mental health

Mental Health Literacy

Would you know the signs of a heart attack? Were you taught to look for chest pain or tightness, trouble breathing, pain in the arm? Chances are that yes, when it comes to health issues you are fairly literate because you’ve been educated about it. Most likely you’d see a doctor right away or at the very least talk openly about your medical condition to your partner, friend, family member.

What about mental health? Do you know the signs of depression? Do you know what to look for? Do you know that depression is NOT “just a bad day?” Would you seek out the help of a mental health professional with the same earnestness as you would a physician? What about talking with your partner, friend or family member about what you’re feeling?

According to the CDC the suicide rate for children aged 10-17 increased by 70% between 2006 and 2016. And did you know that 14 million students are in schools with police but no counselors, psychologists, nurses or social workers? To read more about that check out the research done by the ACLU here: https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline/cops-and-no-counselors

How are we as educators, parents, and community members talking about mental health literacy? If someone opens up to you about their depression what do you say? Would you know the resources in the community to connect them to?

Mental health still carries a stigma because people are afraid to talk about it. They are afraid that people will see them as crazy, weak, or troubled. There are so many barriers to why people don’t seek mental health counseling- time, money, shame, previous bad experience, cultural concerns. It’s time to connect people to resources. Here are just a few ways to do so:

  1. If you don’t know the numbers for the suicide hotline in your area, then know this number for the national hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

  2. If you are an educator at a school, advocate for bathroom flyers, posters, or even student ID badges to have resource numbers for students to use

  3. Listen and empathize. I keep coming back to that video that Brene Brown posted about empathy vs. sympathy but it’s so true. Rarely do our words make someone feel better; rather it’s knowing that we see them and we care about them. Looking someone in the eye and saying, “I don’t really know what to say but I’m just so glad you told me” means more to that person than you might know.

  4. Make time. Next time someone talks about how they’re feeling don’t go with the easy way out by saying “oh i’m sure you’re just stressed” or “I bet it’ll pass.” Take the time to ask- “is there more you’d like to talk about? I’m here for you.”

Here are some resources to add to your toolbox:

http://teenmentalhealth.org

https://www.thetrevorproject.org

https://www.nami.org/

Graduation

This is for all of you graduates out there. Whether it’s high school, college, or graduate school this one is for you.

First of all, congratulations. Maybe there was a moment on your journey when you felt like you couldn’t go anymore but you pushed through it. Maybe your journey was an easy one and the next chapter is your challenge. Whatever your journey looked like I imagine there were good times and hard times, people who supported you and people who walked away, times when you believed in yourself and times when you questioned yourself.

As you approach graduation, you might feel overcome with a myriad of emotions and that’s ok. Hopefully you’ve learned that you can be proud and nostalgic, relieved and disappointed, excited and unsure. Perhaps you are stepping into the next chapter confidently but what if you’re not?

Not everyone’s journey is a straight line and yet that’s what all the Hallmark cards and social media posts lead you to believe. You move throughout your journey in your own way, trying so hard not to fall victim to the comparison trap. So how can you stay true to yourself?

Surround yourself with people who support you. Spend time with those who build you up, not bring you down.

Develop a self-care routine. Hopefully you’ve learned at least 2 strategies for self-care so as you head out on your new journey incorporate those into your schedule.

Self-reflection. Where do you feel most grounded? Is there a place or setting like being outdoors hiking where you feel centered? If so, go there and spend some time thinking about what comes next.

Take small steps. If there’s an industry or a job you want, talk with people who work there or do that job. Find out as much information as possible.

Be open. I wonder if you ask people in their 40s if their job is what they have wanted since age 6 or 16 or 26. For some people the answer might be yes and yet I think you’d be surprised to hear the stories of people who thought they were headed on one path but changed course. Perhaps it was a place, a person, or an experience that changed their course. Be open to possibilities.

Be patient and kind to yourself. Transitions are hard. Often we create expectations around what the next chapter should you look like and when those expectations aren’t met, embarrassment, disappointment, worry can all creep up.

Looking for additional support? I’d be happy to help. I work with individuals going through the college and career transition.

