We ALL Have Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

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It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and tomorrow, October 10, is World Mental Health Day.

So let’s talk about it!

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to a group of elementary, middle school, and high school counselors about mental illness. I’m a presenter for Ending the Silence, a mental health awareness program by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

An area we focused on is the importance of awareness not only among students, but parents and school staff as well. It takes a village. The mental health conversation must be open.

One of the middle school counselors told me something that at first, surprised me. She said the number of students she sees for social and emotional issues (anxiety, depression, etc.) FAR surpass those she counsels for academic reasons. Years ago, it was the exact opposite. And this is middle grade.

I suppose this really isn’t so surprising. It seems as if each generation is more stressed than the previous one. Millennials are known as the anxious generation. Gen Z (ages 15-21) has reported the worst mental health of any generation, according to the APA. Some of the reasons? Social media, gun violence, political climate, immigration, sexual harassment.

I’m passionate about spreading awareness to young people. The more that people talk about mental illness, the weaker the stigma is. The hope is that stigma will lessen with each future generation.

May is Mental Health Awareness month! Let’s all reduce the stigma of anxiety disorders! How? By talking about yours and not being scared to get or ask for help! We are so passionate about the subject that we have a FEARLESS collection of treasures that GiveBack to a local organization helping people with anxiety disorders!

Adolescents need to know they are not alone, that others feel the same pressures. That it’s okay to admit they’re not okay, and it’s absolutely fine (and healthy) to talk about it. They need to know there’s medical help available. The sooner they get help, the better.

When I speak to students during Ending the Silence, we discuss the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, and suicide.

Suicide is the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization:

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.

The conversation on mental health and mental illness needs to be open. Talk about it. Share. Know that you are NOT alone. There is help available. There is hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255. Or text HOME to 741741.

Speak out. Together, we can end stigma.

Hope: A Reason to Persist

To me, this quote has many layers.

The first thing I think of is “Never Give Up.” If you hit a roadblock, find a way to get around it. My husband often reminds me to be persistent, not give up so easily. I don’t like to hear this (or admit I’m not trying hard enough), but he’s totally right. Whatever the issue may be, I find that when I keep moving, reaching farther than I thought I would or could, it usually turns out to be a rewarding experience. Not always. But if I push as hard as I can and exhaust all options, even if it doesn’t work out, I feel better about myself. Because I gave it my all. Persistence pays!

This quote also reminds me of my own mental health journey. When I was a young girl, I had terrifying symptoms I never told anyone about. I didn’t know how to describe them, and certainly didn’t think anyone would understand. I felt hopeless. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or different. So I kept it a secret. For twenty years!

When I finally went to a doctor for help, he told me I was having panic attacks. He diagnosed me with agoraphobia and panic disorder. This might sound strange, but my first reaction was happiness. Of course I didn’t want to have an anxiety disorder. But I was extremely relieved that the awful symptoms I’d had for so long actually had a name. Not only that, but others had this too… millions of people. And, there was treatment available. I could be helped. It was unbelievable!

I was filled to the brim with HOPE.

25 Inspiring Hope Quotes #Hope Quotes #Inspiring Quotes

This month is National Suicide Prevention Month. I’m thinking of friends who are struggling with depression. I’m remembering people in my community who have died by suicide. My friend’s brother. My daughter’s classmate from high school. My dad’s work colleague. I’m thinking of how hopeless they must have felt, being in the deepest, darkest place filled with total despair. I’m thinking of their families, who will never stop struggling to cope with the loss of their loved one.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, or any other mental illness, please know that there is medical help available. You are NOT alone. Reach out for help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

There is hope. There is always HOPE.

Pain is real but so it hope. Work to know all of what is real (true) and what is fake (false) in life.

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Middle School Heroes

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(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

I can’t get something out of my mind. Yesterday I was watching TODAY, and a story immediately caught my attention.

A group of middle grade students helped save a woman who was attempting suicide.

I couldn’t wait to hear how they helped. As a mental health advocate, I’m passionate about spreading awareness, especially to adolescents. I’m a speaker for NAMI’s in-school program, Ending the Silence. I want kids to know there is no shame in struggling with mental health issues and there is help available. If the younger generation is aware of mental illness and talks about it more, the stigma will lessen.

