have power over me, but moreover, they have power to define who I am and what I choose to do with that. I spent a hell of a long time learning that I am not my illness. And I’m not. But I do have an illness, and I continue to fight it every day.

Instead of being ashamed of my experiences, I can own them. Hell, I’m proud of myself for overcoming all that I have. The progress I’ve made is remarkable, and I shouldn’t demean that by trying to shove it away. It isn’t a hastily written chapter in a book that I want to shut tight and put away, never to be read.

I’m proud of every pound I gained, every time I chose not to harm myself, every day I woke up and dragged myself out of bed and sat in therapy groups and meal supports and weekly physicals for hours on end. Every bite I took, every tear I shed, every panic attack I survived — those were battles I won. There is power in strength I once saw as weakness.

Recently, I got an opportunity to work with a nonprofit organization that supports eating disorder awareness and prevention. I’ll be assisting in organizing events and, much to my surprise, I was asked to be a recovery speaker. I was taken back. “We think your story is really powerful,” they said. I paused for a moment, completely struck by the words I had just read.

I’d spent the last few months adjusting to living at home and trying to figure out who I was now that I was outpatient. I wanted to make friends, but I was so scared of people knowing my story. I felt weary and weathered and broken compared to my peers. But when I read that one sentence, something clicked. A fundamental piece of recovery fell into place the moment I realized that owning my story and sharing it publicly could help people — a lot of people. Myself included.

This was a several days ago, and since then, I’ve made it a point not to hide my past. I’ve been talking openly about my illnesses, my struggles, my triumphs and all the real recovery moments that have come and gone, and I’m amazed at how much better I feel. I’d always been terrified of dwelling on the past and getting stuck there. I’m not dwelling on it though. By taking ownership of the power of my story, I’ve given it permission to exist as just that. I’m ready to leave those feelings of fear and inadequacy and shame in the past and use my experiences as tools to build my future — not as chains that hold me down.

I encourage anyone struggling to take a moment and realize how your experiences have helped you. It’s a strange concept, I know. But has your past made you kinder? Wiser? More introspective, self-compassionate, spontaneous, careful, bold or social? Maybe it’s a person, a place or an experience. That doesn’t discount all the suffering or the pain you’ve endured, but hopefully it makes you a little more accepting of this part of you. You have a story and your words are power. They are liberating and inspiring and heart-wrenching, but most of all, they tell a story that deserves to be told.

Warrior, your story is gold.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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My Mental Illness Defines Me and That's OK

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“You are more than your diagnosis,” my loved ones will say. “Don’t let your mental illness define you.”

At first, I never questioned the validity of their suggestion. But over time, it became clear that a well-meaning piece of information, paired with good intentions, could turn out to be a serious source of invalidation.

It’s tricky. You see, I have found that some people will often point out that when you have a physical ailment, like diabetes or cancer, you refer to yourself as having a disease rather than being one (i.e. I have cancer versus I am cancer).

But I believe this logic doesn’t apply to mental health disorders for a simple reason: they literally affect everything in your life, and sometimes they can make you feel like they’re part of you.

For instance, although I started struggling with my mental health at the age of 14, here I am today, six years later, still depressed and unwell. Yes, I’ve made some progress since then, but I still grew up, during which time, my symptoms were still present.

When you’re a teenager, you begin to form your identity and embark on your quest for independence. Throughout my teenage years, I had an existential crisis, trying to answer the complicated question of, “Who am I?” And at the time, I was severely depressed and deeply suicidal. If you were to make a big pie chart of my life at the time, my symptoms would have filled up the thickest slice.

My mental illness affected the way I shaped my identity growing up. So how can I say it doesn’t define who I am when it affected the very core of my being? From my point of view, mood disorders are shitty because they affect the lens through which you view the world. Emotions color your world and perspective, therefore, sometimes it can be hard to separate yourself from your symptoms.

In my case, I know my mental illness touched every single part of my life. It affected the books I read, the movies I watched, the people I saw, my hobbies (or lack thereof), the quality of my academic papers, my performance at work, my physical health, my appetite, my sleep pattern, the activities I chose, my creative writing and so on. My mental illness affected my interactions with my parents, my relationships with my friends and the way I see myself.

Many times, my mental illness engulfed me completely. My symptoms became all-consuming, and at times, life-threatening. In short, my mental illness changed my experience of being human. Even now, when I look at my day-to-day schedule, I see that my treatment plan can be time-consuming: therapy appointments, peer support group, intake assessments, blood tests, trips to the pharmacy and so on.

