Millennials and Mental Health… Featured on NAMI’s National Blog!

I’m happy and proud to be a contributor to the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) website. You can read my latest story here.  As a mental health advocate, I believe it’s so important to talk about mental illness, to help end the stigma.

Fortunately, it seems as if the “anxious generation” — millennials — are willing to speak out more than any other previous generation. When I was younger and dealing with panic disorder, I never told anyone. I was embarrassed to have these “strange” symptoms that no one else seemed to have.

Both of my millennial-age daughters have had issues with anxiety and panic attacks, which required treatment. Throughout their journeys, they’ve realized they aren’t alone. Friends and coworkers openly talk about their struggles with anxiety and depression.

The stigma is starting to lessen. Continue the conversation.

Please click here to read my story on NAMI’s blog.

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Images courtesy of here

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Ending the Silence

Last week I went back to high school. I had something I wanted to share with the students. At one point, I realized I had thirty pairs of eyes watching me intently. I knew they were listening. Really listening.

I told three different classes about my journey recovering from anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. I  explained how hard it was when my little girl developed panic symptoms. Talee was in fourth grade when she had a panic attack at school. She was terrified it would happen again. She literally couldn’t make herself walk into the classroom, and missed two consecutive weeks. She was afraid of being afraid.

I spoke on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. I’m trained as a presenter for NAMI’s Ending the Silence program, developed for high school students. The goal is to raise awareness about mental illness and to help end the stigma. We discuss the warning signs of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and suicide. We talk about what to do if we notice the warning signs in ourselves or a friend.

I wanted those juniors and seniors to know I waited twenty years before I told anyone about my frightening symptoms. I knew it wasn’t normal when I felt disoriented, like I was living in a fog or dream. I knew it wasn’t right when all of a sudden, my heart would pound, I’d get lightheaded, shaky, and afraid I’d pass out.

I didn’t want anyone to think I was strange. So I kept it a secret. I figured I needed to deal with it. Alone.

The main reason I felt this way? Stigma.

The stigma surrounding mental health conditions is strong and very real. It can delay someone from getting treatment and symptoms can worsen. Mental illness affects millions of people throughout the world. Not only individuals, but also their families.

My daughter and I were fortunate, as we both recovered from panic disorder. It wasn’t easy, and there isn’t a complete cure. But medication and positive coping strategies — eating healthy, exercising, deep breathing — enabled us to resume our normal lives. We’re productive, happy, and in control of our panic.

I don’t remember mental health being discussed when I was in high school. I didn’t know  anxiety and depression were considered a mental illness. I had no idea that other people experienced the same terrifying panic symptoms that I did. Maybe if I’d heard about mental health conditions when I was a teenager, I would’ve received treatment earlier.

That’s why I speak out as a mental health advocate. I want people to know they aren’t alone. There is help available. There is hope.

I’m looking forward to visiting more high schools to tell my story and do my part to help End the Silence.

First image courtesy of here

Second image courtesy of here

Dear Family

Mental illness affects millions of people. Not only the individuals who have the conditions–but also their families.

It may be most difficult for the person with the disorder. But loved ones are challenged too, as they desperately try to help. Dealing with their relative’s diagnosis and treatment can be a long and painful journey.

Family members are sad, confused, and scared. They feel helpless watching their spouse, child, or parent struggle with the debilitating symptoms. Mood swings, depression, mania, or thoughts of suicide. Severe anxiety, obsessive compulsions, phobias, or anger.

Life will never be the same as before the disease erupted.

I know, as my mom had major depression and anorexia. I had panic disorder. My daughter had panic attacks.

It may seem impossible to help a loved one who is in denial about having a mental health condition. It can be exhausting when that person won’t accept medical help or refuses to take medication.

Family members can feel like they’re swimming in a turbulent ocean. The rip tides and undertows are strong and can’t be manipulated. The currents move them to places they don’t want to go. The only way to stay safe is to get out of the water. To accept that it cannot be controlled.

But acceptance is a difficult place to reach.

I’m taking a class offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. “Family to Family” is a twelve-week course that provides education and support to families affected by mental illness.

I was moved by this letter, written and provided by NAMI. It has been edited for length.

My Dear Family:

This letter is a plea for your compassion, understanding, and patience. We have all just come through an episode of my mental illness. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve done the best I know how and so have you. For this, I thank you.

I’m exhausted. Maybe I look all right to you, but inside I’m wounded. Even the least stress, the least effort, is overwhelming. I need to sleep a lot and not do much at all. This may go on for quite some time.

It may be hard for you to see me this way. You may feel it’s your duty to help me “snap out of it.” Please be gentle. Let me heal.

There are three things I’d appreciate you do for me.

  1. Learn about my illness. This is an illness of the brain and body, just like any other disease. It  affects my ability to think, feel, and behave. Those effects may have been difficult for you to deal with. I’m sorry. 
  2. Help me find effective treatment. This takes patience and persistence. In my present state, I may not have the energy to follow through. I need you to advocate for me, until we find people and medications that help.
  3. Listen with an open heart and mind. Don’t try to advise me. Just listen while I work this out for myself. Your trust and understanding during this time will help me feel confident enough to decide when I’m able to step back into life activities.

Thank you for your support and compassion. It will make my path to recovery more smooth and sure.

With thanks and hope,

Your Loved One

 

 

First image courtesy of here

Letter courtesy of Sita Diehl, co-author, Bridges Consumer Peer Education Course, NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program 2013

Second image courtesy of here