Back to the middle school students… This past Saturday, the boy’s volleyball team at Kepler Neighborhood School in Fresno, CA, met for practice. Their coach had them go for a warm-up run, to a place they’ve never run before — a nearby bridge.

That’s where it happened.

A 47-year-old woman was dangling more than 100 feet in the air by her arms.

The boys said it took a moment for them to realize what was happening. They ran to tell their coach, Murray Elliott. He called 911. He told the boys to go back and tell her that her life matters.

Elliott said that for ten minutes, the boys did not stop yelling and screaming, telling her that her life matters.

The woman eventually pulled herself back up onto the bridge, where she was met by police.

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The boys are being called “true heroes.” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said it perfectly:

“Their words of encouragement caused this woman to realize her life had value. Thank God they were in the right place at the right time.”

Because of their quick action, that woman did not lose her life.

This story is a reminder of why I speak to high school students about mental illness. During the presentation, I tell the teens that if they notice signs of suicide in themselves or a friend, don’t wait. Take immediate action:

  • Tell a trusted adult.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Ask the question. Ask if he or she is thinking of suicide.
  • Call 911 or go to an emergency room.
  • Call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • Don’t keep warning signs a secret.

When the middle school volleyball team went out for their run that Saturday, those boys had no idea how they were about to impact someone’s life.

Even though I don’t know them, I’m so proud of them.

A true inspiration.

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It Isn’t Easy to Be Vulnerable

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I can’t get something out of my mind and I want to share it here with you.

I often write about my experiences as a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence. I visit high schools and talk to students about the signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.

Two weeks ago, my co-presenter and I went to a local school and presented four Ending the Silence programs to 140 freshmen.

The kids always leave an impact on us, but this time it was especially insightful.

A little background… following the presentation, we have a question and answer session. Some classes are really quiet and it’s hard to get the teens to participate. I totally get it. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide are not easy topics to open up about. Especially in front of peers.

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But that day, we had questions like these:

What do you do if you think an adult you know has a mental illness, but they refuse to listen to you, as you’re just a kid? How do you make them to go to the doctor for help?

How did you try to kill yourself? (directed to my co-presenter, who speaks very openly about her depression, OCD, PTSD, and suicide attempt)

How do you know if you really have depression? Because all teenagers are anxious or depressed. Aren’t they?

I often wonder if the kids ask questions from personal experience or if they’re simply curious. I never know what impact our words have on them. I never know who we’re going to reach.

When the presentation is over, a few students usually stay to talk with my co-presenter and me. I know it’s hard for them to do that. Some don’t want their friends to see that they’re going up to talk to us. Some are too embarrassed. It takes courage to talk about problems — especially mental health issues.

It’s scary to be vulnerable.

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I’ll never forget the three who opened up to us that day two weeks ago.

There was a girl I noticed when I was in front of the class speaking. I can’t pinpoint why, but maybe because she looked like she was paying careful attention to what we said. She asked several questions during the Q&A, mostly about how to handle an adult with a mental illness. She walked up to my co-presenter and burst into tears. I didn’t hear what she said. I found out later that the girl’s dad has a mental illness and is abusing her.

At the same time my co-presenter was helping her, another girl came up to me. Her hands shook and tears streamed down her face, as she told me about her family situation. She said she has anxiety and panic attacks, and had a panic attack while I was speaking. She wanted to leave, but didn’t because she thought it’d be rude. I assured her it wouldn’t have been, and I completely understand. (I’m recovered from panic disorder and agoraphobia). We discussed how to talk about her problem with her mom, so she can get medical help. She gave me a big hug before she left.

Another girl came up to us, visibly shaking as she told us about her severe anxiety and panic attacks. She paced and it was hard for her to look us in the eye. She said her mom has anxiety too. They both haven’t seen a doctor because her mom says they don’t have enough money. We came up with some ways for her to bring up a conversation about mental health with her mom, and try to find a way to get help.