Now, when people tell me, “You are more than your diagnosis,” it puzzles me. I understand where they’re coming from, and yet, sometimes I disagree. On the one hand, I find diagnoses to be validating. Receiving a diagnosis meant a lot to me because it took away a lot of the self-blame. It validated the idea that what I struggled with wasn’t “normal” and therefore I wasn’t making things up. I also found that receiving an accurate diagnosis was important and valuable because that diagnoses influenced my treatment decisions; like what kind of medications I would be taking — which can sometimes affect your mood, sleep, energy level and so on. On the other hand, I don’t think anyone likes to be put into rigid categories for a number of reasons, and I personally find that labels make me feel more like an object and less like a person. Diagnoses help and can bring relief, but only to a certain extent. I guess there are pros and cons to everything.

What bothers me about people saying that diagnoses aren’t that important is that sometimes, they can indeed have a significant impact on someone’s life. For instance, I recently got diagnosed with a personality disorder. That’s pretty defining, if you ask me. On top of that, there’s a stigma that comes with borderline personality disorder (BPD). People get treated differently, even among professionals in the mental health community. If you’re going to associate and tie my name to a label with a negative connotation — that’s pretty defining. And lastly, getting told the ways I manage my emotions and relationships are signs of a disorder, rather than the results of just being “me,” well, that could be upsetting for anybody.

The truth is, my struggles have shaped who I am today, and I don’t think that’s a good or bad thing. I can’t remember who I was before my mental illness because I became depressed at the same time I was attempting to create a “self.” There’s no going back to who I used to be. I don’t have a baseline — it’s like I’ve forgotten what life without mental illness feels like. And because my mental illness has been the center of my life for so long, I don’t know who I am without it. Just the idea of not being mentally ill can send me into an identity crisis.

On a final note, I just want to say that if I could go back in time and change things, I wouldn’t. My mental health struggles have taught me so much — about owning my struggles, about being grateful for my loved ones and about cultivating courage as well as resilience. Even if I’ve spent more than a hundred days in the psych ward this past year alone, I know that these hospitalizations were steps I needed to take in order to heal.

My mental illness has showed me the power of love, courage and connection. Because of my struggles, I am more compassionate, gentle and kind. I appreciate the little things and I don’t take any moment of happiness for granted.

Through my recovery, I have met some incredible people and cultivated relationships on a whole new emotional level. I have a better relationship with my parents, my friends and myself. I have learned the value of having a healthy mind, and I have learned to cherish my ability to read and write. I have seen the power of friendship and vulnerability, and I believe that because of my disorder, I have experienced things more deeply.

I lost myself in my mental illness, but I found myself there, too.

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Thinkstock photo via amoklv

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The Question I Dread Being Asked as Someone Who Grew Up With Emotional Abuse

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I dread that moment when someone unexpectedly asks, “…and how is your mother?” I never have an easy answer at the ready. “Oh, umm she’s fine, thank you,” I usually say, with a quick change of the subject. If the asker is extended family and the subject will surely come up again, I might say “We aren’t in touch very much.” And if my intuition tells me that the person will not judge, I tell the truth: “We are estranged.”

There is no easy way to explain you don’t speak to your parent. Or parents. Or entire family. The inquiry comes up casually and often enough. It’s a normal question after all, under most circumstances. But we are not most families.

After a lifetime of trying to maintain ties with the people who formed my world for so many years, while also addressing the sexual and emotional abuse in our family, it became clear I would finally have to choose. My family or my emotional health. Their love or the truth. Them or me.

I chose me.

Every time I get the question, I hope the asker will not judge me. In fact if they know me at all, if they see me for who I am, they often give me at least some benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to see I am a loving, forgiving, family-oriented person. Given the choice, I would keep my family members in my life. But their rejection of my truth and my refusal to participate in old family dynamics leaves me with no healthy choice but to walk away.

Sometimes the person looks at me with disapproval when it becomes clear that I am estranged from my mother. It may be an old friend or relative of hers or one of the many who’ve enjoyed her fun-loving personality and interest in the plights of those around her. They don’t know my experience is different. They don’t understand I feel like I have two mothers: one who loves me deeply and one who can’t seem to tolerate my presence. They don’t realize her concern for other people’s feelings only underscores her rejection of mine. They can’t grasp the crescendo of betrayal I felt to my core before I finally chose to walk away.

It’s not seen as “normal” to be estranged from your parents. For those of us who are, we know that separation is a monumental and painful step, taken only when there is no other safe choice. Others may not get it, they may question our morals and judge us outright. But we know the truth. And since we have made the break from our families, we will always choose truth, sanity and freedom from abuse over the approval of those who don’t understand.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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Thinkstock photo via kotoffei.

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