The Mental Health Awareness Thread

Hi all! Lovely fall we are all having so far! I’m looking out my window and watching the mist gather around the Wasatch Front. Lots of beauty to be had in the Valley this time of year. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the picturesque scenery that surrounds us. Autumn is by far my favorite time of year, and fortunately, it looks like we’re even going to get to enjoy a little football even!

I’ve been in an introspective, even pensive place lately. Some of you may have noticed by the nature of a few of my posts. It’s kind of difficult to describe, as I’ve experienced a wide array of emotions for a variety of reasons. I suppose you could say that I’ve felt a lot of gratitude lately, but also some sadness, and some longing. I don’t think that has been unhealthy.

Recently I’ve reflected on some of the people I grew up with and what my perspective was like then as compared to now. I’ve looked back at my first years working with individuals in crisis at the University of Utah and just what I thought I learned from that, despite being fairly young and wet behind the ears. I’ve thought a lot about friends that I’ve had that have had struggle after struggle and just haven’t seemed to catch a break but still find a way to persevere. I’ve also thought a lot about those who didn’t make it. What could their lives have been like if they did?

So what’s my point? If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that mental illness touches just about every family, every person, in one way or another. Working in some of the environments I have has taught me a lot about that. It has just helped me see the humanity in all of it, that mental illness doesn’t really doesn’t discriminate, and that most importantly, people are terrified to talk about it. The stigma surrounding it is profound. It causes the people who so desperately need help to stay ill. To not seek treatment. Right now there are people you know who are “suffering in silence”. It is likely.

I’m not saying that I know exactly what to do. I don’t think anyone does. The only real solution that I’m most supportive is to at least have some discussion about it. The homeless man talking to himself is homeless for a reason. The neighbor who never leaves her house does so for a reason. The kid at church using drugs probably has a reason for that too. Those of you who have had held leadership positions in your churches, managerial roles at your jobs, and various other administrative positions probably all know what I’m talking about.

Many people over the years have felt uncomfortable when I’ve brought such subjects up. That would be more of a reflection of the overall issue, being the stigma, than a lack of tact on my part. I post this here because I recognize it is the most important issue in our society that gets by far the least amount of recognition and support, all because of this perception that mental illness is perceived as some sort of weakness or threat. Neither of these things is true, even statistically speaking.

I don’t expect anyone to share their personal story or experience. But I did think it would be worth sharing some thoughts on it. Below is an article worth reading about Wil Wheaton’s story. I firmly believe in the power of sharing and owning one’s story. He does a fantastic job and touches on some really important things. I’m interested in hearing everyone’s feedback. We can all have a tremendous impact by just being kind in the simplest of ways to people who could just use a friend.

You can also donate to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) through the link below:

https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Donate-to-NAMI

This thread will never die.

“We know that mental illness is not something that happens to other people. It touches us all. Why, then, is mental illness met with so much misunderstanding and fear?”

-Tipper Gore

Since we have threads on so many other topics, I felt compelled to keep this one going, even if I am the only contributor. I am OK with that. I’ve had a few experiences come up recently that have reminded me of the importance of building awareness around this subject. But I don’t think awareness alone is enough. If we want to see change- real change- then we must take action. And through action, I mean through sharing our experiences however we see fit. Tipper Gore was right, mental illness touches us all in some way.

I had a conversation about a woman I knew years ago who took her life. She was an incredible person. She lived with bipolar disorder, which can be notoriously difficult to treat and manage. My friend and I discussed what we could have done differently, and how we were still angry that we lost her. I’ve known many people like her. What I know is, she was afraid to speak openly about the illness she lived with every day. There is no doubt the shame she felt so deeply contributed to her premature death.

I take the time to write this post because I can’t think of a single thing that is more important, especially considering how unrecognized it generally is. It’s also a good exercise for me to reflect on some things, although even I have to be careful about what I disclose publically. I hope that something I post here will be helpful to someone at some point.

https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Donate-to-NAMI

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Mental Illness is the hurt no one can see.

It’s those days when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and cry.

It’s the energy of putting on the “face” for the public feels like being crushed under the weight of the world.

It’s always being tired, sleeping badly, wanting to lash out against those who you think are causing you to feel that way.

It’s the feeling of constantly being overwhelmed and desiring an escape.

It’s losing the feelings of joy and contentment in major accomplishments and in sharing time with others.

It’s grinding on through the day and bracing for the next one.

It’s knowing you need help, but being ashamed because you are supposed to be “stronger” than the weakness.

It’s hearing those close to you tell you “it’s a phase…it will pass…just suck it up…it will all be better tomorrow” and it never is. It is SOSDD.

If someone reaches out to you for help, please help them. NAMI does good in a world of serious unseen hurt. If your friend is a veteran, listen to them and help them access their VA mental health resources.

Listen…help…support…it’s what you can do that will make a difference.

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Today is World Mental Health Day!

Below is an article I found from NAMI. It’s a good read!

Gives us good things to think about.

                                                                                                                                                                Secrets and lies.

That’s how I would describe the beginning of my decades-long battle with mental illness.

