Tag Archives: mental health

Guest Post: 10 Habits That Can Help Your Mental Health

This past October I turned 50 years old.  That’s half a century friends!  One great advantage of getting older, is actually getting smarter.  The longer we live, the more chances we have to learn.  What I love most, is how much I have learned about myself and how to make myself the best self I can be. This takes work, persistence and the ability to look at our challenges and triumphs and what has helped along the way.  Many of my top life lessons are lessons that are really helpful to everyone, but these habits have truly helped me with my mental health, so I wanted to share. I have also asked friends who live with depression, anxiety or other brain illnesses that can affect or day to day lives.  I thought I would share 10 of the habits that I have found to help me over the years in hopes that someone else will be helped.

Creating a morning routine I have always been a morning person, but having a successful morning has always set my day off to the right direction.  Knowing what helps you start the day off right is important. For me, that means having some quiet time, exercising, making sure my “to do” list is ready and a healthy breakfast.  For years I skipped breakfast.  It was just an easy meal to skip, but it truly does start your mind and body off the right way.  On the mornings that I oversleep or don’t include these activities, my day simply doesn’t go as well. My emotions just don’t stay where they need to be to successfully get through my day.  What is your morning routine? Do you have one? What do you think you might add to your mornings to make your day better.

Eating healthy foods and stay away from processed foods.  I started eating mostly plant based two years ago in the summer of 2017.  I have always eaten a pretty “clean” diet.  One that didn’t contain fried foods, highly processed food or other junk food.  Sweets are something I also tend to stay away from because the sugar really wears down my emotions. Healthy food simply helps improve our mental health.  We need to feed our bodies with good nutrition.  Remember, the brain is an organ, so be good to it.

Exercising in some way at least six days a week.  Many people feel they don’t have time to exercise.  I have learned over the years that I don’t have time NOT to exercise!  It can be even something short like a 20 minute walk, or a mini yoga video on YouTube.  Make it a priority.  It will help get that serotonin pumping in your brain and release all the happiness that sometimes gets stuck!

Reading motivational books.  I love to read.  I love to learn, so most of what I read tends to be non-fiction.  Motivational books can give you a new perspective on how you can live a better life.  You can ask friends and family for some book ideas but I have a few of my favorites that I will list here.  The Miracle Morning, by Hal Elrod.  This is an excellent book if you are looking to start a morning routine!! Big Magic, by Melli’s Gilbert, You Are A Badass, by Jen Sincero, and anything by Brene Brown are a great place to start.

Meditating for at least 5 minutes a day.  This was a hard one for me to get started because my mind is always racing with ideas or thoughts.  Meditating has taught me how to sit still and clear my mind.  It took quite a few months to get this and also to get used to sitting still for 5 minutes.  Now, you can meditate for longer, but 5 minutes is my max before I get too restless. Sometimes I meditate in private and other times I play some soft spa music. There is a ton of benefit of learning how to be still and quiet.  Give it a try.

Drinking plenty of water.   Staying hydrate can be difficult if you work certain jobs but it is so important to our physical and mental health. I have a large cup with a lid that I refill all day long.  Again, your brain is an organ so you have to make sure it gets what it needs.  Drinking water throughout the day, will help you to be able to think more clearly too. Water flushes out toxins and makes your body work better.  This includes your brain.  So, grab a large drinking container and start drinking water tomorrow.

Journaling almost every day.  Ideally, you should journal daily, but realistically if I journal for 5 days out of 7 days, then I call it a successful week. You don’t need a fancy journal.  One of those Composition Books you can get for a dollar or two at the store will work just fine.  You can find journal prompts online but one thing I write down daily is at least 3 things I am grateful for each day.  Sometimes it is simply for the weather.  It is another great way to clear your mind so you can better focus on what you need to do.

Getting some fresh air daily.  There is nothing better for your mental health than getting some fresh air.  Now, this may be harder if you live where it can get extremely cold, but even just a few minutes of breathing in the fresh air can do a lot of good for your brain.  Take a short walk or just take a couple of deep breaths. Now that I live in Florida, I am able to get outside every day and it has made such a huge difference in my mental health.

