Julia Metraux

@juliametraux | staff
Julia Métraux is a health and culture writer whose work has appeared in Narratively, The Tempest, BUST, and Briarpatch Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @metraux_julia and on Instagram @julia.metraux

One in Four Suicide Attempt Survivors Are Now Thriving

If you are a survivor of a suicide attempt or attempts, you may have struggled with thoughts that your life will never get better, and you will not get the mental health support that you deserve. But, life can get better, and a new study is highlighting just this. Researchers from the University of Toronto found that one in four survivors of suicide attempts in Canada are now psychologically thriving. They used data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey–Mental Health, from which they looked at the cases of 796 respondents who had a history of suicide attempts. The study was published in the Archives of Suicide Research journal in late July. The researchers investigated how many of the respondents achieved complete mental health, which is measured by the absence of suicidality in the past year, happiness or satisfaction, and social and psychological wellbeing. 28.4 percent of people achieved CMH, and people with two suicide attempts were less likely to achieve CMH than people with one suicide attempt. In addition, the researchers found that these factors were associated with the increased chance that people are psychological thriving after a suicide attempt: Having a person you can confide in Not living with chronic pain Not experiencing insomnia Being female Being older Having a higher income Having no history of mental illness, including bipolar disorder, major depressive episode, or generalized anxiety disorder As many suicide attempt survivors know, it takes work to get into a better place mentally. In an article for The Mighty , contributor Amani Omejer wrote about how writing and being creative have helped her. “For the five years since my suicide attempt, I’ve written and drawn cartoons almost every day,” she writes. “In my journal, on my blog, for online magazines and printed projects. I don’t know where I would be without this creative practice, that describes and expresses what spoken words cannot.” The researchers of the study published in the Archives of Suicide Research also believe that helping people manage chronic pain could help suicide attempt survivors. “Adults with a history of suicide attempts can achieve an excellent level of mental health,” they wrote. “These findings suggest that interventions to promote social support and manage chronic pain and insomnia may be helpful.” If you want to support a suicide survivor in your life, members of The Mighty’s mental health community shared tangible ways to support them here. 

How Inflammatory Bowel Disease Can Impact Sleep

Chronic illness can affect different parts of a person’s life, including how they sleep. A new systematic review published in the Sleep Medicine Reviews journal looked at how living with  Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, impacted people’s sleep quality. Sleep quality, according to the researchers, “refers to a collection of subjective and objective sleep measures integrating aspects of sleep satisfaction, sleep initiation, sleep maintenance, and sleep quantity.” 42 studies were included in this review. The researchers found in the studies reviewed, 92 percent of patients with IBD had poor sleep quality, versus 88 percent of patients who did not have IBD in the control group. There was not a significant difference between sleep quality in people who have Crohn’s disease versus people who have ulcerative colitis. People with active IBD symptoms reported having more issues with sleep than people with inactive IBD symptoms. From the results of this review, insomnia and poor sleep quality could be seen as comorbidities of IBD. “In this meta-analysis we gathered evidence for moderate to large impairments in subjective sleep quality measures in individuals with IBD,” the researchers wrote. “Importantly, due to the cross-sectional nature of the included studies, we cannot draw any conclusions on the directionality of the relationship between sleep quality and IBD.” Some reasons why people with IBD may experience poor sleep quality include the following, according to Crohn’s & Colitis UK: Chronic pain Bloating Needing to use the toilet Needing to drink water at night Anxiety Previous research has highlighted how insomnia can negatively impact Crohn’s disease, a form of IBD. An August 2020 study published in the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases journal found that poor sleep quality in Crohn’s disease is associated with worsened disease activity and increased risk of hospitalization. “Addressing sleep quality may be an opportunity to improve not only quality of life but also clinical outcomes,” the researchers of the August 2020 study wrote.

