Posted in Mindfulness Matters, Personal Perspective, Topical Time

Suicide in the 21st Century

The first week of June was filled with devastation and despair. First, Kate Spade, a celebrated handbag designer, committed suicide at the age of 55. Then, Anthony Bourdain, acclaimed chef and storyteller on his show Parts Unknown, committed suicide at the age of 61. Lastly, a comprehensive study from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found a 30 percent increase in suicides in more than half of the states over the last two decades.

If reading that last paragraph made you feel hopeless, you aren’t alone. Mid-June I was going to work, going to class, meeting with friends, but I was numb.

I was reading Malcolm Harris’ Kids These Days at the time. His chapter on “Behavior Modification” illuminated more troubling information about mental illness in America. Despite tremendous growth in pharmaceutical treatment for mental illness, Harris notes there hasn’t been a decline in suicides. In fact, along with the rise of suicide, there’s been a 500 percent increase in depression since the 1980s.

I know medication can save lives. It’s critical in some situations. I would never suggest someone refuse medication or suddenly stop taking medication. However, I’ve tried over a dozen antidepressants in the past 15 years. In my opinion, medication on its own isn’t enough. Talk therapy (psychotherapy) can help people gain a greater understanding of mental illness and learn different skills that can lower distress. The American Psychiatric Association acknowledges that medication and talk therapy have similar effects on the brain. Therapy’s saved my life, more than once, and conversations I’ve had with others make me well aware that I’m not the only one.

On a national level, there’s been recognition of the power of communication when it comes to extreme distress and suicidal urges. Signs like these have been going up all around the city urging those who need help to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

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Talking is the last resort. If it’s the last resort, it should also be the first. Unfortunately, as is the issue with most treatments for mental illness, there are so many barriers to talk therapy like access, affordability, and stigma that people who recognize they need help often can’t get it.

So, where does all this leave us?

The events of early June made it abundantly clear that suicide can touch anyone regardless of how much or how little they have. I think it’s important that we remember that and make an effort to check in on one another more often, especially if on the outside it looks like everything is fine. It’s not going to be easy with all the distractions of our digitized lives, but when we start the conversation we stop the stigma. That’s power.

We also need to push our elected officials to put more funding into mental health. Despite the 30 percent rise in suicides, our current president seeks to cut funding to the National Institute of Mental Health by 30 percent in 2019 (among other things). On the state level, New York and Virginia passed laws mandating mental health education. I think this has the potential to be a step in the right direction, especially with reductions in federal funding. Kids can learn how to take care of their mental health and that there’s nothing wrong with them if they experience mental illness. I’ll keep an eye out to see how this new law is implemented because I’m skeptically optimistic.

In a seemingly hopeless situation, there is still hope for us to hold onto. It’s kind of like the routine flight attendants go over before the flight takes off in case the cabin loses oxygen. Put your oxygen mask on first, but then turn to those around you and help them breathe. Take care of your mental health, but then do what you can to help your community engage with theirs.

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Posted in Life Lessons

Feeling S.A.D.?

As soon as the temperature dropped into the sixties and the scent of fall permeated the air around us I felt myself sinking. The changing season means that the sun will be dipping into the horizon earlier and by the time we leave work the landscape surrounding us will be shrouded in darkness. It reminds us that winter is right around the corner and we’ll soon be shivering as we shuffle from place to place. It’s understandable these changes can lead to seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.).

There are a few ways to combat S.A.D. One option is to talk to your doctor and see if medication or therapy might offset some of your symptoms, but it’s not the only route. In research for this post I came across a recent article from Columbia Chronicle and it suggests looking into getting a, “specialized SAD box or light box.” It’s a small box that emits an artificial light that replicates the sun. Stennett notes that, “The benefits of light therapy, also known as phototherapy or helioptherapy, have been proven to replace medicine for those with SAD.” This is something I’ve never looked into so I took some time looking at options. I’ve put a random photo as an example of one type of light therapy box:

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I’m not done shopping around, but so far it looks like the minimum cost for a light therapy box is around $70. It seems steep, but if it alleviates some of the S.A.D. struggle it might be worth it. When I do select a model to try I’ll post an update on the blog after a month of use. In the meantime I’ll keep learning and practicing self care.