I never would’ve guessed that those teens are going through such serious, challenging times. It doesn’t show on their faces, on the surface.

That’s why I give the students this gentle reminder: Be kind. You never know what someone else is going through. Be there for each other.

It’s okay not to be okay.

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Teens and Suicide Prevention

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says each year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide.

teens in high school

Last week I went to a local high school to talk with students about mental health. I’m a presenter for NAMI’s in-school program, “Ending the Silence.”

My co-presenter and I spoke to two classes, one in the morning, one in the afternoon. When our first presentation ended, we noticed the teens looked almost stunned. During the question and answer period, no one wanted to say a word. It took some gentle nudging for them to ask us anything.

Then we thought about it… These were incoming freshmen, brand new to high school. Classes started two weeks before. They probably weren’t comfortable yet with their teacher, let alone their classmates.

And they’d just sat through an hour of us talking about a subject that isn’t usually spoken about so directly and openly.

It was a lot to take in.

The students heard about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, ADHD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They learned the warning signs of mental illness, and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.

We had a straightforward discussion about suicide and the warning signs:

  • Talking, writing, or drawing about death.
  • Talking about having no reason to live, being a burden to others, or not being here tomorrow.
  • Looking for ways to attempt suicide.
  • Feeling hopeless, desperate, or trapped.
  • Giving away possessions.
  • Behaving recklessly.

We let the teens know that these symptoms can be subtle. But if their gut instinct is telling them that something isn’t right, something may not be right. And it’s important to reach out for help.

Take the warning signs seriously, and take immediate action:

  • Tell an adult you trust.
  • Ask the question. Ask if the person needs help, if they are thinking of attempting suicide.
  • Don’t leave the person alone.
  • Call the National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
  • Text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • Go to an emergency room or call 911.
  • Do not keep warning signs a secret.

Sometimes when I’m presenting “Ending the Silence,” especially when we’re on the topic of suicide, I think the kids seem so young to hear about it. But they must.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that for ages 10-14, suicide is the third leading cause of death. For ages 15-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Mental illness can affect any one of us. At any time. Teens need to know there is help available and they are not alone.

When I speak to the students, I never know if a kid in that classroom, or maybe a family member or friend, is struggling with a mental health condition. I never know who I’m going to reach.

The more educated the younger generation is about mental illness, the greater the chance the stigma will lessen.

We must have this conversation. Let’s keep it going.

#SuicidePrevention #StigmaFree

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Ask the Question. Ask the Direct Question.

(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

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This morning I woke up to the tragic news about chef and travel host, Anthony Bourdain. Death by suicide.

Heartbreaking. And after the shock earlier this week, the suicide death of designer Kate Spade.

My husband and I love to watch Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, “Parts Unknown.” He was an amazing storyteller. He traveled to both popular and remote places around the world to get his stories. My favorite episodes were when he visited unknown villages, and I learned about another culture’s cuisine and way of life.

In his interesting, somewhat quirky, and cool way, Anthony would sit with locals and have in-depth conversations over a meal. People opened up to him. He had a special way of delving in to find out how they lived. His show wasn’t just about food. It was about family and life. He seemed full of life, with a yearning to learn more.

But he must’ve been battling demons so strong that he was in total despair.

On the Today show this morning, they interviewed a psychologist, and one of the anchors asked him what people should do if they think their loved one is struggling. The  psychologist stressed how important it is to talk about it, to ask the question.

The interview resonated with me. What the psychologist said is exactly what I tell high school students when I present NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness) in-school mental health awareness program, “Ending the Silence.”

If you notice the warning signs of suicide in yourself or a friend, or your gut instinct tells you that something isn’t right, something may not be right. Take immediate action. Ask the question. Ask the direct question: Are you thinking of suicide? Are you suicidal?

This may sound too direct and uncomfortable, but the other person might feel relieved that someone else said those words, that someone else opened the conversation. It may be a little easier to talk about it and admit they need help.

Skilled Sailor

Know the Warning Signs (From suicidepreventionlifeline.org)

Some warning signs may help you determine if a loved one is at risk for suicide, especially if the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these, seek help by calling the Lifeline (800)273-8255

Warning Signs of Suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

Please reach out for help. There is no shame in having a mental illness.

