Mental Health America

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Mental Health America (MHA) – founded in 1909 – is the nation’s leading community-based non-profit dedicated to helping all Americans achieve wellness by living mentally healthier lives.
Jason Jepson

What My First Telehealth Experience With a New Psychiatrist Was Like

Recently, I had my first teleconference with my psychiatrist. I have had a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder for several years now, and I have received excellent care from my doctors at the large Veterans Association (VA) hospital in my city. However, I recently moved to a new state which required a change to all new doctors at a new VA clinic. The new clinic is close to my apartment, but it is not a large hospital with all of the doctors on site. On my first visit to the clinic, I learned my next appointment with my psychiatrist would take place by teleconference, and he was in a large city located about two hours away. When the day arrived for my appointment, I reported to the clinic as I had always done in the past. My bloodwork had been completed, and I was prepared for the conference with my psychiatrist. I thought I would be talking to him over the telephone. My mom, who is my trust partner, was with me, and we were led into a small room with a large TV monitor on a desk with a keyboard. A technician came in and set up all the technology and told me to wait until the doctor came on the screen. I still was not sure what to expect, but I was glad I had my trust partner with me. Finally, a face showed up on the screen, and it was clear that face saw me. My new doctor did not really remark that he was in a box or that we were not face-to-face. I could tell that for him, this type of conference was not unusual. He did not hesitate, but we went right into our business. He introduced himself to me, and then Mom and I introduced ourselves to him. During our initial conversation, or the “getting to know you” stage, my new doctor told me about himself. He used to do pharmaceutical research, but he missed seeing patients, so he left that job. We had an insightful conversation on his theories about schizophrenia, some of his theories about causes and symptoms and how he came to work for the VA. I told him how I wrote first-person accounts about living day-to-day with schizophrenia and my work advocating for those with mental illness. He appeared to be extremely interested in what I do and made a note to look up some of my writing. It was reassuring when Mom gave me a thumbs up under the table — she felt the conversation was going well. I could have talked a long time with him. He went through all the normal questions on his paperwork. I felt so comfortable with him that I told him about the hazing I had experienced in the military and about my decisions to try to live a healthier lifestyle. He told me I would be receiving my prescriptions in the mail, and we set up our next teleconference for next month. I came away from my first teleconference feeling like I had just met face-to-face with a brilliant, but relatable psychiatrist. He was very personable, had a good bedside manner and seemed to really care about me as an individual. He even gave me a phone number where I could reach him in case I had any questions. By the time the conference was over, I had almost forgotten I was looking at a screen. I am already looking forward to meeting with my psychiatrist again next month. He may be several miles away, but I believe I can trust him to give me professional care, delivered in a personable manner.

Kaden M (he/they)

Life as a Young Adult With Mental Illness and Learning Disabilities

I find it interesting, and sometimes confusing, that I made it so many years (19, to be exact) without any treatment, therapy, medications or accommodations for my mental health issues and undiagnosed learning disabilities. I can think of a few reasons why this was my experience. It was most likely due to the fact that a) my mental health issues were not quite as severe as they would become by the time I had gone away to college and, b) I overcompensated when it came to my ADHD and learning challenges—I worked very hard, often driven by my anxiety during my childhood and teen years. Today I want to write about my experience being a graduate student and an adult in my 20s with such challenges, both in terms of learning, attention and emotional difficulties. I want to talk about the aspects of school and work, as well as adult living. Graduate School I have been in graduate school since the summer of 2020, after finishing my undergraduate degree from a university in DC (I lived away from home) in 2018. My experience with college was a rough one—I began mental health treatment and had many unplanned inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations and semesters off from school, along with dropped classes, because of bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, severe OCD and an eating disorder. So, fast forward to today: I am finishing up my first year in a master’s program for creative writing. While I absolutely love my program, I will be honest. I am not very organized when it comes to school (thanks, ADHD) and because of depression I struggle with motivation at times to complete assignments and stay focused, despite the fact that writing is my biggest passion. I am proud to say that I am halfway through my thesis project—a fiction novel about a young woman with mental illness and addiction challenges—and am considering taking on a dual concentration, one that would involve me also writing a memoir in addition to the fiction novel. I have also received accommodations through the disability services, and am responsible in communicating to my professors when I need an extension or extra assistance with particular deadlines. Work In all honesty, work is not an area in which I currently feel fulfilled. Two years ago, after graduating from college, I moved back home and had a full-time job for five months. The reason I quit after just a few months—I had severe anxiety and OCD, my personality disorder symptoms were triggered at work and I had a lot of trouble concentrating (prior to ADHD treatment). I also had found out during this time that I had a mild to moderate auditory processing disorder and mild hearing loss. This also affected my ability to receive verbal directions, something that was probably also impacted by my out of control worrying and anxiety. I also took social actions that I didn’t see as inappropriate at the time, but I now do. This included overly confiding in co-workers about my issues and even crying and having breakdowns on the job, etc. In many regards, I am embarrassed when I look back on the situation. It ultimately affected me as trauma, causing nightmares long after I quit. The good news? Now I am working part-time at a different job, one in which I feel more confident and focused. This likely has to do with my updated medications and lots of therapy. My symptoms are still bothersome, but way more under control. Although I am now looking for a full-time job to do in addition to school; I want to become financially independent from my parents. I want to show myself that I can work full-time; at the right job and with the right accommodations and assistance. Home Life at home is actually where I feel my disabilities have been affecting me the most. I struggle to find motivation and energy to complete chores, such as laundry, cooking, cleaning and even showering daily. I’m not sure which issue is to blame, but for some reason I have great difficulty with both self-care and taking care of the house. The fact that I have my two dogs helps; they always get me outside on a walk and up in the morning to feed them. I think my biggest block in life would be recurrent episodes of depression as well as mood swings. There have been periods where anxiety has been a greater problem, making it hard to eat or sleep. In the end, I am taking steps every day towards becoming more independent and satisfied with the life I live, despite mental illness and learning disabilities. Thank you for reading. What is your experience with any kind of disability? I look forward to possibly reading some responses in the comments.

