Mental Health Blogs
January 28, 2021 | by Charlotte Grainger
We can’t stress enough what a major role stress plays in our everyday lives, yet we seldom talk about it. Finding the energy and courage to speak out during a stressful period can feel impossible, but ignoring stress can lead to a whole host of health problems. Since April marks the annual Stress Awareness Month, it’s time we talked about the “S” word.
Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), National Stress Awareness Month is an annual campaign that began back in 1992 and has taken place every April since.
During this month, health care professionals unite to raise awareness of what effects stress has on people’s everyday wellness, and what can be done to combat it. Public forums, discussion groups, and other informative community events are employed to shed more light on the health impacts of stress.
If you’re hoping to get involved with this year’s events, look at local groups to see what activities they have planned. For example, you may find that fundraising events are going on near you. Take the time to consider what you could offer.
If you prefer not to get involved in organized events – perhaps because you find them stressful – there are still some things you can do as an individual to manage your own stress and to reduce the stress of those around you. Here are a few ideas:
If you experience stress or anxiety, April could be a good time to share your story, perhaps via social media. Mental health issues have been considered taboo for far too long, but this is changing, and you can help to change it too.
If you think that stress is harming your health, but you’ve been putting off doing anything about it, now could be a good time to seek some support. Talk to your doctor and (if necessary) let them refer you to the right professional for the right care.
Regardless of whether you want to share your story with the whole world, and even if you seek (and get) professional support, there’s no time like the present to engage with your close social circle. As the old saying goes, “a problem shared is a problem halved.”
We’re all unique and, as individuals, we all cope with stressful situations in different ways. If you’ve suffered from stress before, you may already know what you need to do to take the edge off your stress responses. Now could be the time to perfect your personal coping mechanisms, perhaps by getting ideas from other people and sharing your stress-reduction techniques with them.
Kindness seems to be something more people are talking about in regards to stress. It costs nothing but could make a huge difference in people’s lives. By being kind to each other in April – and every month before and after that – we could reduce stress all round. This can only be a good thing.
Stress can affect you physically as well as mentally, so let’s look at some of the physical manifestations of failing to effectively manage your stress.
Having a healthy heart should always be a top priority. The American Heart Association says that more research is needed to determine the part that stress plays in your heart health. However, experts agree that periods of stress can lead to behaviors that increase the risk of developing heart disease. Maybe you eat more, drink more alcohol, or smoke more when you’re stressed. None of these things are good for your cardiovascular health.
Do you know that your gut is lined with more than 100 million neurons, meaning that – in a sense – it has its own brain? So if stress can affect the mental health of your main brain, maybe it can affect your digestive mental health too. According to Harvard Health, psychological stress can cause ongoing digestive problems, such as constipation or (at the other end of the scale) diarrhea.
If you experience such symptoms for no obvious reason, you should see a doctor sooner rather than later to see if the cause could be psychological rather than physiological.
One of the most visible ways that stress can affect your health is through weight gain. Research published in the Biological Psychiatry Journal suggests that everyday stressors can cause your body to metabolize substances slower, which means you burn fewer calories throughout the day.
According to the National Health Service, obesity and even simply being overweight have been linked to a myriad of health concerns, including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, certain kinds of cancers, and strokes. To avoid these things, there is one clear course of action: look for the signs of stress and start taking the steps to control it.
We all experience some form of stress from time to time. Mental and physical problems arise when this occasional “acute” stress turns into long-term “chronic” stress. Learning to spot the signs of stress could help you keep it in check. According to the Mental Health Foundation, we should be looking out for the following signs of stress:
Some of the physical manifestations of stress are headaches, sickness, and indigestion. You may also experience weight loss or gain. While all these things could be symptomatic of something else, it could be worth consulting with a doctor if you experience a combination of these physical changes.
Stress will impact your mental state. You could find yourself becoming irritable, inflexible, short-tempered, or snapping at people. Stress can also be linked to a lack of sleep and (subsequently) difficulty concentrating. Seek some help if this becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Similar to the mental changes, stress can wreak havoc with your emotional state, and you could start feeling anxious, fearful, frustrated, angry, or sad for no apparent reason. Search for some professional answers if your feelings lead you to be oversensitive and emotional.
Out-of-control emotions can lead to unusual behavior, such as becoming overly reliant on substances such as caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs. Changes to your appetite and sleep patterns could also indicate an issue. Be aware of how you usually – or used to – behave, and ask for advice if anyone tells you you’re not acting like “you.”
