The stigma surrounding mental health costs us all

You think coming out of the closet is tough? Try coming out of the padded closet. Since an admission of having been treated for mental illness renders one virtually unemployable, it effectively silences most.

Women feel comfortable sharing every gory detail of their labor and delivery experience, yet you won’t hear them standing in line for the potluck chatting about visits to the psych ward, the merits of cognitive behavioral therapy, or springtime mania.

But there’s hope. The editor of Women’s Health disclosed her OCD diagnosis in their May 2016 issue. The issue profiles women who have been treated for mental illness, “Whether we have OCD or anxiety or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, all of us share one common challenge: stigma. It shrouds mental illness, leaving patients to suffer alone and in silence, fearful of repercussions.”

Coping successfully with schizophrenia
The subhead of this 2015 Women’s Health profile of Rachel Star Withers, a 30-year-old successfully coping with schizophrenia, reads, “I’m hallucinating to some degree 90 percent of the time.”

Withers’ journey to the independent life she lives today involved a lot of trial and error as well as plenty of courage. She developed enough confidence to make a career out of various part-time jobs such as working behind and in front of the camera for cable television shows and teaching acting. In the article, she admits, “I get really edgy if I have to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week.”

Society loses out
Not using an integrative approach for treating mental illness borders on malpractice, because there are so many individuals struggling with mental illness and on disability who could work. Work not only provides independence via self-sufficiency, but also is therapeutic as it engages the mind.

Flawed disability system
The all-or-nothing way disability is structured needs to change. There are many people on disability diagnosed with mental illness who cannot commute, work 40 to 60 hours every week, or work in high-stress environments, but they could work part-time or close to full-time. There should be a formula that lets them replace part or most of their disability with wages (beyond the current token amount), but still stay in the system, because those with chronic illness have times in which they cannot work, which can last for weeks, so that they can get back to equilibrium.

Exercise overlooked
Exercise is one simple accommodation that has been proven to be the most effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. It is given lip service, but not seriously prescribed or monitored. Exercise is biochemistry. Strength training benefits the brain in certain ways and aerobic exercise benefits it in other ways.

Co-occurring disorders
Addiction, including codependency, often accompanies depression and bipolar disorder, yet often it is not addressed or treated. PTSD, learning disabilities, nutritional deficiencies, and vocational challenges can all play a part too, yet pharmaceuticals are expected to fix everything.

Cultural Aspect
With mental illness, part of the problem is cultural. In addition to its stigma, which compromises treatment and career options, our culture celebrates sleep deprivation and endless work hours rather than productivity, and promotes obesity and daily habits that do not contribute to mental health. Try walking a block without encountering a Frappuccino, frozen yogurt, or French fries. There’s candy for sale at the checkout in the hardware store, clothing store, and even sporting good store.

Campaign to fight mental health stigma
Clinical psychologist Lisa Aguilar Slover has undertaken a publicity project, I Am the Face of Mental Illness, that aims to “greatly decrease the stigma attached to having a mental illness.” Quoting from her website:

I hope for a day that someone can say, “I’m sorry, I can’t come into work today, I just had a major panic attack and now I just need to sleep,” in the same way that someone can call and say, “I’m sorry, I’m having a severe migraine and cannot come into work today.”

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Every Song Tells a Story

Some songs are better at storytelling than entire novels or movies. The nuances of the music, the lyrics, the tone, and the emotion of the singer quickly take you through the main character’s journey. Two recent songs come to mind.

Every woman who has a habit of falling for “bad boys,” can relate to Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”. These two lines sum up the fix, the rush, that instant, intense romance provides.

You can tell me when its over
If the high was worth the pain

Novelists spend pages and pages establishing characters, but what better way to describe a spirited young woman with a self-destructive streak than these seven words:

I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream

Mike Posner’s “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” laments the aftermath of the endless party enabled by designer drugs and the fall from popularity of a pop singer.

But you don’t want to be high like me
Never really knowing why like me

On his blog, Mike Posner details the evolution of the song, and the elaborate and unusual mixing process he came up with to showcase the lyrics.

Ironically, the song didn’t become a monster hit until a couple of Norwegian music producers called Seeb produced a dance club version of it, which is a story unto its own.

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Losing Out on Potential Teen Power — Our Curriculum is Costing Us

“It’s amazing that a kid can have an idea and end up serving other kids in the community,” said Nicole Peters, development associate of Door of Hope (Girl Scout’s project provides hope through hoops by Bill Plaschke).

The Jan. 22, 2016 Los Angeles Times article tells the story of Claire Dundee. She spent seven months earning her Girl Scout Gold Award by organizing a basketball court construction project at the Door of Hope apartment complex, which provides transitional living for women and children left homeless as a result of domestic violence.

“For kids going through trauma, to be able to do kid things, that’s such a big thing,” said Tim Peters, executive director of Door of Hope.