If you’d like some holistic suggestions I found a nice article at Jackson Free Press that has some good tips for preparing for winter, particularly the segment on taking a few moments to breathe the air in as the temperature continues to shift.

Posted in Life Lessons

Mental Healthcare is a Struggle

For the past year (maybe even more) I have been struggling to get back into regular treatment with a therapist. It’s something I don’t talk about because it’s a frustrating process. I won’t waste much time on how hard it is to get access to healthcare. Seeing a regular doctor for a routine health issue can be a complicated process with numbers, carriers, referrals, approvals, co-pays and so on. Access to treatment for specific illnesses involves more complications. Without insurance it’s nearly impossible to afford treatment. 

Beyond the issue of access there’s the problem of stigma associated with mental illness that can make reaching out for help incredibly difficult. I talk a bit about the weight of stigma is in my post Bouncing Back From The Blues.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) put together an excellent fact sheet on mental illness statistics in the United States and it’s saddening yet not surprising to me that Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year.” To put that percentage into perspective there are approximately 43.8 million people living with mental illness in the U.S., which breaks down to approximately 26 million people without care. 

More than an individual’s mental health is at stake when mental illness goes untreated. Lack of treatment is a risk to physical health. NAMI notes, Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.” Lack of treatment can lead to traumatic outbursts and, “Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. indicating that there are countless people out there without hope for the possibility of healing.

Let’s pretend you have great insurance and can get right to a mental health professional without a referral. Then there’s the chance that they might not be a good fit for you. There are innumerous horror stories about providers that fail to help. I heard something that really touched me in a podcast from Psych Central. Their guest Natasha Tracy recalled an incredibly painful comment that a provider made when she was feeling suicidal, “You’ve tried every treatment and they’ve all failed, what’s the point in you having a doctor?” For Natasha those words, “drove me into a place where I felt like suicide absolutely was the only option for me.” I haven’t been in the exact situation, but I have been in similar situations where I was searching for hope and help and instead was met with judgement and defeat.

Recently thanks to a random series of circumstances I have been linked with a therapist that wants to help and fits my needs. A friend begun treatment and loved it so much that she gave me their information. I had given up on finding a provider because each referral was for a clinic I could never make it to since they were only open during regular business hours, but my friend’s excitement about tackling her anxiety gave me the courage to reach out to the contact she gave me. I was impressed at how quickly they responded. Not only did they take my insurance, they had me setup for an appointment in less than a week. I’m still slightly apprehensive about the process since I’ve been burned before, but I know how helpful it is to have that support while I sort out my thoughts and behaviors and aim for a happier life.

If you’re out there struggling with your mental health you are not alone and there is hope, even if you can’t see it right now. Call the suicide line at 1-800-273-8255 if you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, they’re there to help. You matter.

Posted in Life Lessons

Body on the Tracks

“Body on the Tracks”

Huddled. An empty train packed.

Delayed. Half hour commute tripled.

Paused for Signal. Still silent bodies wait.

We appreciate your patience.

Rerouted. Shuttle buses to final destinations.

Tracks closed from Belmont to North/Clybourn.

Two miles of investigation.

Attempts to make sense of the unknown.

Two miles of collection.

Piecing together an incomplete picture.

Two miles of re-assembling existence extinguished.

We apologize for the inconvenience.


I wrote this poem this morning after my commute to work. Normally it takes 30-40 minutes and today that was almost tripled. All the CTA would let us know was that downtown service was stopped from Belmont due to police activity. Maybe I should have assumed it was a jumper, but I didn’t. After I found out the delay didn’t matter as much. I only felt sadness and that question that always looms… why?

For more on what happened head to the Chicago Tribune.

Posted in Life Lessons

Asking Is The Hard Part

We are stubborn, fearful of rejection, and don’t want to “bother” anyone, or at least that’s how I feel when I think of asking anyone for anything. I get anxious even just asking my roommate/best friend/therapist if I can eat some of her chips. Okay, so, normally instead of some I eat them all, but that’s besides the point!