Having determined if you are susceptible to stress or are already stressed (as if you didn’t know), are you ready to reduce your stress? Many of the stress tests we’ve listed come with recommendations on how to keep your stress in check. Here are a few stress safety tips that you can include in your stress management toolkit:
Keep a Journal: It can help to write things down. So, if you’re experiencing a broad range of emotions and struggling to cope, buy a notebook to try journaling. Research from the University of Rochester suggests that spending ten minutes per day jotting down how you feel can help lower stress, relieve anxiety, and allow you to better cope with depression.
Exercise: Don’t discount the power of exercise. Physical activity causes your body to produce powerful endorphins. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these hormones can help you sleep and (in turn) lower your stress levels. Whether hitting the gym or simply walking to work, try to incorporate regular exercise into your daily life.
Talk to Your Friends: When you’re stressed out, it can feel as though the whole world is against you, which is certainly not the case. Take the time to express how you feel to the people around you. Opening up about your struggles might mean you get some extra social support, clarity on the situation, and advice from the people who matter the most.
Here’s our takeaway to help take away your stress:
If you experience stress in your own life – like most of us do – or you know other people who are stressed, you should take the time to make a positive change. This could include getting involved with events or simply talking to those around you about this important subject.
Stress Awareness Month is an opportunity to start some serious conversations about stress, but you shouldn’t stop talking about it when April has come and gone.
Stress Awareness Month: https://stressawarenessmonth.com
The American Institute of Stress: https://www.stress.org/
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/
Harvard Health, Articles on Stress: https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/stress
APRIL 9, 2021 | by Armin Brott
April is National Minority Health Month, making it the perfect time to focus on the often-significant disparities in health and well-being that affect racial and ethnic minorities across our country. But it’s important to remember that these inequities exist every single day of the year, not just in April.
What do we mean by “disparities” and “inequities”? Well, according to the Commonwealth Fund (commonwealthfund.org), compared with the general population, members of racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive preventive health services and often receive lower-quality care. They also have worse health outcomes for certain conditions.”
Here are just a few examples. Black Americans are more likely than the general population to have hypertension (high blood pressure) or asthma, to be overweight or obese, and to develop cancer. They’re also less likely to have health insurance, which means that they’re less likely to get the treatment they need to improve their health. Similarly, Hispanic Americans and American Indians and Alaska Natives are more likely than the general population to have diabetes and hypertension, but less likely to have insurance.
And let’s not overlook the health issue that’s been on everyone’s mind for the past 13 months: COVID-19, which has killed more than 550,000 Americans. But COVID hasn’t affected all communities equally. While one in 1,040 Asian Americans and one in 665 White Americans has died from the virus, one in 565 Pacific Islander Americans, one in 555 Black Americans, and one in 390 Indigenous Americans have died, according to APM Research Lab’s “Color of Coronavirus” project (apmresearchlab.org), which tracks the differences in how COVID-19 affects different communities. Put another way, Indigenous, Black, and Pacific Islander Americans are more than twice as likely as the general public to die from COVID.
What causes these disproportionate outcomes from COVID-19 and other causes? Certainly, access to health care (which is in part driven by whether one has health insurance or not) plays a role. But so do poverty, lack of education, unemployment, housing problems, unsafe neighborhoods, shortage of playgrounds and full-service supermarkets (where people can buy healthy food) and other factors. The Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI. pcori.org) has funded more than 100 studies related to these and other disparities.
As we focus on the disparities in health care experienced by many minorities, Men’s Health Network (MHN, menshealthnetwork.org) points out one minority that’s often overlooked: males. While there’s no question that certain ethnic and racial groups do better, health-wise, than others, there’s also no question that within every one of those ethnic and racial groups, boys and men do far worse than girls and women.
For example, on average (counting all racial and ethnic groups), women’s life expectancy is a bit over 81 years; men’s is just 76. Among African and Native Americans, women’s life expectancy is over 78 years, while men’s is around 72.
Focusing just on COVID-19, According to GlobalHealth5050.org, men are less likely than women to be tested, to test positive, and be vaccinated, but they’re more likely than women to require hospitalization and admission to intensive care units (ICUs), and to die. This is true in nearly every age group.
The good news is that many communities around the country are trying to address some of these inequities by doing special outreach—and making vaccines available—to those minority communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID. The bad news is that boys and men—who are more severely affected than females—aren’t given priority.