Why isn’t school more like this humanitarian teen’s project?

Claire gained estimating, project management, negotiating, fund raising, and event planning skills — sophisticated skills that can be transferred into the marketplace.

Not to mention confidence and the joy she gained from knowing that she was responsible for improving the lives of children whose young lives have already been scarred by poverty and violence.

Outdated Curriculum

Many teens nowadays are losing critical developmental years playing to their weak suit, academically advanced curriculum that emphasizes theory and memorization instead of problem solving and creativity. Figuring out how to pull off a project of the magnitude of Hoops for Hope involves a lot of creativity. Although we associate creativity with music, art, and theater, resourcefulness and problem solving demand creative thought processes.

Not everyone is wired to be an engineer, a medical doctor, or a professor. So why does our curriculum generally play to only two (linguistic and mathematical) of the eight intelligences? (According to Howard Gardner, there are eight intelligences: musical, spatial, linguistic, mathematical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic, and each individual has a blend of them.)

With the technology that exists today, teens could learn math, writing, software, interpersonal, and so many other skills while tackling community problems and the nuances of the marketplace. Foreign language skills could be cemented by engaging in joint projects with students in foreign countries.

The possibilities are endless. Instead of all but the most academic of teens emerging from high school in a sleep-deprived daze unsure of career options and with little self-knowledge, we could end up with most teens graduating high school engaged, community-oriented, and confident of their future.

 

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Did Lakeisha Holloway temporarily “lose her mind”?

Lakeisha Holloway lost access to her judgment the moment she decided to shelter her three-year-old daughter overnight in an automobile parked on the streets of Las Vegas. Whatever condition Ms. Holloway’s thought processes were in before her “vacation” in Las Vegas, spending several days attempting to care for herself, let alone a three-year-old, from a car (minus a bathroom, kitchen, play area, living space, or heat) could not have improved them. Not to mention that her shelter-on-wheels was being constantly asked to move.

During the days Ms. Holloway and her daughter were living out of an automobile, did any of the hotel staffers who chased the two of them off their employer’s property refer this homeless mother with her toddler in tow to a shelter or call the police? The police would have referred Ms. Holloway to mental health professionals who would have evaluated her, and a tragedy most likely would have been averted.

Words cannot express how tragic it is that a mother of three lost her life while simply taking a walk.

What is mental illness, but the vulnerability to impaired judgment that is not due to the influence of mind-altering substances? What is mental illness, but a brain disorder? If your brain is not functioning properly, who do you become?

According to those who knew Ms. Holloway well, on Sunday, December 20, Ms. Holloway became someone other than herself. Ms. Holloway’s cousin and former co-workers have attested to her character in various news reports. They describe a grateful, loving, spiritual, resilient young woman who loved working for the forestry service.

If Ms. Holloway had brain cancer or had her blood sugar slipped perilously out of control to the extent that it could have impaired her judgment and behavior, would societal wrath be so strong?  Brain disorders that we call mental illness are far more complex to identify, let alone treat. There is no way to prick your finger, draw blood, dip a test strip in that drop of blood, and get a reading that represents the state of your judgment.

I do not believe that Ms. Holloway acted intentionally, that she intended to harm pedestrians. I think she lost her temper, and, in her diminished capacity that was a great departure from her true character, threw a tantrum. Judging from witnesses, she appeared to be in such an impaired state that, at that time, she was possibly delusional or in a dissociative state — not present.

Although at 24, Ms. Holloway is legally an adult, she is still a young adult with a brain not quite fully developed. The development of the prefrontal cortex, the section of the brain that is responsible for judgment, impulsivity, and other executive function is now considered complete at 25.

There might not have been any way to predict that the prefrontal cortex of this vibrant young mother would lose function to the degree that her judgment would become grossly impaired, the filter to counter her anger would disappear, and impulsivity would take over and allow her to vent her frustration and anger with what had become her prison, her car. Does an angry three-year-old understand the consequences of driving a car on a sidewalk? Someone whose brain has become disordered lacks the ability to reason just as a three-year-old lacks that ability.

I pray that Ms. Holloway has access to spiritual guidance as well as an integrative psychiatrist who can help her restore her shattered spirit and teach her how to take care of herself so that she never experiences another break from reality. Brains are our most complex organ, and those who succeed in overcoming their brain disorders learn many strategies to monitor brain function such as tracking their sleep and moods and other aspects of health that influence brain function.

Lakeisha Holloway was a productive member of society once, and she can be again. Her little girl must miss her mommy a lot.

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Demi Lovato Scholarship

Mental illness and addiction are so often intertwined and seldom effectively treated together. One has to redesign one’s entire lifestyle to achieve mental health and serenity. Sometimes careers have to change. Often relationships have to change — negative individuals have to be weeded out.

Becoming a productive member of society and restoring one’s broken spirit is a process. Meaningful work and positive relationships are what keep someone fighting for their health.