Watch, or listen, to only positive, uplifting shows and music.  I do my best to stay away from upsetting shows or depression songs.  I try to stay away from the news.  I will watch a national morning news show to get informed, but the humor and other stories they cover make it less depressing.  Comedies are my favorite shows to watch when keeping my mental health in check.  Then upbeat music is just good for the soul! Dance to it and you can count that as your exercise!

Talking about your emotions.  I learned the hard way at age 17 that keeping your hard emotions to yourself will only slowly destroy you from the inside.  See a therapist. Often they can not only help you process the emotions, but also give you techniques to handle them when they arise.  It is also just so therapeutic to be able to talk about what is bothering you.  There are now online/virtual therapists too, so it is easier than ever to see a professional.  If therapy isn’t your thing, then just have a “go-to” friend or family member with whom you can vent to when you need to vent.  Whatever you do, just don’t hold in those emotions.  Your mental health will thank you for it.

What kind of habits have you created to help your mental health stay strong?  I would love to hear them.

Debbie Brady has over 20 years of experience in the mental health field in both the inpatient and community setting, including school, homeless shelters and as an advocate. In addition to her personal and professional experience, she holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Counseling.

As a result of her own personal experience of living with long-term depression which began during childhood, and then also battling anorexia in college, she has developed many techniques that have not only helped her personally, but have helped countless others during the past 20 plus years. She loves to share with others all that she has learned in order to help them live a more full life in spite of depression. In addition to her personal experiences, she has an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Masters Degree in Counseling.

In July 2019, she published her first book titled, Depression Survival Guide: Your Path To A Joy-Filled Life. Her book hit number 1 in multiple categories on Amazon. In addition to her new book, she also has a mental health blog where she shares her experience and knowledge about mental health issues and concerns. Her website is www.EndingStigmaTogether.com. In addition to her writing, Debbie spends her time advocating, educating, speaking and sharing to help others live their best life.

She currently lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, 4 sons, 3 dogs and their cat. She is a proud Philadelphia native but moving south has been the absolute best thing for her mental health.

You can learn more about Debbie’s mission by visiting her website at www.EndingStigmaTogether.com. You can reach her at dbrady1021@yahoo.com.

Debbie Brady

Guest Post: Depression–A Cancer Survivor’s Story

On my testicular cancer awareness blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, I have written extensively what it’s like to experience depression as a cancer survivor. I eventually recognized the signs, asked for help, and went on antidepressants. While I am happy to say they are definitely working, I only knew to ask for them since this wasn’t my first time battling depression.

I’ve alluded to this in past writings, but I fought with clinical depression during my sophomore and junior years in high school. However, I’ve never written a full account of this trying time, and in the wake of the unfortunate events with Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and countless others throughout the past decade, I’m ready to take that leap in hopes of letting someone else know to ask for help.

For context, I grew up in an upper-middle class family. I am the oldest of three kids and my parents are still together. I was in the gifted program since third grade, participated in a number of sports, and school came rather easy to me. In essence, I was the definition of privilege and from the outside, I had no “reason” to be unhappy.

It started slowly enough. Around the start of sophomore year, I realized I was increasingly feeling sad and hopeless. Nothing seemed to bring me joy and I always managed to find the negative in every situation. I couldn’t figure out why this was happening, but I felt too ashamed to open up, since I had a pretty good life. However, there was a lot of pain inside that I just didn’t know how to manage.

I turned to self-harm to try to let out some of this pain. This is the first time I am publicly admitting this, and before this writing less than five people in the world knew I did this. I didn’t want to cut myself since that would leave marks, which would make it hard to keep under wraps. I had done a stunt previously where I sprayed Axe body spray on my hand and lit it on fire. It didn’t cause pain if you did it as a stunt, but if you let it burn long enough, it hurt like hell. I did this a handful of times. It didn’t seem to help, yet it became a habit.

I suppose I subconsciously wanted to let some of this struggle out. I remember one day I put up an “Away Message” on AOL Instant Messenger that was beyond the scope of the normal, teenage angst. When I returned, one of my friends (who I later found out had depression himself) had said, “Um, Justin, you might be depressed.” Even though I was self-harming from time to time, I didn’t believe that I could be depressed. Again – I had a good life; what right did I have to be depressed?

At some point, this internal pain began to be too much. I began thinking that I just didn’t want to live anymore since it was too hard, even though nothing external was “wrong.” I started experiencing thoughts of suicide.