To celebrate National Minority Health Month, we urge you to let your elected officials know about the health inequities—including the ones that disproportionately affect men—that exist in nearly every community in this country. But you can’t just wait around for everyone else to act, which is why MHN urges you and your family to take the first step: try to get more exercise, eat more fresh fruits and veggies, cut back on red meat, limit your alcohol and quit smoking.
And if you’re male, pick up the phone and make an appointment for a complete physical. At the same time, as long as COVID is an issue, wear your mask when you go out, wash your hands, and get vaccinated. The life you save may be your own.
There isn’t much the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t impacted – it’s affected how we interact with each other, where and how we work, how we celebrate life events, and most importantly, how we feel. Regardless of how you have been impacted by COVID-19, feeling supported and being able to offer support to loved ones has become extremely important. The future is unpredictable and as a society we may be feeling the mental health effects of the pandemic long after it is over, so it’s crucial that we offer support to one another now.
Everyone responds to stress and change differently. You may feel angry, while your best friend feels sad. Someone else may feel nervous, scared or unmotivated. It’s important to recognize changes in those close to you early on, so you can be there for them and offer help as appropriate. It’s also important to remember that there is no single way to offer help, because everyone is unique and has their own story.
Here are some do’s and don’ts from the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum to help you have a supportive conversation with a friend or loved one:
My husband had his first panic attack in his late 40s when he was driving – alone – through a rural area on his way to a business meeting. He stopped at a rest area to get gas and a snack. Not long after resuming his drive, he suddenly felt like his throat was closing up. Convinced that he was going into anaphylactic shock from the peanuts he had just eaten, he drove to the nearest emergency room, where they gave him a shot of ephedrine, monitored him for a while and sent him on his way armed with extra EpiPens and a big hospital bill.
The next few weeks were scary for both of us, but mostly for my husband. After potential physical causes were ruled out, he was told that it had probably “just” been a panic attack brought on by the stress of work and a very unpleasant boss.
After this incident, I wanted to learn more and be better prepared to support my husband. I attended a Mental Health First Aid training held by my employer. After the training, I brought my Mental Health First Aid manual home with me, where it sat, lonely and untouched, because my sweet partner was sure that what had happened to him was a one-time event – and even if by some chance it did happen again, he would just power through it.
Then one night we were sitting downstairs watching television when he said, “I feel funny.”
I said, “Are you going to throw up?”
He said he didn’t think he was going to throw up, but he wasn’t making any promises.
“What are you feeling?” I asked.
He said he was feeling kind of chilled, but also sweaty. He felt like his heart was beating too fast … and that his throat was becoming constricted.
“Hold on,” I said. “Let me go get that book.”
I grabbed my Mental Health First Aid manual and turned to the chapter on First Aid for Mental Health Crises – specifically, “First Aid for Panic Attacks.” I read the list of symptoms and he met about three-quarters of them. We followed the instructions for what to say and do when someone is having a panic attack – stay calm, reassure him that he wasn’t dying, etc. The most reassuring part was being able to let my husband know that the worst of it would probably be over in 10 minutes.
Now, several years later, my husband still experiences anxiety at times, but therapy and using medication as needed have prevented full-blown panic attacks. But, if a panic attack happens, we are both better prepared for it, thanks to the information we gained through Mental Health First Aid.
“My mom is a preacher and she never made me feel like it would be weird [to go to therapy]. But internally, you kind of just have that feeling,” said Jamir Milligan (“Why is it Still so Hard for Young People of Color to Get Therapy,” VICE, June 4, 2019).
Jamir was a 19-year-old student when he first thought about suicide and tried to find a therapist. But it wasn’t easy. He didn’t have any friends or family who had seen a therapist before, so everything was self-directed and self-motivated. On top of that, he faced growing mental health stigma from his community.
“That feeling, as I and so many other black and brown people know, is centuries’ worth of shame surrounding mental illness – especially depression. Depending on your background, depression and other mental illnesses have been addressed in a plethora of ways, including praying it away in Black, Latinx and South Asian cultures, self-medicating or just ignoring it.”
For many communities of color, there is strong resistance against thinking of mental illness in the same way as medical illness, and seeking help is often seen as weakness. The stigma has grown over many years, and now young people like Jamir are facing the consequences.
And Jamir isn’t alone.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of Minority Health, depression is reported as the most common mental health condition across all minorities. The numbers are disheartening :
Many young people of color who are facing mental health or substance use challenges don’t seek therapy because of the stigma and shame associated with mental illness in their communities. When they do, they have very limited access to the help they need.