The year was 1996, I was 17 years old, and my life came to a stand-still because of depression,

anxiety and an eating disorder. I had no community to call upon, few friends that knew of my struggles.

Everyone knew something was wrong. I couldn’t keep my outward appearance or drastic personality

changes to myself. But mental illness wasn’t something you talked about. Why had I lost so much weight?

Why was I in and out of the hospital? Mono was going around our school; that must have been it.

Why did I drop out of high school with my straight-A grades and high ACT score? It couldn’t be that.

I must have graduated early.

Secrets and lies.

I was very sick, with some mystery illness. That’s all anyone needed to know. My family and I told few people of the truth behind the illnesses that had shattered our lives. People didn’t really want to know back then. The burden of mental illness was too much for anyone to bear, least of all the person trying to survive it.

My battle with mental illness continues today, almost 25 years later. Recovery is a non-linear journey for me, although there has undoubtedly been upward motion. I did drop out of high school to focus on recovery, but I also went on to graduate from college. I married the love of my life and we have three beautiful children. I’m active in my church and community. I live a mostly normal, happy life.

“Hi, I’m Sarah, and I have mental illness” isn’t necessarily how I’d introduce myself if we were to meet, but most of my friends and a good deal of my acquaintances know about my struggle with mental illness. Why am I so open about it? What has changed since 1996?

No more secrets. No more lies.

I’ve struggled immensely and worked hard to have the life I have now. My mental illness was often a roadblock in my journey to this life, but it also served as a map to understanding myself and my hopes and dreams. Does it define me? Of course not. But it is part of the definition of me. I am a warrior. I have fought hard battles, and I live the life that I do because of and despite my mental illness. I’m extraordinarily proud of my struggles.

As a presenter for NAMI’s Ending the Silence Program, I now go into middle and high schools and do the one thing I could not do when my journey began. I talk openly, honestly and unashamedly about my struggles and triumphs with mental illness.

No more secrets. No more lies.

I look at the girl I once was, who desperately wanted those around me to understand my struggles, but who was drowned in shame and stigma. I speak for her. I speak for the student who can’t quite put their finger on what’s wrong with them, but knows it is something that needs addressing. I speak for the student who is worried about a friend. I speak for transparency and truth. I speak with pride.

To say it is cathartic to walk into a school and speak openly about mental illness, years after my battle began, would be an understatement. I think back to my high school experience, with all the secrets and lies, and how drastically the course of my life would have been altered if someone had come in and talked to me about mental illness. How the awareness could have prompted me to get help earlier. How breaking down shame and stigma would have allowed me to seek out the support I desperately needed. How I maybe wouldn’t have felt so alone.

I’m Sarah and I have mental illness. I’ll say it louder for the people in the back. No more secrets, no more lies. I am proud of who I am. I’m a wife and a mom. I’m a college graduate. I’ve run a marathon and 10 half marathons. I’ve been hospitalized for mental illness three different times, and to this day, I see a therapist and psychiatrist regularly. I’ll never go off my medication. I have friends who understand and embrace my struggles. They come over and babysit my children and bring my family meals when I’m struggling. They are almost as proud of me as I am of myself.

I wish I could tell my 17-year-old self to lose the secrets and lies — to be honest and open. To take pride in the journey and know that it is in the journey that life is lived. I can’t change the past, but I can move forward with no secrets, no lies, no shame, no stigma.

Sarah Marsh lives in suburban St. Louis with her husband and three children. She has been presenting NAMI Ending the Silence for NAMI St. Louis since January 2019.

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I was a landlord for several years, tenants created some drama I didn’t always understand. But it’s still easy money compared to having a second job and if you’re in a position to be a landlord you’re also in a much better position than anyone renting from you, so have some compassion. If you can’t handle dealing with people who are not in ideal circumstances or may have mental health troubles please do not be a landlord, you will not enjoy it anyway.

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Thanks for sharing these. This year has been hell on people who were already dealing with underlying issues.

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Yes, thank you for sharing. As @Duhwayne said this year has been hell on those with underlying issues. I am among those who’s had a tough year. I know of others who’s year has been worse.

All I can really add is pay attention to yourself, your family, and friends. If you’re like me, you can see something going on with yourself but not be able to do much except find the strength to ask for help. Watch your friends and family, they may be better actors than you realize. They may be saying on the outside things are fine, but are full of turmoil and, or sadness on the inside.

I read an article recently that discussed long term anger as another symptom of depression. So again, watch yourself, your friends, and family. If something seems odd, it probably is.

There are no easy answers, and what works for me, may not work for you or someone else, but there is help.

I don’t think I can stress this enough, there is help.

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Lawsuit.

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Thank you for bumping this thread!

Disturbing article, but not surprising. Given all the emotional triggers COVID hit alone, folks were having a hard time coping. Add all the natural disasters we have seen over the last 18 months on top, and you have the recipe for breaking people…lots of people.

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Keep a close eye on your teen. Even your college aged kids.

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This is a very interesting short video by Gabor Mate, one of the most recognized and respected experts on addiction in the world. The video describes his personal view of addiction, its origins, and what he sees as the most realistic solutions to the ever-growing problem. He addresses the connection between suffering (like that caused by mental illness and the related pain) and addiction.