While I never actually attempted it, I had concrete plans on how I would do it. It’s still hard to walk past the area in my parents’ home where I was planning to do it. My little sister is what ended up saving my life. She looks up to me and I didn’t want to let her down. My love for her was stronger than my hate for myself.

Reaching this point was a pivotal moment. I finally admitted something was wrong and I needed help. Yet, I didn’t know how to ask. I decided to stop wearing a mask of being ok on the outside. I moved a little slower. Sighed a little bit more. Smiled less. One day, I flopped down dramatically on the couch and my mom finally asked if I wanted to talk to a therapist. Even though I was most likely weeks away from taking my own life, I couldn’t directly ask.

I agreed to get help and began seeing a therapist. I continued harming myself throughout the first first few sessions and thoughts of suicide still lingered. Eventually, I admitted both of these to the therapist and we decided to start me on a course of antidepressants.

Initially, my dosage was wrong and I experienced a panic attack not too long after beginning them. I freaked out because my mom told me to go to bed and I wasn’t ready yet. I locked myself in my room and began hyperventilating. My dad literally kicked down my door and carried me outside to get fresh air. I calmed down, the doctors adjusted my meds, and the meds took hold. I continued going to the therapist and this one-two punch of medication and therapy helped raise me out of depression.

I don’t remember exactly when I got off of the medication, but it was an uneventful process. I did not slip back into depression, and had no problems coming off of them.

While this experience was probably the hardest in my life, and that’s saying a lot since I faced testicular cancer at 25, it ended up helping me recognize the symptoms early on during my survivorship phase of cancer.

I know that that having depression at a young age puts me at risk for a recurrence later in life, and this study from 2017 that said about 20% of cancer survivors experience PTSD symptoms within six months of diagnosis. The CDC also reports that cancer survivors take anxiety and depression medication at almost twice the rate of the general population. Basically, it was a perfect storm of risk factors and I’m glad I knew these figures.

This time, I asked for help and antidepressants. I’m happy to say I am still on the meds and not feeling effects of depression. Experiencing the episode in high school helped me advocate for myself earlier before it got worse.

In addition to being a testicular cancer survivor, I am a fourth grade teacher. I noticed one of my students seemed very upset, distant, and prone to tears. I requested a conference with his parents to discuss these episodes and tried to recommend they take him for a further evaluation. They told me that they give him everything they wanted, love him unconditionally, and he has no reason to be sad. In a moment of “I’m not sure I should do this,” I shared that I what I had experienced (leaving out the self-harm and thoughts of suicide parts), since I had “no reason to be sad” too. I saw something change in their eyes and I hope it may have paid off.

You can’t always tell if someone is experiencing depression from the outside. Like I said, I had a prime life and no real reason to be upset. Depression is a chemical imbalance in your brain and it’s always influenced by external factors. Asking if a person is feeling okay won’t always work, either. They might not even be aware of their own feelings or may hide it out of a certain feeling of stigma. My best advice is to be there for that individual and to be non-judgemental. In 2018, we should be treating mental health as a serious issue and stop the stigma surrounding it.

I hope by sharing my story, even one person realizes that it’s okay to ask for help and doesn’t feel they need to suffer in silence. I compare taking care of mental health to needing chemo for cancer or a cast for a broken arm. No one would blink twice about treating either of those conditions, but why does society not have the same attitude towards mental health?

About the Author

Justin High School.jpg

Justin, in his high school days, with his favorite teacher

Justin Birckbichler is a men’s health activist, testicular cancer survivor, and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com. From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness about testicular cancer and promote open conversation about men’s health.

In addition to his work through ABSOT, Justin’s writing has appeared in Cure Magazine, I Had Cancer, The Mighty, The Good Men Project, Stupid Cancer, and more. His work with awareness of men’s health has been featured by Healthline, Ball Boys, and various other organizations. In 2017, ABSOT won an award for the Best Advocacy and Awareness Cancer Blog in 2017 and Justin was recognized as one of 15 People Who Raised Cancer Awareness in 2017. He was also one of the selected attendees of HealtheVoices18.

Justin also serves as a member of the Strategic Advisory Board for the Cancer Knowledge Network and as a board member of the Young Adult Cancer Survivor Advisory Board for Lacuna Loft.

Outside of the “cancer world,” Justin is a teacher, amateur chef, technology aficionado and avid reader. He lives in Fredericksburg, VA with his wife, cat, and dog.