There is hope.

You are NOT alone.

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What Kate Spade’s Death Reminds Me

mental illness doesn't discriminate

(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

I’m a huge fan of well-known designer Kate Spade. I’m fortunate that my husband loves to buy me purses for my birthday and Christmas. He does a great job finding just the right one (with a little guidance from our daughters). The last three handbags he gave me? All Kate Spade.

When I heard the news this week that she had died by suicide, I was stunned and saddened. To be perfectly honest, I was shocked. This famous, highly successful, 55-year-old woman seemed to have it all.

But that’s the thing — it doesn’t matter.

Kate Spade’s death illuminated the fact that no amount of wealth, power, fame, or love can declare someone immune from mental illness. ANYONE can be affected.

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Kate’s husband, Andy Spade, said his wife suffered from anxiety and depression for years, and that she was seeking medical help.

He said, “We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”

The depth of sadness, depression, and despair can devastate anyone.

It touched the life of my friend’s brother. It touched the life of a boy my daughter went to school with. It touched the life of a friend of my dad. And it touched Kate Spade. And countless others.

My heart breaks for them and their families.

Now, every day when I reach for my black leather Kate Spade handbag, I don’t see just a pretty purse. I glance at the small, gold logo that reads kate spade New York, with a tiny gold spade above her name, and remember that life is precious.

Her logo also reminds me that:

  • Mental illness can affect anyone.
  • Mental illness is a real medical illness that needs treatment, just like a physical illness does.
  • Stigma is beginning to lessen, but it’s still much too strong.
  • Shame can keep people from reaching out for medical help.
  • You should not be ashamed for having a mental illness.
  • It isn’t anyone’s fault for having a mental illness.
  • It’s important to advocate for mental health awareness.
  • It’s crucial to keep the conversation open.
  • There is hope.
  • You are NOT alone.

Kate Spade left a legacy of her work and designs. I pray for her husband, her 13-year-old daughter, and her family. You also, are not alone. Image result for images of kate spade's quote

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Next to Normal

I don't need a life that's normal,

Last month a friend asked if I wanted to go with her to see the musical, Next to Normal. I knew nothing about it. She said it was a play about mental illness, and as a mental health advocate, it peaked my curiosity. I thought it’d be fun to go and a nice way to start off Mental Health Awareness Month, which is in May.

Wow. I had no idea what I was in for. I mean that in a good (but really emotional and powerful) way.

This past weekend my friend and I saw the production with our husbands. Not exactly a typical couples date night. It wasn’t what I’d call a feel-good show. It was intense, turbulent, and volatile. Yet filled with beautiful singing and amazing acting.

I wasn’t prepared to be so deeply moved.

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The 2008 play centers around Diana, a woman living with bipolar disorder. As her condition worsens, her suburban family becomes more and more dysfunctional. Diana meets with doctors and psychiatrists who prescribe medication that has terrible side effects.

One of the most poignant parts to me was when she refused to take her pills because she didn’t feel like herself. She didn’t know who that person was anymore. Diana was clearly conflicted and in the depths of turmoil and despair. She sang, “I Miss The Mountains.”

But I miss the mountains

I miss the dizzy heights

All the manic magic days

And the dark depressing nights

I miss the mountains

I miss the highs and lows

All the climbing, all the falling

All the while the wild wind blows

Stinging you with snow

And soaking you with rain

I miss the mountains

I miss the pain

The play delves into difficult topics such as suicide, drug abuse, and grief. The audience was on an emotional roller coaster, along with the characters.

It struck me how realistic it was. It felt like a living story, a real-life blog of someone trying to deal with crisis and mental illness.

It was a snapshot of a typical family doing their best to grapple with their tumultuous journey, which they certainly didn’t ask for and didn’t expect. Each character goes through heartache and confusion, which stems directly from Diana’s illness.

The play demonstrates how stigma can force families to hide their personal challenges behind closed doors. Act like everything is okay but it’s far from okay.