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One of my twins (8.5) has always struggled with anger management, partially due to some ADHD issues. When he started getting in fights at school this year, we looked into getting him some professional help. He did some counseling through the school last year, which really helped.

We are currently on waiting lists with 4 different counseling centers, and have been for nearly 2 months now. We had another 6 tell us they simply have no room at all for new patients.

The demand is massive right now, which has certainly been frustrating when trying to get some help.

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It’s hard to argue with a medical doctor that has years of experience working with the addicted population. However, I think he might have a bit of tunnel vision, possibly due to the population he has been dealing with.

I don’t like that he speaks in absolutes at the beginning, he says that all addiction is rooted in easing suffering due to trauma. He said “all” the women had been sexually abused, and “all” the men had been traumatized, sometimes sexually.

I personally know of people whose roots of addiction did not come from easing traumatic suffering. There is definitely a physical change that occurs in the brain after repeated exposure to chemicals in drugs. Those addicted are chasing the high that the drugs provide their brains pleasure center. They crave it more than they care about being a productive member of society. They crave it more than keeping friends and family relationships. They crave it more than food or water.

I did like his thoughts on changing the approach for “curing” addiction. Address the root cause. For some it might be suffering from trauma or mental illness. For others, it might be replacing that high with a different kind of pleasure (often by turning to God, or some other way of finding inner peace). However, due to the chemical changes in the brain, an addict is never truly cured. It their brain is reminded of the pleasure of the high, the intense craving will return.

Finally, I sensed that he was against keeping addictive drugs illegal. I have heard others advocate for this, and I will always argue against this. Alcohol, tobacco, and even marijuana I can see being legal because they are in the lower end of the spectrum for harm due to addiction. But hard drugs like narcotics, meth, etc. are too harmful to society. Their addictive properties are too strong, and encourage anti-social behavior like stealing and violence because eif the overwhelming need the addiction causes.

I hope I haven’t offended anyone with my viewpoint. I have firsthand experience dealing with addicts. More the kind that starts with suburban teenagers, moms, or those hooked by pain medication than those on the street self medicating for trauma or mental illness. I’ve seen firsthand the pain it causes both the addicted and their loved ones. I recently had surgery, and did everything in my power to avoid taking any of the narcotic pain
medication prescribed for me for out of fear. I’d rather deal with a few days of physical pain than the possibility of a lifetime of addiction. There, but for the grace of God, go I.

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I had a knee replacement last summer and had oxycontin available for a week or so. I’ve never taken depressants of any kind so it was a new experience for me. I was deeply impressed–amazed, really-- at how effective that narcotic was in treating my pain, and it was also clear to me how someone with chronic pain could easily become dependent/addicted to oxycontin. (I know people who’ve had the problem.) I appreciated my physician’s very conservative approach to prescribing it, and because I didn’t like the way it made me feel, I stopped taking it 5 days into my recovery. I discovered that Aleve worked great for me–especially prior to physical therapy appointments. (Ouch!) Opioids are powerful stuff.

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The main point I think we should arrive at is addicts aren’t criminals they are sick. And everyone has addictions in their lives. We all medicate in some form or another. Whether it be stress, pain, trauma, depression or whatnot. And we medicate with different things, from drugs to food to work and on and on.

But if we view addicts to hard drugs as sick and we treat them as such, we’ll stop looking at punishments and start looking for cures. We’ll use compassion and patience.

Keep the sale and use of hard drugs illegal, but stop punishing those who are sick the way you do the people who are pushing the illness.

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I look more broadly to how different populations use substances.

My Tongan “cousins” use Kava - non-alcoholic, very mild, non-addictive - as a social lubricant, and if need be, as a problem resolution device. “Come, let’s drink kava and talk about this problem”. It certainly is effective, and many people take kava capsules for anxiety without the cultural experience I’ve had.

I have a co-worker from Mexico who is indigenous, who went through a maturation ritual as a teenager using mushrooms. She said it was 3 days of very intense imprinting that still guides her life daily.

12,000 years ago, as Lake Bonneville was draining, Native American hunted in the marshy landscape that is now the harsh desert between SLC and Wendover. Last year archeologists found tobacco seeds at a dig site a Dugway.

Human beings have long known how substances affect them, sometimes work them into their belief systems, use them to ease the traumas of their time, like (perhaps) losing a battle with a Mammoth they were trying to hunt for food, losing family members in the process.

Some individuals, and some populations, are more prone to addiction than others. I’ve seen firsthand how alcohol has a much stronger, more immediate biological effect on Native Americans and Polynesians. Over hundreds of thousands of years, they metabolize that substance differently than populations who’ve been around alcohol all that time.

But meth and crack transcend any population differences to seize control of brains mercilessly.

The pharmacological research on this is essential. I’m glad the Huntsmans took over UNI and are trying to replicate what has been done at Huntsman Cancer Institute. They lost a daughter to addiction.

If we can create powerful narcotics like oxycontin, just maybe we can create interventions to re-wire brains to free them from addiction. It’s a steep research hill to climb, but the DOD (for one) has some deep pockets to help find the breakthroughs. We need them.

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