Connect with him on Instagram (@aballsysenseoftumor), on Twitter (@absotTC), on Facebook (Facebook.com/aballsysenseoftumor), on YouTube, or via email (justin@aballsysenseoftumor.com).

A Mental Health Survey for Public School Educators

I have felt quite strongly that there is a great need for more mental health support for educators. When I started to research the topic, I was surprised to see that not only was the profession of teacher/educator not on any of the top ten lists for jobs with the highest suicide rate, but they weren’t even in the top twenty (CBS News: These Jobs Have the Highest Rates of Suicide).

I researched further and found several articles that described the mental health needs of educators in England. This only strengthened my belief that England is much further ahead in the world of advocacy around mental health. The recent Project Eighty Four is just one example in which Calm brought the topic of male suicide to the rooftops (quite literally)!

I decided to put together a survey of my own to prove a hypothesis that I had developed: I believe there is a very high number of educators who are struggling with their mental health. I believe that, particularly in the urban settings, many staff members are dealing with students who are going in and out of complex trauma on a daily basis. This includes the type of trauma in these young people’s lives that I cannot even begin to fathom. The fact that many of them have even made it to school is mind-boggling. Even students who are not going in and out of trauma are, often times these days, facing mental health challenges as seen by the data. In 2016, suicide was the second leading cause of death for groups aged 10-14 and 15-24 (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml). Many of our students cannot get the medication they need because of various reasons, including a lack of insurance. Others are on month-long waiting lists to get a proper assessment or to find a bed in a facility because they are suicidal. Yet, with all of these challenges, we expect our students to show up to our schools, sit in their chairs quietly, and perform well on our standardized tests (or we could have detrimental repercussions from the federal government, such as the loss of public funds). There’s a shortage of school social workers and school counselors. Not only does this create an unrealistic student to social worker/school counselor ratio adding to their stress, but it also puts classroom teachers in the situation of having to ‘play’ counselor or social worker. Many times our school nurses are dealing more with psychosomatic symptoms than anything actually physical. Building administrators are faced with deciding on consequences for students who they know are facing incredible life challenges. They are also dealing with parents or guardians who are often times dealing with their own life struggles and mental health difficulties.

So, this brings me back to my survey. I created a survey to send to public school educators (staff of any positions in a public school system in the United States). Just prior to making my very brief, confidential survey of eight questions public, I bumped into another survey that had revolved around the mental health of educators: the 2017 Educator Quality of Work Life Survey. This was a 30-question survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Badass Teachers Association (BATs). Some of the key findings that stood out to me from their survey results were:

  • Teachers reported having poor mental health for 11 or more days per month at twice the rate of the general U.S. workforce. They also reported lower-than-rec-ommended levels of health outcomes and sleep per night.
  • In response to the question “How often is work stressful?” nearly a quarter of respondents said “always”.
  • Educators and school staff find their work “always” or “often” stressful 61 percent of the time, significantly higher than workers in the general population, who report
    that work is “always” or “often”stressful only 30 percent of the time.
  • Educators are much more likely to be bullied, harassed and threatened at work than other workers.
    • 43 percent of respondents in the public survey group reported they had been bullied, harassed or threatened in the last year.
  • Teachers and school staff are significantly more stressed than other U.S. workers:
    • Respondents to the public survey reported an…average of 12 days in the last 30 that their mental health was not good
    • 21 percent of educators in the random sample characterized their mental health as not good for 11 or more days in the last 30, significantly higher than U.S. workers generally, less than 10 percent of whom reported poor mental health for 11 or more days in the past month, according to national data from 2014.
  • Educators’ physical health is more likely to suffer than other U.S. workers

My first thought was that since a survey had been recently completed, perhaps there is no need for my survey. However, after further reflection, I decided that the fact that the AFT and BATs had such a survey was acknowledgement that perhaps my theory had some validity. In addition to that, my survey is quite different. None of the eight questions that I ask were a part of their survey and my questions, I believe, are much more direct in getting to the mental health of educators.

In the end, once the need is made more apparent, my goal is to advocate for a much better system of support for educators. I believe that districts can do much more than simply hand a brochure to a struggling staff member and offer a few sessions of free, confidential counseling. United States public school educators are dealing with an incredible amount of stress in what is arguably one of the most important roles in our country. We can do better…we must do better… to support them!