Kelly Davis

Mental Health America: Survey Shows Need to Listen to Young People

When I was 16, I tried to kill myself. Two weeks later, I was back in school. I was afraid of people finding out I was in a psychiatric unit. I was overwhelmed about catching up and keeping up with school. My mental health challenges and behaviors forced me to disconnect from the people around me and excluded me from activities that were important to me, like sports. I felt isolated, distressed and ashamed. With rising rates of mental health conditions , including suicidal ideation, my experience is the story of countless young people. Unlike many young people , I was fortunate enough to have access to mental health services. These services, however, did not fully support my well-being. I did not have mental health resources at school. I did not have a place of belonging to connect with people with shared experiences, and my peers did not seem to understand me. I had to hide my challenges in the “real world” and try to save them as much as possible for the mental health world where I spent so much of my time. In this world, mental health services were not in partnership with me or to empower me. From high school and throughout college, my thoughts about improving services and the way help was offered were overridden and dismissed by people who knew better. As I started speaking out about my experiences with mental health resources, I discovered many other young people felt the same. They felt unheard and failed by those around them. People told them to ask for help, but many times, support was not there. Often, the support they received did not fully meet their needs and left them feeling disempowered, broken, or even more alone. They all believed that there had to be another better way. We could create a world where everyone has access to mental health resources but one that does not require them to build their lives around mental health services. Mental Health America’s new report, “ Young People’s Mental Health in 2020: Hope, Advocacy, and Action for the Future , ” shows that many more young people feel the same way. This survey of more than 1,900 14 to 24-year-olds aimed to discover what was supporting young people during the pandemic and what they think would help them in the present and future. Overwhelmingly, young people have relied on their hobbies to improve their mental health , followed by their friends. In terms of what they want, access to mental health professionals was important, but mental health breaks and absences at school and work were also necessary. Teens ranked access to professionals and breaks at school as equally important. Survey respondents also said they wanted to learn skills to support their mental health during their daily lives and to receive support from other young people. The report notes examples of initiatives or programs led by young people that fill these gaps.  Mental Health Kingdom  offers peer support through gaming and art.  Mindful Minute by Mind Body Ambassadors  trains young people in mind-body practices and has young people lead their schools through daily mindfulness activities.  UpLift by Youth Era  empowers young people with tools to support themselves and their peers. In policy change,  DMV Students are Mental Health Reform  is organizing high school students to advocate for change in their schools, including excluded mental health days. More broadly,  Young Invincibles Rocky Mountain  brings together young leaders from across Colorado to demand lawmakers do better for young people’s well-being. Around the country, many young people are stepping up to  create what they need . Still, the survey showed that only one in four young people feel empowered to make a change in their communities. With the growing need and potential future mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders must listen to young people’s ideas and perspectives and provide opportunities and resources for leadership. Leaders at all levels, whether at school, government, mental health services or other young people-serving environments, should include young people as equal partners in the design, implementation and measurement of their mental health initiatives. Policymakers and funders should require that programs that affect young people have methods that include young people at each of these steps as more than just tokens but with real influence. Funding should also be set aside for programs that are entirely run by young people who should be reimbursed for their time and expenses associated with participation in mental health initiatives. With so many mental health advocacy groups and youth advocacy groups emerging across this country, it is past time to take young people seriously. Young people are leading the way on many issues, but they should not have to do it alone — or be considered adversaries. If leaders are genuinely committed to improving young people’s well-being, they must listen and take action on what young people want. There is no more time to wait.