Some struggle to find a therapist who understands their cultural background or specific concerns, while others can’t find a therapist within their budget.
According to research from 2016, Black and Latinx Americans have had “persistently lower insurance coverage rates at all ages” and those who do have insurance are more likely to lose it compared to their white counterparts. Then, they have to choose between spending more money than they have or getting the mental health help they need.
Mental Health First Aid can help.
Mental Health First Aid teaches people, including young people of color, how to identify the signs and symptoms of a mental health or substance use challenge, where resources can be found and how to address stigma and talk about it.
After multiple meetings and phone calls, Jamir found a therapist who understands his concerns and fits within his budget. But it shouldn’t be this hard and nobody should have to do it alone. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid and join a community of 1.7 million people who understand and value mental health. Together, we can #BeTheDifference and help each other in the journey to recovery.
How – After your initial contact with a person experiencing thoughts of suicide, and after you’ve connected them with the immediate support systems they need, make sure to follow-up with them to see how they’re doing. Leave a message, send a text, or give them a call. The follow-up step is a great time to check in with them to see if there is more you are capable of helping with or if there are things you’ve said you would do and haven’t yet had the chance to get done for the person.
Why – This type of contact can continue to increase their feelings of connectedness and share your ongoing support. There is evidence that even a simple form of reaching out, like sending a caring postcard, can potentially reduce their risk for suicide.
Studies have shown a reduction in the number of deaths by suicide when following up was involved with high risk populations after they were discharge from acute care services. Studies have also shown that brief, low cost intervention and supportive, ongoing contact may be an important part of suicide prevention. Please visit our Follow-Up Matters page for more.
How – Helping someone with thoughts of suicide connect with ongoing supports (like the Lifeline, 800-273-8255) can help them establish a safety net for those moments they find themselves in a crisis. Additional components of a safety net might be connecting them with supports and resources in their communities. Explore some of these possible supports with them – are they currently seeing a mental health professional? Have they in the past? Is this an option for them currently? Are there other mental health resources in the community that can effectively help?
One way to start helping them find ways to connect is to work with them to develop a safety plan. This can include ways for them identify if they start to experience significant, severe thoughts of suicide along with what to do in those crisis moments. A safety plan can also include a list of individuals to contact when a crisis occurs. The My3 app is a safety planning and crisis intervention app that can help develop these supports and is stored conveniently on your smartphone for quick access.
Why – Impact of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline found that individuals that called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline were significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful by the end of calls handled by Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training-trained counselors. These improvements were linked to ASIST-related counselor interventions, including listening without judgment, exploring reasons for living and creating a network of support.
How – First of all, it’s good for everyone to be on the same page. After the “Ask” step, and you’ve determined suicide is indeed being talked about, it’s important to find out a few things to establish immediate safety. Have they already done anything to try to kill themselves before talking with you? Does the person experiencing thoughts of suicide know how they would kill themselves? Do they have a specific, detailed plan? What’s the timing for their plan? What sort of access to do they have to their planned method?
Why – Knowing the answers to each of these questions can tell us a lot about the imminence and severity of danger the person is in. For instance, the more steps and pieces of a plan that are in place, the higher their severity of risk and their capability to enact their plan might be. Or if they have immediate access to a firearm and are very serious about attempting suicide, then extra steps (like calling the authorities or driving them to an emergency department) might be necessary. The Lifeline can always act as a resource during these moments as well if you aren’t entirely sure what to do next.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health notes that reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal means (or chosen method for a suicide attempt) is an important part of suicide prevention. A number of studies have indicated that when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline, and frequently suicide rates overall decline. Research also shows that “method substitution” or choosing an alternate method when the original method is restricted, frequently does not happen. The myth “If someone really wants to kill themselves, they’ll find a way to do it” often does not hold true if appropriate safety measures are put into place. The Keep Them Safe step is really about showing support for someone during the times when they have thoughts of suicide by putting time and distance between the person and their chosen method, especially methods that have shown higher lethality (like firearms and medications).
November 2, 2020 | By Emily Mulligan, via NAMI Blog
It’s simple. Be there for them.
Treat them like a human being, look them in the eyes, and let them know that their disorders do not define them. Tell them that you love them.