If you are a public school educator in the United States, please consider taking this very brief (eight question), anonymous, completely confidential survey regarding Mental Health.

As always, comments to this post (and all others) are welcomed and encouraged! Thank you!

The Depression Files–The Launch!

I had been “stockpiling” the interviews for several months. My idea was to launch a podcast in which I interview men who had experienced depression. The goal? It was threefold:

  1. To educate people on depression; the serious and often times debilitating nature of the illness
  2. To give hope to those who may be suffering from depression
  3. To help minimize, or even eliminate, the stigma around mental illness

I wanted to create a “stockpile” of interviews to eliminate any stress of getting episodes published on a regular basis.  I knew that I would need to find willing guests, schedule the interviews, record the interviews, and edit them. In the meantime, I was having a friend help me create a temporary logo (one that I hope to change in the near future) so that I could also post to iTunes.

I had a teaser up…and I had even created a “Sampler” for possible guests. I had no interviews published, so I figured possible guests may want to hear a sample of my interview style and get a feel for the project. I had created an intro, but had not yet created an outro. All of this allowed for me to continue down the path of promoting my teaser, without the worry of whether or not the show would be successful once I actually launched it. In the coaching world, we call this the Saboteur…and mine can be HUGE. The Saboteur is the negative self-talk that prevents us from moving forward. For example, “What makes me think I could be a successful interviewer?” or “I’ll never be as good as Terry Gross, Mark Maron, or Larry King” or “What if nobody listens to the show?”

Sometimes, there needs to be something that gives one a big kick in the rear to begin to move forward. That kick in the rear for me…World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, 2017. I figured, if I were ever going to launch this project, The Depression Files, there would never be a better day than World Suicide Prevention Day. I quickly made an outro, finished editing the show that I had decided would be the first episode, and…launched it! That was a big day for me! My teaser had been published at the end of June and I had been working on the project well before then.

My first episode was an interview with Steve Austin. As someone who is used to public speaking and hosts his own podcast, he was an ideal interviewee that made my “job” pretty darn easy. Steve is a life coach, author, speaker, and host of the #AskSteveAustin podcast. Steve has a website at iamsteveaustin.com. He is the author of the best-selling From Pastor to a Psych Ward: Recovery from a Suicide Attempt is Possible and other books, which can all be found by clicking here.

I have a new episode coming out every other Sunday and have just published my third one. I have been thoroughly enjoying the interviews and learning a great deal from every one of my guests (I believe I have about eleven more interviews recorded, awaiting to be edited).

I hope that you will listen to The Depression Files and that you are able to get something out of them. I hope that you will understand that depression is much, much worse than simply feeling sad. I hope that you will gain a deep sense of empathy for those who may be struggling with depression. In addition, I am hoping that any listeners who may be in the midst of a depressive episode, or living with chronic depression, are able to gain a sense of hope from the show. As cliche as it may sound, after going through major depression myself, I would never wish it upon my worst enemy.

If you would like to read more about the podcast, you can check out one of my earlier posts: Giving a Voice to Men with Depression: New Podcast Coming Soon!

As always, comments to this post are welcomed and encouraged! In addition, I hope that you may be willing to ‘like’ and/or share comments to any of the episodes of The Depression Files. Thank you!

My Thoughts on the Word “Stigma”

I have recently heard of the idea of getting away from the word “Stigma” when speaking about mental health. There are various articles that speak directly towards eliminating the word from the conversations altogether. For example, the article titled, “The Word Stigma Should Not Be Used in Mental Health Campaigns”. In this article, the author makes the case that “The focus of our efforts should be upon society and the perpetrators of this discrimination, not the subjects of it. If we accept the concepts of parity of esteem, then we should describe not stigma, but rather bigotry, hatred, unlawful and unjust discrimination.”

I prefer the definition offered by Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D., “Stigma is a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person.” in an article titled, “What is Stigma?

In my opinion, the stigma is the negative feelings that some have regarding mental illnesses.  When one mentions that they have depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or another mental illness, the stigma is what causes people to take a step back. The stigma causes people to begin to whisper when they discuss a mental illness. Another example of stigma is when someone tells a person who is suffering from depression to “Just go for a jog” or “Watch a funny movie”. This minimizes the serious and often times debilitating nature of the illness.  Stigma also creates shame and/or fear in people and often times prevents them from seeking the support they need.