COVID-19 Long-Haulers Should Qualify for Disability Benefits

On the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden administration’s announced that they released guidance aimed to help people who live with long-haul COVID-19. According to a fact sheet from the White House, this guidance includes information on “where individuals can access resources and accommodations and clarifies the rights for health and educational services and supports.” The following touches on how long haul COVID-19 is recognized as a disability, which means that people can apply for disability benefits for this health condition. Guidance explaining that long COVID can be a disability under various Federal civil rights laws. The Office for Civil Rights at HHS and Department of Justice released guidance (available here and here) explaining that some individuals with long COVID may have a disability under various civil rights laws that entitles them to protection from discrimination. A February 2021 research letter published in JAMA Network Open  found that 30 percent of people who contracted COVID-19 still had at least one persisting symptom six months after getting diagnosed with COVID-19. People with long-haul COVID-19 can have a wide range of symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shares that this could include the following: Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath Tiredness or fatigue Symptoms that get worse after physical or mental activities Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes referred to as “brain fog”) Cough Chest or stomach pain Headache Fast-beating or pounding heart (also known as heart palpitations) Joint or muscle pain In an article for The Mighty, Caroline Christian  wrote her suggestions for people with long-haul COVID-19 who want to apply for disability benefits. One of her suggestions is to be honest about how long-haul COVID-19 affects a person: When preparing to make a claim, be direct with employers about accommodations needed, and ensure these efforts are documented. Being honest can also avoid “gotcha” moments by insurance companies who pay private investigators to spy on claimants. If you have better and worse days, be upfront about the variation you experience in your illness, but do not minimize the limit that “bad days” place on the ability to function. The White House also gave guidance on how people with long haul COVID-19 can better access disability support services. “The Administration for Community Living at HHS released a guide to community-based resources that can help people if they now need assistance to live in their own home, go to work or school, or participate in the community,” they wrote. “These resources can provide information about what is available locally; help people connect to services, such as transportation and personal care attendants; help arrange reasonable accommodations and access vaccinations.”

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Goodbye! I'm going to graduate school #CheerMeOn

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Chronically Ill People Need More Support During COVID-19

Living with a chronic illness or multiple chronic health conditions during COVID-19. Many members of the chronic illness community, especially those who are immunocompromised, are often told that they are at a higher risk of severe disease course by their doctors and the media. This can understandably take a toll on someone’s mental health. A review of 178 studies from 17 countries looked at the mental health interventions, or lack thereof, that people with chronic health conditions received during the COVID-19 pandemic. The review was conducted by researchers across Canada and has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The chronic health conditions reviewed included: Cancer Diabetes Parkinson’s disease Epilepsy Respiratory conditions The researchers, unfortunately, did not find that doctors promoted mental health support for individuals who are at a higher risk of experiencing the severe disease. People with chronic illness’s mental health was also exacerbated by increased social and economic instability and altered access to health and social care. The lack of mental health promotion is especially alarming, as due to fear of exposure and being more immunocompromised, people did not adhere as much to their treatment plans. “The fear of contracting COVID-19 among those who knew they were more susceptible to infection and the associated mental health impacts interfered with adherence to treatment plans,” the researchers wrote. “Several promising practices were described but not formally evaluated.” The researchers also emphasized that mental health screenings should be included in care for people with chronic health conditions. While the researchers noted that some studies used cognitive behavioral therapy in helping people with chronic health conditions cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, more evidence of which therapeutic interventions would be the most useful is crucial. “A better understanding of the shared etiology of mental and physical health will lead to more targeted and personalized approaches to care,” they wrote. “In addition, more knowledge about integrated health and social care implementation and outcomes are needed.”  