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On the way home, my husband and I talked about how good the show was.  It didn’t  surprise us to hear that Next to Normal has won three Tony Awards and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

But it’s not for everyone. It tackles subjects which many people aren’t comfortable with. And for those struggling with any type of mental health condition, it may be triggering or too hard to watch.

But this award-winning play is a testament to the fact that people are beginning to acknowledge and speak out about mental illness. The conversation — on this once taboo subject — is open and must continue.

Bravo to Next to Normal for bringing mental illness front and center.

And yes. They got a standing ovation.

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What I Never Expected When I Watched the VMAs

Sunday night my husband, daughter, and I tuned in to MTV’s Video Music Awards. It was fun to watch Katy Perry, Pink, Demi Lovato, and Miley Cyrus perform. I love to see what everyone is  wearing and their hair and makeup.

Later in the show, I didn’t expect it to take a serious and emotional turn — advocating for mental health awareness.

I never thought the VMAs would take my breath away.

It started when Kesha spoke. She said, “Whatever you are going through, however dark it may seem, there is an undeniable truth and strength in the fact that you are not alone. We all have struggles, and as long as you never give up on yourself, light will break through the darkness.”

Then she introduced a rapper named Logic. I have to admit, I didn’t know of him, but of course my 22-year-old daughter did. Logic was joined by singers Alessia Cara and Khalid.

The song is titled “1-800-273-8255.” The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The stage was covered with the phone number. Logic sang his heart-wrenching lyrics with so much intensity, I was in awe. So were many others. Cameras scanned the crowd, and showed people tearing up as they watched and listened.

That wasn’t all.

Dozens of suicide attempt survivors went onstage. They wore t-shirts that had the suicide hotline number on the front. On the back, the shirts read, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”

One of the survivors broke down and cried as she heard the powerful lyrics:

I know where you been, where you are, where you goin’

I know you’re the reason I believe in life

What’s the day without a little night?

I’m just tryna shed a little light

It can be hard

It can be so hard

But you gotta live right now

You got everything to give right now

The message of hope and the importance of reaching out for help was heard by millions of people around the world.  Another step toward ending the stigma.

I want you to be alive

You don’t gotta die today

You are not alone

I was inspired by Logic’s speech after his performance:

“I just want to take a moment right now and thank you all so much for giving me a platform to talk about something that mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about,” he said. “Mental health, anxiety, suicide, depression and so much more that I talk about on this album.”

MTV released a statement that said Logic’s passionate performance “helped drive a 50% spike in call volume to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the hours following the show.”

Thank you, Logic. Thank you for speaking out.

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No Words

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*Possible trigger warning*

My heart is heavy and I can’t get something out of my mind.

My daughter Talee called me on her lunch break today. “Mom, remember Jason Burns?” (not his real name)

“Hm. I can’t picture him.”

“Mom, you have to remember him. He’s a year younger than me. He has older twin sisters that are Mackenzie’s age. A couple years ago he tried to kill himself by jumping off a two-story building.”

It felt like my heart dropped. I remembered that, but I still couldn’t place him. His name sounded so familiar. He must be 21 years old.

Talee continued. “He shot himself yesterday. He died.”

Oh my God.

Talee told me Jason was at home when it happened. “His mom was downstairs and heard a gun shot. She ran upstairs and found him.”

After Talee hung up, I was numb. My husband and I were out checking on our business and I was going through the motions but my mind was on Jason and his family.

I kept thinking his last name sounded familiar. Why? I must know them. Think.

Then it hit me.

Jason and his twin sisters went through school with my daughters. The twins were in Mackenzie’s religion class in high school. I could picture them clearly.

And the mom. I knew her. Madelyn. I was in a book club with Madelyn (not her real name) for several years and always thought she was so nice. We lost touch throughout the years.

This hits so close to home.

I can’t imagine the pain Jason’s mother and the entire family is going through. This tragedy is going to change all of their lives. I’m terribly sad for Jason. His young life ended much too soon. I have no idea the depression, despair, and hopelessness that he must have been living with.

I’m praying for Jason, his mom, and family. I don’t know what else to do.

I have no words.

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