Lien Laine

What It’s Like to Look in the Face of a Gaslighter

When I look back at the old photographs I keep in a neatly organized box in my basement, I see a little girl who was always smiling. My face in those images is in stark contrast to the reality I lived through and, at times, leads me to question whether my story is one of fabrication. Often, I ponder on this topic. How could I have had it so bad if there is a collection of physical proof that shows just the opposite? That little girl always looked so happy — it could not have been as bad as I think it was. But I am wrong. As I carefully navigate intense therapy I am beginning to unravel a term that hits home: gaslighting. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word as: ” to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.” Kind of a big deal, right? Still, so few have a grasp on the gravity of this single verb. It’s not a term thrown around lightly, and often children of trauma have never heard it used before. I know before reaching out for professional help, I was just another face with no idea what that one abusive and completely destructive tactic was. I was clueless to the weight I had been carrying on my shoulders for nearly two decades. As I sit down and begin dissecting the laundry list of traumas throughout my life for my book, I am finding a disturbing pattern in the abuse cycle my parents perpetuated. After nearly every instance of physical or emotional harm to my person, they would both immediately deny any and all allegations I brought forth. I was a child with a vivid imagination and a deep understanding of the world at a delicate age; they used this fact to manipulate me in to doubting their heinous deeds. Like a moth to flame, I would blindly come back for more, rather than flying to a sense of freedom. My wings were so badly burned. If the fact of their misdoing was brought in to question by my curious self, it was immediately denied and that weight was saddled on to my back. I would frequently be told the harmful instance was merely a product of my busy and growing mind. In so many words I had constructed the incident to garner myself attention. In my youth I believed their words and it nurtured a seed in my heart that I was unstable, forgetful and in desperate need of someone’s pitying gaze. They did not care that I was spiraling in to a web of self-doubt that would inevitably lead to many failed suicide attempts. Neither had the capacity to feel such a thing for their own flesh and blood. Both my mother and father had mental health issues. That toxic combination led to more frightful encounters than I like to dig up, even in  therapy. But ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. I have to face that I was consistently threatened with my mother’s suicide over the smallest of infractions. I have to learn to cope with the fact that my father watched on as she tore at my fingernails using sewing needles. I need to face the grotesque amount of animals she either shot or suffocated in an attempt to punish me. I have to stare down my rape and molestation that my parents turned a blind eye to. It must all be addressed because it was real and it did happen, regardless of what they may have said otherwise. These points were always ignored or handed over, much like the other abuse that was given out with glee. I was told it was “all in my head.” I was “an attention whore.” I needed validation from people because I was “weak.” None of these things are true. I was never weak and I did not once deserve the beatings, threats or violence. I was a child meant to be protected and my mind didn’t fail me: they did. My parents were the monsters under my bed, not my own sanity. It took me a long time to understand that it wasn’t some dream; my horror movie of a life was real. The trauma was there. It was my reality. I had to validate myself in so many ways. After my father’s early demise by car accident, I was left in a world of suffering by my mother’s delusions. I was 17 years old. Often, she would scream across the house and beg me to help him bring in the groceries. He was long turned to ash, so her ramblings were all hallucinations. Her denial of my childhood really ramped up after he died. She constructed a world in her mind that had her in the starring role as the perfect mother. This much she clung to, and to this day, she still hisses her vile accusations on to me. To her, I have fabricated my own misfortunes and she reminds me of this often. I always waver and question myself when she does. What if I did just make all of this up? What if I am “crazy,” just as she claims? Abusive, neglectful and narcissistic parents utilize this tool to foster a sense of instability in their children. It keeps them on their toes and the blame placed wrongfully on the child. Such a parent, in their mind, can do no wrong. Gaslighting is a force to be reckoned with, and ruins that already fragile bond. It’s a form of abuse that so many love to play on to get people to move to their tune. It’s the strings a sick puppeteer uses to guide their puppet in to any situation they see fit. They simply cannot or do not want to face what they have done that is so wrong. It is far easier to say the victim made it up or has a faulty memory. This serves their purpose and keeps the control in the palm of their hands. When I speak of my traumas, the deep wounds left on my soul, I don’t do so to seek some sense of a nod from someone. I do it to remind myself and cement in the reality that was my childhood. It is a way to regain control of what I have survived. Some may recoil at the depth of pain I have suffered at the hands of my parents, and some may not believe me. That’s all OK. No one has to believe me for it to be real to me. Not everyone will have faith in the wild ride that was my youth, and I can sleep easy with that fact. I didn’t live through all of this to shower myself in pity and to be taken at face value, and neither did you. We lived for some stronger reason, no matter what that may be. It doesn’t just end with parents; this sickness infects so many. Their need to control is stronger than the truth. So to you I say, look that lighter in the eyes and never doubt your own sanity again. You know your story better than anyone standing on the outside. Do not allow their manipulation to string you into that horrible nest of doubt. What they’ve done to you cannot be erased. You are not remembering incorrectly. You are not “crazy.” What you felt was valid, and that cannot be taken away by a vile tool of manipulation. I want you to see the situation for what it is, a ploy to lull you in to their grasp. Take your own truth and find freedom in it. It may hurt, but we’ve made it this far — what’s a few more steps in the right direction. Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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What helps you prevent yourself from self-harming?  #MentalHealth  #Selfharm

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