How Robin Williams' Misdiagnosis Affected Him

For people who live with a chronic illness or another health condition, getting diagnosed can open up the doors to getting the right type of treatment. But, what happens when the diagnosis is incorrect? In a podcast episode of The Genius Life, Robin Williams’s son Zak spoke about how the late actor being misdiagnosed affected Williams’s physical and mental health on what would have been his father’s 70th birthday. Williams was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but after his suicide, it was discovered that he had Lewy body dementia, the second-most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. Today would be 70. Missing you especially much today. Love you always evermore. pic.twitter.com/Evc7uW48eS— Zak Williams (@zakwilliams) July 21, 2021 Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia (LBD) have overlapping symptoms. Most people develop Parkinson’s disease after the age of 60, and it is characterized by tremors and impaired balance and coordination, according to the National Institute on Aging. LBD tends to appear after the age of 50, and is characterized by cognitive fluctuations. People with Parkinson’s disease have an increased risk of developing LBD. Zak found that Williams was frustrated because his experience with illness was not one of what someone with Parkinson’s disease may experience. “What he was going through didn’t match one to one [with what] many Parkinson’s patients experience,” Zak said on the podcast. “So, I think that was hard for him.” Zak also expressed concern that heavy medication used to manage Parkinson’s disease may have been unnecessary and a burden for his father. “Those drugs are no joke,” he said. “They’re also really hard on the mind and the body.” When someone has a sick family member, it can be normal to try and do more to help them. However, people who live with illnesses may feel overwhelmed or frustrated by the symptoms that they’re experiencing. “I couldn’t help but feel beyond empathy. I couldn’t help but feel frustrated for him,” Zak said. “It can be really isolating even when you’re with family and loved ones.” After Williams’s suicide, The Mighty asked members of their community to share how LBD affected a family member. Many community members, including this one below from Deneice Spurgeon, emphasized the importance of patience: My dad was fortunate enough to know everything as it developed. We kept nothing from him. His hallucinations became something he enjoyed sharing. That was all he had. We let him, and we listened. It’s a terrible disease. It took my dad from me less than a year ago. There needs be be more research. Williams’s symptoms and his worsening mental health worsened for two years before his death. “It felt a lot longer than it actually was because it was a period for him of intense searching and frustration,” Zak shared. After his father’s suicide, Zak struggled with his own mental health, until he thought help because he was “was just sick and tired of trying to treat [himself] using harmful means.”

US Paralympians to Be Paid As Much as Olympians For the First Time

While COVID-19 poses a major threat to disabled athletes who will compete at the Paralympics, there is one piece of good news: Their bonuses will now be the same as Olympians. The board of directors for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC) voted to increase the payout for all athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics to $37,500 for each gold medal earned at the Games, $22,500 for silver, and $15,000 for bronze. This move is retroactive, and American Paralympians will be awarded for their work at the 2018 Winter Paralympics. “U.S. Paralympians won 36 medals in South Korea and garnered more than $1.2 million in bonuses,” USOPC wrote in their 2018 report.  According to  The Lily, “previously, Paralympians were paid $7,500 for gold, $5,250 for silver and $3,750 for bronze.” While this prize money is great for the athletes who place first, second, or third in their competitors at the Paralympics, the games themselves can be very unaffordable. Unlike some countries, the U.S. government does not financially sponsor athletes, so many athletes need to find external funding in order to compete. One paratriathlete told how not being compensated for qualifying to go to the games can be a financial barrier: A prosthetic leg used for sport can cost $20,000, according to paratriathlete Allysa Seely, whose left leg was amputated just below the knee in 2013, which is “a big financial barrier to entry into the sport,” she wrote via email. That is especially true because sport prosthetics like Seely’s are not covered by insurance and need to be updated and replaced as often as every other year because of weight gain or loss, or just general wear and tear. “I would say the cost of winning my gold medal in 2016 was easily in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said. At the same time, this change signals a shift into how disabled athletes are viewed, according to former Paralympian Amanda McGrory. “There are now more opportunities for sponsorships, more support from the public and overall more awareness of what elite disabled sports are,” McGroy told The Lily. “We, as athletes, can continue to be a part of that process, by using our platforms to normalize disability, and the disabled experience.”

How Music Helped This Rapper Cope with Borderline Personality Disorder

At a show for BBC Music Introducing, rapper Wayne Webster – who is from Bristol, England – opened up about how music helps him manage his borderline personality disorder. When Webster was 28 years old, he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder after realizing that he  was hurting and hurting everyone around” him, according to BBC News. “The woman that diagnosed me, I was telling her about my lyrics that mentioned this demon, and she said that was me naming it,” Webster said. “I learned how to rewire my brain, and music was the biggest thing that helped me throughout all of that.” Borderline personality disorder (BPD), according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM), “is an illness marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and behavior.” People who live with BPD may be impulsive and can experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety.” NIHM shares that people who have BPD may experience the following symptoms: Efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, such as rapidly initiating intimate  relationships or cutting off communication with someone in anticipation of being abandoned Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self Self-harming behaviors While Webster said that he had to rewire his brain, finding new ways to process thoughts and fears can help people cope with this mental health condition. People with BPD may benefit from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT was formed to help people with BPD, and this form of therapy uses mindfulness and acceptance skills. Music, whether or not someone can rap, can help people with BPD recognize and cope with symptoms of this condition. In an article for The Mighty where community members shared songs that reminded them of symptoms of BPD, one person shared that “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” by Green Day “describes the chronic and consistent combination of symptoms and struggles with feelings of failure, preoccupations with loneliness and rejection, emptiness, suicidal thoughts and feeling lost with no sense of self and identity.” As an important part of DBT is recognizing your emotions and working through them, music may be helpful. Webster also encourages people with BPD or suspect that they have BPD to reach out for help. “It’s important for people to not feel alone, to not feel ashamed and if you feel that you’re battling with your thoughts then you need to go and seek help, because that was the best thing that I’ve done,” he said.  