Broadening our Definition of Family

Yesterday I saw that Sesame Street had introduced a new character to their show, Karli. Karli is a foster child and is being raised by Clem and Dalia. Then today I came across this article in The Atlantic about this new character.

https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2019/05/sesame-street-created-foster-care-muppet/589756/?utm_content=edit-promo&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=the-atlantic&utm_medium=social&utm_term=2019-05-20T13%3A00%3A27

I decided to dig deeper into the world of Sesame Street by visiting the Sesame Street in Communities website found here: https://sesamestreetincommunities.org What I found on this website was a wealth of resources ranging from homelessness to trauma to big feelings.

The new addition of Karli really resonates with me because I just wrote my first picture book All Families Invited which celebrates different types of families. By using less-limiting language and by broadening our definition of family, we can help all children feel like they belong. I also resonate with these new initiatives to talk about hard topics in a developmentally appropriate way that kids can understand. Whether it’s in a picture book or on a kids show, it’s important that children are able to see characters who look like them and this might mean in terms of ability, race, family composition, etc.

Thank you Sesame Street for surfacing topics that often adults don’t want to talk about but are so important to the well-being of children.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

There is still this vast difference between our comfort levels of talking about physical health vs. mental health. If you are on a weight loss plan, you’re telling everyone because a) you are proud of this lifestyle change, b) to help hold you accountable, or c) a combination of both. People are posting and talking about the latest cookbooks, workout venues, and weight loss regimens and yet we talk very little about how we are supporting our mental health.

So, how are you supporting your mental health? Do you get outside regularly? Do you have a group of friends that you talk to face-to-face about what’s bothering you? Do you have a counselor? Do you get enough sleep? Do you allow yourself to feel all your emotions and not label any of them as “bad?”

There’s the fascinating documentary called “Like” by IndieFlix which talks about the effects of social media. There are many poignant points that resonated with me as a child and teen counselor but one of the most important is this idea of selective posting and how it doesn’t replicate reality. Teens and adults look at social media posts and often think “that person has it all together” or “i’m the only one who _______” which can lead to further isolation. I hope you realize that people are selective in what they post and that their posts show only a snippet of who they really are.

Along the lines of social media is this idea that we, as a society, are connecting less face-to-face. So what’s the big deal? We can Face Time with our friends and family across the country and world? And yes while it’s great to see my mom’s face instead of just hearing her voice, it still doesn’t replicate the nonverbal communication that would be present in-person. I could notice if she’s fidgeting with her hands or even more important if she’s upset I could put my arm around her or give her a hug. How often do you have the opportunity to connect with someone face-to-face and feel heard? Do you have one friend, two friends, a partner, a neighbor who would sit with you and be present? I often think the urge to use social media is because we don’t know how to sit in stillness anymore with uncomfortable feelings so when we are felling sad, lonely, frustrated we mute those feelings and reach for the phone instead.

If you are looking for a counselor and don’t know where to look here are some ideas. Goodtherapy.org and Psychology Today are usually good places to start. You can narrow your focus to counselors by a zip code, speciality, insurance, etc. From there spend some time reading their bios to see if their approach would be a good fit and even better if they offer a free in-person intake. I do this as a counselor. I feel that if counseling is really going to work then both myself and my client need to feel comfortable. I invite new clients in for a 30 minute free intake so they can meet me face-to-face and learn more about my personality and approach. I would encourage you to find a counselor in your area who would do the same.

And finally, I keep coming back to that Brene Brown video on Empathy vs. Sympathy. Often if someone shares something troubling there aren’t words that will fix it and it’s not about “fixing” but rather about being seen. So next time a friend/partner/family member shares something vulnerable with you consider saying something like “I just don’t really know what to say right now but I’m so glad you told me” or “That sounds hard and I’m here if you need someone to talk to.”

My Letter to College Admissions Officers

The recent college admissions scandal has generated lots of discussion. I chose to focus on the point that I know best as a mental health counselor- this process is taking a toll on students’ mental health.

Dear College Admissions Officers:

I write this letter from the perspective of someone who works with lots of high school students and sees how your acceptance process leaves students perplexed at best and suicidal at worst. I started undergrad 18 years ago and sure there were times when I felt frustrated during the process but I still got to be a teenager. In my downtime I’d listen to Jewel’s latest album, go to movies with my friends, and watch Dawson’s Creek. My admissions experience was quite a simple one because of the privilege I was afforded. So why am I concerned?