It dawned on me recently that while my dream is mine alone, I am not alone in bringing it to fruition. I can already count a dozen people that have had a hand in this blog from reviewing concepts to proofreading posts, and even promoting. I owe a great debt to each of them for their solicited assistance.

I might not have made this blog live if I hadn’t womaned up and asked Becky Sarwate to take a look and give me some feedback. I have found it to be true that most people are willing to help. All you need to do is be respectful, direct and work up the courage to ask.

There are two caveats. One is to make sure that you are making a reasonable request. Consider that this person is taking time that could have been spent elsewhere to help you accomplish your goal. Be specific in your request so they know what agreeing entails.

The second is to be grateful. Appreciate their kindness and the next time someone asks you for help before you say no graciously consider the request. Do not let the magic of these simple exchanges fall away!

Here’s some tools to help you ask away:

7 Effective Ways to Ask for Help (and Get It): I love number four the “Foot in the Door” or “Door in the Face.” Ask a smaller question to get the chance to ask the bigger one!

5 Ways to Get Better at Asking for Help: Cannot get over how excellent number five is: create a culture where asking for help is encouraged.

Asking For Help Reveals Strength, Not Weakness: “The truth is we all have gifts to share -” YES!

Savvy Psychologist: How to Ask for Help: Effective tools to use when the anxiety about the ask begins to set in.

2 Words That Make Asking for Help a Lot Easier: I wasn’t sure what the words were, but this makes sense. Those words connect with the human instinct to help those in need.

 



 

I couldn’t close a post about asking for help without mentioning Chester Bennington’s suicide. The weight of losing someone so pivotal in my survival as a teen and seeing the collective suffering of others has been tragic this week. One question keeps kicking around my brain, what can we do about it?

As much as this post is about someone asking for help, I think some of these techniques might be able to apply to those surrounding someone who’s struggling. We often know something is wrong, but don’t know where to begin or how to get someone to open up. Maybe if we follow that “foot in the door” method and start with some small asks with friends (ex. how has work/school/hobby been lately? what do you want for dinner? how is your family?) these might open a space to ask the bigger more personal questions. There’s so much stigma around mental illness that reaching out can be an insurmountable task, perhaps we can help those we love towards that step.

I wrote about my own struggles with suicide previously in Bouncing Back From The Blues. Sometimes my days are filled with suicidal thoughts, and other times, like now, I am lucky enough to only have a few a week. You are not alone. Have hope. Reach out. We need you.

Posted in Backwards is Better, Life Lessons

Bouncing Back From the Blues

It happens. You were super busy, feeling confident and capable of it all. And then you hit a wall. Not a literal wall, but something inside holds you back. That’s what happened to me these past few months. Things were falling into place, but then I shifted. Everything felt wrong and scary. I had trouble looking at myself in the mirror because I couldn’t be honest about my state of mind. It was a mixture of my own issues and waves of grief. Existence was a struggle.

It’s easy to feel ashamed and like you need to hide what you’re going through, but that is fucked up. Bottling things up only fuels the fire of negative introspection. Check out the Association for Psychological Science’s article Stigma as a Barrier to Mental Health Care and read about the impact mental health stigma has.

Aside from seeking professional help (which I did), there is little you can do to fix this. While you are waiting it out be kind to yourself, and try being honest with others.If someone asks how you are don’t mumble the typical retort of “fine.” Own that you are going through some shit. Take the support (this is as much for me as the reader).

An organization focusing on mental health education and suicide prevention through self-expression is Hope for the Day. I learned about them at their booth at Riot Fest years ago and I’ve found a lot of support there.

A new resource of self-support I’ve found is meditation. I started using Headspace. It’s an easy app you can download on your phone and within the 10-minute sessions, I feel like I’m getting to know myself in a new way. Sometimes there is a huge mind/body disconnect for me and I’ve found this helps ground me. Fair warning, after the trial there is a charge.

Healing is hard. There is no magical cure. This will likely happen again, either unexpectedly or with a bit of warning on the way down. I’ll end the same way a New York Times article on Julien Baker does, with a quote from her, “I wouldn’t say it gets better. We just get better at dealing with it.”

If you find yourself in a dangerous state of mind please reach out. If not to your doctor, a friend or family member, if not them then call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.