The stigma, I believe, is what leads to the discrimination and bigotry and, yes, this certainly needs to be addressed as well. The discrimination and bigotry are the actions one takes towards a person living with a mental illness. For example, an employer not hiring a prospective employee because the employer discovers that the person has a history of depression. Another example would be a landlord choosing not to rent to someone due to the fact that they discover the possible tenant lives with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

In summary, I do not believe that we need to stop using the word “stigma” in our conversations around mental health. I believe that both the stigma and the discrimination/bigotry need to be addressed. If we are able to minimize or even eliminate the stigma, we would see much less of the discrimination. We need to continue to talk about mental illnesses, share our stories of living with a mental illness, and help educate others. These are a few of the ways that we can help end the stigma…and the discrimination.

As with all of my posts, I welcome and encourage comments. Thank you!

Supporting One with Depression

The night before I entered a three-week partial hospitalization program for a major depressive episode, I invited two close friends over to my house. I explained the situation to them and asked them for their support. When they asked me how they could support me, I had no idea.  When one is in the thick of depression, it’s difficult to know what is needed and it’s certainly difficult to reach out for support.  Throughout my depressive episode, my wife had the very same question: “How can I help?” She wanted to support me, yet also didn’t know how.

Knowing how to support someone who is suffering from depression can be very challenging.  My goal for this post is to help provide ideas for those who are attempting to support someone with depression.  The support for people may look very different, particularly depending on the relationship one has with the person dealing with depression.  For that reason, I have separated  my suggestions into three categories based upon the relationship; 1) Spouse or family member, 2) Close friend, or 3) Acquaintance. While there may be some overlap amongst the three categories, there are also some significant differences.

Spouse or Family Member:  When supporting a spouse or family member, it is incredibly important to practice patience. (Note that from this point on, when I use the word, “spouse”, it is to include “or family member”).  Your spouse will most likely seem quite different in many ways while depressed compared to when they are mentally healthy. He/she may seem sad or emotionless.  He/she may not be able to do simple tasks around the house that they had normally done. In my case, I found myself sitting on the couch,  resorting to my bedroom, or following my wife around the house not knowing what I should be doing.  Practicing patience, understanding, and being empathetic will go a long way.

Offer to join your spouse for some of their appointments. My wife joined me for several appointments with my psychologist, hoping to gain some insights into what was going on with me and to learn how she might be able to support me. In addition, my wife and sister joined me for at least one of my psychiatrist appointments, particularly when I knew I was going to need their support. My wife was also at my side while at the intake meeting for the partial hospitalization program that I entered. Having her with me was hugely beneficial. She supported me morally and emotionally, as well as providing the support team with accurate answers to the questions that we had to field. Being severely depressed impacted my cognition and memory, so her support was indispensable.

Gently “push” your spouse to get exercise. I remember one bitter cold evening, my wife suggested that I go for a walk around the block. It was highly invigorating (relative to the major depression). Fresh air and exercise are both beneficial in overcoming depression. It may be nice to offer to join the person for a walk.  Understand that exercising, or even the idea of exercising, may feel like a massive chore for someone who is depressed, so there is a fine line in how much to push this piece. Consider asking him/her to walk to the store for an errand, if it’s not too far.  Asking to support with some of the chores around the house may be another way to get your spouse off of the couch or out of the bed.

Ask if there is anything you can do to support your spouse. Simply asking shows that you care and opens the door to a conversation. Do not be offended if the person is not very conversational. Engaging in conversations can be very challenging when depressed.

Provide resources for your spouse. If he/she is not yet a part of one, seek out support groups for him/her. If they are not seeing a psychologist, help him/her seek on out. Ask your spouse if it would be alright if you asked your friends or family members for a referral to a psychologist.

Close Friend:  There are several ways to support a close friend who is going through a challenging time of depression.  The first thing is to make sure to have the conversation. If you are concerned that a friend may have depression, ask the question. Let him/her know that you are concerned and worried.  It is really easy to isolate oneself when dealing with depression.  There’s a good chance that your friend, particularly in the case of males, may be masking his/her depression and may not be the one to broach the topic. Ask the question.