People with Mental Illnesses Are at a Higher Risk of COVID-19 Deaths

Researchers are starting to better understand what conditions put people at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. For example, a February study found that people with Down syndrome are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people with other conditions. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in The Lancet Psychiatry on July 15, consisting of 33 studies for the review and 23 studies for the analysis, looked to see which mental illnesses put people more at risk for COVID-19 related deaths, hospitalization, and admission to the intensive care unit. The researchers wrote that “the presence of any mental disorder was associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 mortality.” In particular, the following mental health conditions put people at higher risk of COVID-19 related death: Psychotic disorders Mood disorders Substance use disorders People with anxiety disorders do not face a higher risk of dying from COVID-19. Unlike with reported deaths, people who live with mental illness did not have higher rates of COVID-19-related hospitalization or ICU admission. “Patients with severe mental illness (including psychotic and mood disorders) had a higher risk of death than patients with other mental disorders,” the researchers wrote. The researchers believe that social and lifestyle factors, like social isolation and high alcohol and tobacco use, could be contributing to these findings, in addition to access issues. “The increased mortality of patients with psychiatric disorders—in particular, patients with psychotic disorders—observed in our study might also reflect reduced access to care, which has previously been described in relation to nearly every aspect of somatic health care in this population,” they wrote. The COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted people who live with mental illness access to care. Juliette V., a former editor at The Mighty, wrote about how COVID-19 can affect people who live with mental health conditions like schizophrenia: In addition to medication and therapy, an integral part of symptom management for many people with schizophrenia can include “reality checking” with a treatment team to help separate what’s real from what’s not. Right now, patients with COVID-19-related delusions and hallucinations see people walk around in face masks, non-stop media coverage of the virus and worldwide levels of paranoia rise — making it that much harder to separate reality from delusion.

U.S. Government to Give $3 Billion to Support Disability Services

Many disabled students have continued remote learning, even as many schools around the country have opened up. While remote learning has allowed disabled students to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not been an ideal learning environment for many. This had led to concerns from teachers that disabled students are falling behind. According to Education Week, “51 percent of in-person teachers reported their special education students completed nearly all of their assignments, only 29 percent of remote teachers and 32 percent of hybrid teachers said the same.” In good news, the U.S. Education Department has released more funds to support students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IEPs, which are granted under IDEA, and 504s are two types of disability accommodations that American students in primary and secondary schools can receive, and both will receive allotted funding. Disability Scoop reported on Tuesday that “$2.6 billion — will go toward special education programs for those ages 3 to 21 while $200 million will be tagged for preschool offerings for children with disabilities ages 3 to 5 and $250 million will be allocated for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families.” This funding is part of the American Rescue Plan, a COVID-19 relief package, approved in March. “We know that COVID-19 and disruptions in access to in-person learning over the last year have taken a disproportionate toll on America’s children with disabilities, who, far too often amid the pandemic, experienced challenges in receiving the services and supports that they were entitled to,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said, according to a press release. “It’s long past time that the federal government makes good on its commitment to students with disabilities and their families.” Disability Scoop also reported that schools will receive new guidance on how to better support disabled students during the pandemic, but it is unclear what this guidance is. Even with reports that the spread of COVID-19 at schools is not a high risk, disabled students and their families face a different reality. A December 2020 study, for example, found that kids with Down syndrome face a significant risk for severe disease course if they contract COVID-19, so taking any risk might not be worth it. The breakdown on how much each state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico is available on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.