I am concerned for the mental health of our students. Do you know that the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision making, planning, and judgement, starts developing at age twelve and isn’t fully formed until mid-late twenties? The excessive scheduling of sports, music lessons, and tutoring means either a still-functioning teenage brain has to manage that OR a parent steps in. When I was in high school, the “talk” was to find something you’re good at. I liked writing so I did that and I also liked helping people so I volunteered at the hospital after school. Now, it’s simply not good enough to have one thing you’re good at, you must have many. You must be popular but kind, athletic but well-rounded, make good grades but also volunteer and if you’ve already founded your own nonprofit or learned four languages then WOW! Is that picture that I just described really attainable? Where is there time in that picture for self-care? For the recommended 8-9 hours of sleep? For time to connect with friends and family that doesn’t involve a screen? 

I don’t know if you realize this but the competitive nature of college admissions means that students now associate asking for help with failure and struggling with a mental illness as a sign of weakness. When I missed school because I was sick, I’d call up my friend on her land line and asked her if I could I borrow the notes that I missed in class. During 11th grade, two of my closest friends tutored me in calculus because I was so confused. Do you think that same mentality happens now? Sometimes yes, but I think you would be shocked to hear that students don’t share their notes now because “tough luck that person was sick. They should’ve stuck it out like I did.” Can you imagine how it feels to be struggling with depression and feel totally alone because society tells you it’s a weakness? Don’t you think that everyone would benefit if there wasn’t this mentality of “taking away from me in order to give to someone else?” 

Not that you’ve asked but I’d love to offer you some possible essay topics for those applications of yours. 

·     What do you do for self-care?

·     What would you give up for someone else?

·     If a camera crew followed you around all day, would they see that you are the bully, the bullied, or a bystander? If you are a bystander, would they see you stand up for the kid who’s bullied or turn away and act as if nothing happened because it doesn’t affect you directly?

If you ever want to trade places for a day, give me a call. I think you’ll find the issues facing teens today very eye opening.

What does a healthy relationship look like?

Our teens learn about relationships from what they see around them which includes adults in their lives as well as through the media. Too often, movies and shows portray love in a way that is unhealthy. So what does a healthy relationship look like? To answer that question, I’ve turned to one of my favorite resources, One Love Foundation. Here are their 10 signs of a healthy relationship:

-Comfortable pace

-Trust

-Honesty

-Independence

-Respect

-Equality

-Compassion

-Taking Responsibility

-Loyalty

-Communication

For more information, check out the great resources listed on their website here: https://www.joinonelove.org/signs-healthy-relationship/

What we can learn from Children's Books

Some of you may not know this but I’m self-publishing my first children’s book this spring which celebrates different types of families. The world of children’s book authors, illustrators, and readers is a special one and I spent most of January checking out some great books. Below are some of my favorite children’s books that have special messages for all of us.

Moon by Alison Oliver- Moon is the story of a young girl who forgets what it’s like to be wild and free. She has a strict schedule of school, homework, music lessons, and tutoring. Her schedule resembles many students I work with. In this beautifully illustrated book, Moon meets Wolf who shows her how to be playful and spontaneous. This story reminds us all the simple pleasure of play and the amazing sense of freedom that can come from being present in the moment.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson- There are many reasons to feel different. This book reminds us that it’s hard to take that first (often vulnerable) step to let others get to know us.

The Remember Balloons by Jessie Oliveros- It can be hard for children to understand what happens to family members and other loved ones who are affected by dementia. This book helps to explain what happens to memories by using balloons as a metaphor.

Isle of You by David LaRochelle- Adults, teens, and children can all relate to needing a place that helps take your mind off of school, work, and other worries. This book combines creativity and guided imagery to take you to a special place when you are feeling sad, mad, or worried.

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall- This book celebrates being true to yourself despite what others may think or say.

Support your local independent bookstore by checking out these great reads!

Using Winter as a Time for Self-Reflection

Do you hibernate in the winter? Is your goal each cold, rainy (or snowy) day to leave school/work as soon a possible and find comfort in your sweats and blankets? While it may be true, that we retreat indoors when the weather is blustery, it doesn’t mean that there’s not ways to reconnect. Use these dark days of winter as an opportunity to self-reflect and reconnect with yourself. Not sure how to do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Organize/re-organize your bookshelf. Chances are you’ll read a book or partly read a book then shove it on the shelf. What if you find a book that you’ve never read? Or perhaps a book that is your favorite and want to read again?