Ask if there is anything that you could do to support him/her. Your friend may not have an answer, but there is a chance that they do know and are able to articulate this for you. It is well worth asking.  Ask if he/she has the resources to support in their recovery. If not, offering to find resources would be a great way to help.

Reach out to your friend. Ask if he/she would mind if you check-in with him/her weekly or so. Ask him/her what the best way to reach out would be. In many cases, simply sending a text once a week or so to ask how he/she is doing is enough. Perhaps they prefer a phone call or an email. In any case, many people who are dealing with depression tend to isolate themselves and avoid friends. It’s important to take the initiative to reach out to your struggling friend.

Invite your friend out.  Again, this is a great way to prevent a friend from remaining inside and isolating him/herself.  It is not wise to drink alcohol when depressed (as alcohol is a depressant), so consider inviting your friend out for coffee, breakfast, or a lunch. Perhaps you could invite your friend to a movie.  One to one would most likely be the best scenario for any of these outings, as people who are depressed often do not want to be with a large group of people.  Consider inviting your friend to join you in an outdoor activity or a walk. This would provide fresh air and a bit of exercise. If you know a hobby or something that your friend typically would enjoy doing, offer that suggestion. I was really able to enjoy myself with a friend who invited me down to the river on a brisk winter day to take some pictures, as he knew that we both enjoy photography. He had to twist my arm gently, but this was a really positive day for me in the midst of my depression.  You may also consider having your friend over to your house to watch a movie or a favorite TV show.

If your friend is married, consider checking in with his/her spouse to see if there is any support the family may need.  Many times, when someone is ill with cancer or other serious illnesses, friends and neighbors create a rotation for bringing over a meal for the family. This rarely happens for one suffering from a mental illness.

Acquaintance: Just as with a good friend, if you’re concerned that an acquaintance may be suffering from depression, it’s worth asking the question. Be sure to ask in private and to let him/her know that you are asking because you are concerned.

Ask if there is anything that you could do to support him/her. Ask if he/she needs some resources and, if possible, offer to seek out resources for him/her.

Ask if you could reach out once in a while to support him/her. As mentioned above, a friendly text message to check-in to see how the person is doing weekly or so may be very supportive.

Encourage him/her to reach out to other trusted and loved ones.  Sometimes people resist reaching out for support.  Encouraging and supporting one in doing so could be very helpful.

In all of the cases, it is important to remember that depression is an illness, just as cancer or any other serious disease is an illness. Understand that it is not the person’s fault for being depressed, just as it is not the fault of anyone who has battled cancer, or again, any other serious illness. The person most likely does not want to be depressed and did not ask for it. He or she is not lazy, but ill.  Educate yourself on depression so that you can have a better understanding of what a person with depression may be experiencing.  Empathy and patience will go a long way! Be compassionate.  Offer support.

(Note: I feel obligated to mention that if you feel that someone is actually considering suicide, ask them the question directly. There is a false assumption held by some people that mentioning suicide will give the person an idea that they never had. This is not the case and has been shown by research. Asking the question will open up this dialogue that the person may never be able to discuss if not asked. If they actually have a plan, seek resources with the person immediately and call 911, if necessary.)

(Another Note: As always, comments to this post, or any of my other posts, are highly encouraged and would be greatly appreciated)

Depression is NOT Sadness

As someone who has been through a major depressive episode, I can assure you that depression is nothing like sadness.  Sadness is a normal emotion that people feel at times.  Sadness comes and sadness goes.  At times, sadness is the least of the feelings or emotions that someone in a depressive state may be experiencing.  In fact, I believe that one small part of the lack of understanding is the way people overuse the word “depression”.  People use it synonymously with the word “Sad”.  How many times have you heard someone say, “This weather is depressing?” or “I missed the show, I’m so depressed”.  This significantly diminishes the severity and debilitating nature of depression.  Would we ever describe the weather as “Cancerous”?