Demi Lovato created The Lovato Scholarship, which covers holistic treatment and transitional living expenses for individuals struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues. CAST Recovery Services, one of the organizations who administers The Lovato Scholarship, offers:

  • Educational and career support including internships
  • Intensive outpatient services
  • Interventions
  • Legal assistance
  • Lifestyle coaching
  • Neurofeedback
  • Services for families
  • Sober companions

Twenty percent of the proceeds from Dream Walking will be donated to The Lovato Scholarship as the novel’s main character eventually overcomes her struggles with addiction and mental illness albeit with a lot of help.

 

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Compulsivity, Depression, and Coping Skills

Rehab, the psych ward, or prison — no one ends up there, because they have great coping skills. My attempt at levity….

It’s hard for me to write about addiction and depression, because those two subjects involve pain, suffering, and stigma, and the science explaining addiction or depression is complex, yet inconclusive. It is much easier to fictionally portray characters struggling with either. However, I know a lot about fighting depression, because of my own journey. Many of the effective coping skills I learned to fight depression resulted from using my research and interviewing skills courtesy of the education in journalism with which I was blessed.

Humor is one of my coping skills. Study after study demonstrates that laughter is relaxing and therapeutic. Also, making fun of yourself allows you to step back and see your part in the equation of whatever is getting under your skin.

BTW, one of my favorite comedy clips, Sebastian Manascalco — Ordering at Subway.

In 2016, I will focus this blog on reviewing articles, books, fiction, and Internet resources related to addiction, depression, creativity, and education. Some random thoughts below.

Benzos don’t teach you how to cope
I couldn’t help but vent about how much I hate benzodiazepines, benzos, in my last blog, Did addiction claim yet another creative — Scott Weiland. The problem with the long-term use of benzos is that they don’t teach you how to cope with anything, let alone addiction or depression. I have watched friends slide deeper into their other addictions while convincing themselves that the prescribed Xanax, Valium, Ativan, etc. they could not live without were helping them, because these highly addictive minor tranquilizers so effectively numbed their anxiety.

Research has only scratched the surface
Why someone becomes an addict or remains an addict is still somewhat of a mystery. To add to the mystery, addiction can be intertwined with mental illness. If there weren’t such stigma to mental illness and such superficial treatment of addiction, research would be further along, treatment would be more effective, and neither would be so enigmatic.

Is mental illness even the correct term?
In 2013, the former head of the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Thomas Insel, gave a TED Talk, Toward a New Understanding of Mental Illness, and emphasized that until mental illness is regarded as a brain disorder instead of as a mental or behavioral disorder, the stigma persists and research is stalled.

Compulsivity and Addiction
According to author, educator, and counselor John Bradshaw who has written many books on healing from addiction and family dynamics, compulsivity lies beneath addiction. Addiction/compulsivity, which can be the sub-conscious desire to self-destruct, the inability to experience one’s feelings, the ticket to remaining a child or adolescent emotionally, or…. It must be damned near impossible for someone with a healthy sense of self, i.e. most M.D.s, to understand its dynamic

In his book On the Family, Bradshaw defines addiction as “any pathological relationship with any mood-altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.”

A 2010 article by George F. Koob and Nora D. Volkow in the scientific journal Neuropsychopharmacology, Neurocircuitry of Addiction, explains the chemical changes that the brain undergoes during various stages of addiction.

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Did addiction claim yet another creative — Scott Weiland?

“Half the world is on Xanax,” Carson Daly commented recently during his morning show on AMP Radio as his producer Angie read the list of drugs found on Scott Weiland’s tour bus, which TMZ described as “a pharmacy on wheels.”

Half the world… Why not the whole world? Xanax must have been invented by a lazy drunk. No storing bottles, no washing wine glasses, and no mixing drinks. Xanax works on the same receptors as alcohol, but all you need is a sip of water and a tiny pill — you can get “drunk” in one simple swallow. Actually, you can get better than drunk. Xanax erases your anxieties and leaves your speech and motor functions basically intact sans the telltale scent of alcohol.

Xanax, Valium, and Ativan are benzodiazepenes, a.k.a. benzos. These minor tranquilizers are highly addictive, have few side effects, and let you achieve the land of no worries in 20 minutes or less.

Taking benzos is one certain way to advance a career in addiction, whether the career path be via drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, binge eating, overspending, or any other compulsive, destructive behavior.

If you struggle with anxiety, bipolar, or bipolar depression, as a bonus, benzos insure that you will never have to learn how to identify your triggers or explore effective coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, meditating, or weeding out the toxic people in your life.

I am sad and angry that we lost such a prolific, highly original artist. (Buzzbands.la interviewed Scott Weiland two weeks before his death and published a eulogy.)

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Filed under Humor/Stand Up Comedy, Mental Health and Addiction