  • Start a puzzle. Adults often forget the power of puzzles. Not only can they be relaxing but they also involved spatial awareness and creativity. Puzzles can also be communal. Leave your puzzle out on a table in the middle of your house and watch as other family members pass by and complete a few pieces along their way to the kitchen.

  • Try a new recipe. Perhaps you love to cook and you’ve got all of these great food blogs or chefs you follow on Instagram. Find a new recipe to try. If you are not the cook, maybe now is the time to learn a simple meal or bake a simple treat.

  • Get crafty. Whether it’s with a hot glue gun or a needle and thread, ignite your creativity and create something new. Much like cooking there’s a sense of satisfaction in having a finished product. If you’re really handy, maybe now is the time to check off the to-do list of repairs.

Why is it important for adults to take time to self-reflect, to inspire creativity, to try something new? Because it’s good for your mental health AND for those of you that are parents, it’s an excellent way to model for your children that connecting can happen without a cell phone or WIFI.

Go on and give it a try!

Setting Intentions instead of Resolutions

As 2018 comes to a close, I’ve heard people buzzing about their New Year’s Resolutions- sleep more, take more vacation days, lose weight, use social media less, etc. I’m not against making resolutions or setting goals but I’d like to reframe the way we talk about resolutions. In my mind, resolutions are lofty, abstract goals that are often hard to follow through with and leave people feeling bad about themselves. What’s fun in that?

I once had a student who came back from winter break and said, “I’ve made a resolution not to gossip anymore.” My response went something like this, “Wow, it sounds like you have a desire to be more mindful of how you talk about others. I wonder what your ‘no gossip’ resolution looks like. What’s your first step towards that resolution?” This student just sat and stared at me. I think she was hoping I’d say, “Congrats, what a great resolution.”

Why setting an intention is different? An intention encompasses many different situations and I think doesn’t leave someone feeling “less than” if their goal is not achieved. For example, let’s say your intention for 2019 is to be more present. Some days you might focus your intention to be more present at work, other days it might be with your family or yourself. You can also notice when you forget about your intention. “Man, I really zoned out at that parent meeting today. Next time I need to jot down more notes to help keep my mind from wandering.” I also like using the word “intention” because it’s flexible and adaptable and I think that’s important. No one can predict what 2019 might hold so by setting an intention you allow yourself that flexibility to accept what you cannot control.

Here’s to wishing you a healthy and happy 2019 and may your intentions for the year guide you to take care of yourself and others.

The Pressure of Being a College Athlete

Recently I read the book What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan that recounts the life and suicide of college athlete, Madison Holleran. I found it fascinating and couldn’t put the book down. Many of the comments that Maddy made throughout the book were reminiscent of what I’ve heard as a high school counselor- the pressure to perform, the allure of a name brand school, feeling trapped and unable to quit something that you don’t love doing anymore, etc. Reading this prompted me to dig deeper into research done specifically on perfectionism and college athletes.

Elison and Partridge (2012) published an article in the Journal of Sport Behavior that looked at the relationships of shame-coping, fear of failure, and perfectionism in college athletes. Their study found that female athletes tend to employ internalizing forms of shame coping (attacking self and withdrawal) more than males. One of the key highlights of this article for me was when the researchers said, “if shame is elicited by devaluation then shame and fear of failure can be lessened by reducing athletes’ perceptions that their shortcomings make them less worthy as a person” (2012). This got me to thinking how relatable that statement is to what I often see in terms of grades and personal value. Many students attach their self-worth to their grades. “If I get a B or a C, I am not a good person or unworthy” is often the negative self-talk going on inside their heads.

So how do we as parents and educators help? First, consider how you viewed your own success and failure? Did you tie your grades or success to your self-worth? If not, it’s important to share that with your child. You might say, “you know what I got lots of B’s or lots of C’s and while I might have wished they would’ve been A’s I also knew I tried my hardest.” You might also engage in a deeper discussion about personal values and how sometimes values aren’t measured by grades or trophies; they’re measured by how we treat people.

Know of a child or teen struggling with perfectionism or negative self-talk? I’d be happy to help!