Depression often times manifests itself in a physical manner.  I have heard depression described as a ‘numbness’ rather than a sadness.  One therapist I saw described it as dealing with the flu or a traumatic brain injury.  People experiencing depression may not be able to get out of their bed for days on end.  I was lethargic.  Often, it felt as though I was trying to move through quicksand.  Many people experience a significant gain or loss of weight.  I lost over forty pounds and often times was unable to eat when I was going through my major depression.  I could not sleep, sometimes getting no more than ten or twelve hours of sleep for the week.  Although I couldn’t sleep, I wanted to remain in the safety of my bed, rather than be awake and at a loss of what I should be doing.  I had uncontrollable crying bouts, mostly contained to the evenings after struggling to “hold it together” for the entire day.  The depression impacted my cognition and memory.  I got lost when driving with my daughter to pick up a carpool friend who lived only blocks from our house.  I knew exactly where they lived and had been there on a number of occasions, yet I had to pull over and map their address on my phone.  Depression is often accompanied by a sense of guilt, particularly in cases in which there is no known trigger.  In my case, I still cannot put my finger on what caused me to go into a major depression, or any depression for that matter.  I had thoughts such as, “Why can’t I just be happy?”.  I was worried to leave the house and struggled, as a typically very outgoing person, to engage with others.  In my case, there were gradually increasing suicidal thoughts that I had eventually created a plan for.

I’m not sure if people who have not been through a major depressive episode can truly understand how it feels and how incredibly debilitating it can be.  I hope that people begin to consider how they use the word “depression” and try to gain a better understanding of what it means for someone to be depressed.

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged!

A Problem with the Mental Health System

I am sure that throughout this new blog, I will be sharing entries that describe pieces of our current mental health system that simply are not working for those who it is supposedly meant to serve.  Here are just a few concerns I have right off the bat:

  1. I have worked with high school aged students who were suicidal and have had to wait for a bed in a facility for three weeks.  Not only is this tragic for the young man, but imagine being his parents, crossing your fingers each day and each morning, just hoping your child is still alive.
  2. I have met at least one man who needed immediate care who had to travel more than seventy miles outside of the city in order to get a bed in a facility.  How is that person to see loved ones for support?
  3. In my own case, I go to a behavioral health clinic that charges a patient for any missed appointment and will not see them again if they have missed two (consecutive?) appointments.  How does this serve patients (some of the most vulnerable people) who have a mental illness, many of whom struggle to get out of bed or leave their house?  Unfortunately, I do not believe this policy is outside of the norm.
  4. At my intake meeting at a partial hospitalization program, I went through a three-hour or so intake meeting.  After this meeting, I was given a diagnosis and a regimen of medicine.  This was the first time these staff members had ever met me.  I had a mental illness.  Who knew if I was even answering the questions honestly or correctly?  Many mental illness significantly impact memory, cognition, judgement, and much more.  Many patients may be incapable of answering correctly and others may be fearful of being honest, particularly with questions such as, “Do you hear voices?” or “How much alcohol do you drink?”.  Patients may then be given an incorrect diagnosis and put on meds that, in the worst case scenario, could be detrimental to their actual illness.  As a bare minimum, I believe that patients should be requested to bring a loved one or someone who knows the patient very well.  Of course, such a person may not be available, but the recommendation should certainly be made.  In my case, I was very thankful to have brought my wife, who corrected many of my responses for me.

These are just a few of the concerns that I have.  We need a system that truly serves the patients for whom the system was developed.

As always, comments to any of my blog posts are welcomed and encouraged.  Thank you.

Isn’t it Time to Talk?

Webster’s definition of an epidemic:

  1. 1 :  affecting or tending to affect a disproportionately large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time <typhoid was epidemic>

  2. 2 a :  excessively prevalent b :  contagious 4 <epidemic laughter>

  3. 3 :  characterized by very widespread growth or extent :  of, relating to, or constituting an epidemic <the practice had reached epidemic proportions>

Webster’s definition of a pandemic:

  1. :  occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population <pandemic malaria>

The statistics around depression, and particularly suicide are, in my opinion, at a catastrophic level.  It is mind blowing to me that this is not a topic of conversation on a regular basis throughout our society. 

Here are just a few of those statistics that I’m referring to:

  • In 2014, the number of deaths by suicide in the US was 42,773. (CDC)
  • There is one death by suicide in the US every 12.3 minutes. (CDC)
  • There is one death by suicide in the world every 40 seconds. (WHO)
  • For every suicide (12.3 minutes) in the US, there are 25 attempts. (CDC)
  • Suicide costs the US $44 billion annually. (AFSP)

Is this not clearly an epidemic?  A pandemic?  And this isn’t a public topic of conversation on a regular basis????