Make them a cup of coffee just the way they like it on the days they can’t remember how to work the coffee machine. Pick up their medication from the pharmacist on the weekends when they can’t get out of bed. Ignore those weeks where they might smell a little “funky” because they haven’t had the energy to shower. Do not judge their eating habits during weeks when they’re using food as a crutch.
If they happen to lash out at you in anger, let it go as best you can, and talk them down to a safer level. Lend them a shoulder to cry on, no matter how tear-stained that shoulder may be. Respect their boundaries and do not expect them to readily tolerate things that make them uncomfortable. Learn their body languages, facial expressions and vocal tones, because it’s different for every person.
Most importantly, do not, and I mean do not, be afraid of them. As difficult as they can be during their worst times, they are almost always more of a threat to themselves more than anyone else. Behind all their symptoms, there is usually a loving, breathing, feeling and sad individual who only wants to be understood like everyone else.
Be kind. Be caring. Be respectful and affectionate, just like you would be with anyone else who you are fond of.
Lastly, this is not to say that you shouldn’t have a backbone while dealing with a sick loved one or that you should simply put up with ugly behaviors and compromising situations from them. At times, you will certainly have to stand your ground and let the other person know that they may be overstepping a certain boundary or making you feel uncomfortable, just like with anyone else.
I also am fully aware that sometimes, for your own mental health and well-being, you may have to step away from a relationship with someone who is struggling. Just know that mental illness can make a person unpredictable at times and that person genuinely may not be in control of themselves during periods of psychosis or deeper levels of certain diagnoses, and they may need your help to get out of that dark pit.
It’s not for everyone. Some people, no matter how understanding or loving they may be, just cannot handle a person who is facing this type of illness. I get it. But if you are that special someone, you can be a beautifully shining beacon in that person’s life.
My name is Emily Mulligan. I am 29 years of age, and I have spent my entire life suffering from severe mental illnesses. As I have gotten older, I have felt the need to share my personal story more and more. I have chosen what I believe to be one of my best pieces to submit, and I hope you all enjoy it.
Depression can wear you out at the exact time you need all of your strength to fight. Trying to cope is extremely tiring — and it’s often difficult to know when others are suffering. That’s why, during October, we observe National Depression Education & Awareness Month. This important holiday helps teach us about the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for depression. It also lets all of us know that seeking help — either from a counselor, a trusted friend, or your community — is a sign of hope and strength.
One of the best ways to observe this holiday is to reach out to friends, family, and those in your community. A listening ear, a comforting hug, empathy, and asking questions while withholding judgment can go a long way to comfort others.
Share your story
Don’t be afraid to tell those who are struggling about your own experiences with depression. Depression is extremely common, and helping others know they are not alone can be very encouraging.
One of the best ways you can help yourself (and those around you) is to learn about common symptoms and effects of depression. The more you know, the better you can recognize when someone may need your love and support.
Those who suffer from depression often have more compassion for others, as they are able to more readily understand the hurt and sadness others feel.
Those who struggle with depression are typically less judgmental of others, and tend to believe others when they say they’re “doing their best.”
Studies show people with depression are able to break down complex problems into smaller segments more easily than those who don’t (and they even perform better on certain tests).
It sparks conversations
Talking about depression and removing the stigma around it can do tremendous good. This also helps normalize depression (which is important, considering over 16.2 million people have experienced a major depressive episode). Chat with those in your community and use hashtags like #depressionawareness and #DepressionEducation&AwarenessMonth on social media to start the conversation.
It encourages others to reach out
Coping with depression is something nobody should have to do alone. By being open about the signs and symptoms of depression, and erasing the shame, we can encourage others to speak to a trusted friend, parent, doctor, or therapist about what they’re experiencing.
It ignites national change
Countless celebrities, politicians, and average citizens alike struggle with depression on a daily basis. As such, this opens many doors to change. Donating to a depression support group/organization, joining an awareness walk (such as NAMI), and following celebrity mental health advocates on social media (such as Lady Gaga, Kristen Bell, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Michael Phelps) can help us change the way our culture thinks about and responds to depression.
Mental Health America’s screening tools provide an anonymous, free and private way to learn about your mental health and if you are showing warning signs of a mental illness.
A screening only takes a few minutes, and after you are finished you will be given information about the next steps you should take based on the results. A screening is not a diagnosis, but it can be a helpful tool for starting a conversation with your doctor or a loved one about your mental health.
If you are having a crisis, please dial 911, or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Sisters Taking On the Prevention of Suicide does not provide its own crisis hotline nor its own counseling services.
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