Mental Illness is a Surmountable Obstacle

~ Guest post by Jackie Cortez

According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 people suffer from mental illness. And while treatment is available, it’s often underutilized.

For many people, mental illness can be something that troubles them periodically in life but never something that incapacitates them. For others, mental illness can be completely debilitating. What’s important is recognizing mental illness and treating it with the best approach for people so they may live healthy, productive lives.

Inner turmoil

While there are social stigmas attached to mental illness, it is the self-stigma that can be the most dangerous to a person’s overall well-being. A person with a mental illness may feel ostracized from his peers and turn to outward or inward destructive behaviors to cope. These may materialize as bursts of aggression, depression, or isolation or as reckless actions including sexual promiscuity and alcohol abuse and drug abuse. A mental illness makes it difficult to see past the negative aspects of today to the bright and beautiful possibilities of tomorrow. It is estimated that more than 90% of suicides are committed by persons with a diagnosable mental disorder. Approximately half of these individuals will struggle with drug or alcohol abuse before their death.

Physical self-care

If you’re struggling with a mental illness, you should take extra care to take care of yourself. Stress takes a toll on the body and can cause headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, upset stomach, and fatigue. These symptoms’ impact can be lessened through protecting your physical health. It is easier to maintain good mental health habits when your body – your foundation – is strong.

It is important to exercise daily. This may be done individually or in a group setting as exercise provides the body with natural stress relief hormones. Maintaining a balanced diet devoid of processed foods, including sugars, additionally goes a long way toward whole-person health. Sleep is essential and most adults require between seven and nine hours each night; a brief 30 minute nap in the early afternoon can also offer a person with a mental health disorder a bit of a boost. Most importantly, drugs and alcohol should be avoided completely as, despite common belief, these substances actually exacerbate stress and depression.

A mental illness will not go away overnight. However, many people find they are less affected when they practice these good mental health habits:

Avoid guilt

Negative emotions happen and it is important not to dwell on them or pass judgment. Understand that it is how you react to these emotions that matters. Recognize them but don’t get caught up in the moment.

Pay attention to the positive

Even in your deepest, darkest hour, positive things are going to happen in your day. It could be as small as a glimpse of the mountains or fresh ocean breeze. When they happen, pause and enjoy. It may help to keep a journal and write down one good thing that happens each day. You can go back and read about your happy days when you’re feeling sad or stressed to remind yourself that not everything in life is bad.

Find strength in numbers

There are virtually countless support groups in every city in every state for people struggling with mental illness. You can perform a quick online search for groups in your area. Know that you cannot solve things on your own and there are people out there who, like you, are dealing with invisible and taboo issues. Spending time with others will not only help you get things off your chest but will keep you connected to the world around you.

If you or someone you love is dealing with a mental health issue, such as depression or drug abuse, get help. Always remember there is no shame in asking for assistance from others, be they medical professionals, family, or friends. Tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to look at the world with a fresh set of eyes.

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~ Jackie Cortez works with The Prevention Coalition to identify and highlight resources on every aspect of substance abuse, ranging from prevention to addiction treatment. Her mission is to use her writings to help prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

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Suicide in the Media: Getting it Done Right

I have been reading thoughts online and hearing opinions in real life regarding a Netflix series about a teenage girl who dies by suicide, and what questions this show raises about the media’s responsibility for portraying triggering, and even instructional, scenes on how to take one’s own life. In response to this, I would like to refer to an article published this month by Lisa Firestone, PhD in Psychology Today, who states:

“Guidelines on the media’s portrayal of suicide include never glamorizing or sensationalizing it in any way, period. Specific means for suicide should not be shown or related. Any depiction of suicide should include a story of a survivor who is living proof that the suicidal state can be temporary…In addition, any discussion of suicide should include resources for people who may be in crisis or are worried about someone they know. Media should also include a list of warning signs for suicide, which can help people identify when someone’s at risk.”

I feel distressed because so many preteen and young teenagers are watching this show, which has a ‘MA’ rating. I feel worried because kids with mental illness are watching this and possibly being triggered into self-harming behaviors and emotional anguish. And, God forbid, if any one of them is moved to end their life because this show’s message gives them the final reason to do it or the final way to go about doing it.

Don’t get me wrong…It is important to talk about suicide to raise awareness and get people who need help to open up and reach out for it, but like Firestone says, without following proven recommendations on how to report on suicide, “we risk contributing to individuals’ suicide risk and even creating contagion, especially among teens.”

Please remember, the suicide state is often passing and temporary. It can be a trance-like state that can leave people with diminished awareness of the fact that if they wait things out they may regret even considering suicide at all. Many people who have made serious attempts often have these types of regrets, because like everyone says, things do get better. Nothing ever stays the same. Don’t give up just before things change!

Warning Signs of Suicide

(from the American Association of Suicidology)

  • Talking about wanting to die.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

Resources:

Light Deprivation to Decrease Mania in Bipolar Disorder

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Bright light therapy has been used for years to treat seasonal affective disorder and depressed patients in general. Patients sit in front of a special lamp which has similar effects on their circadian rhythms or wake cycle as the sun would, thus increasing their energy and lifting their moods. I had great success with my light therapy box during a particularly trying depressive episode several years ago.

Researchers are now speculating that light DEPRIVATION therapy, the opposite of bright light therapy, may be a viable treatment for bipolar mania. Light deprivation therapy can be achieved by limiting exposure to sunlight or by wearing specialized glasses.

There are only a few studies testing this theory, however, and while results of these studies are positive, sample sizes are too small to be generalized. Hopefully, they will continue to look into this further because if it works, it would be a safe, non-invasive option for treating bipolar mania.

Suicide – A Meditation

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Part of having a debilitating mental illness often includes thoughts of suicide. They are thoughts that come of their own accord. We do not wish them upon ourselves or create them of our own volition. They seem to appear out of no where, haunting our minds and our emotions; taunting our very existence.

Others may not understand these thoughts, but we know they are just another symptom of our depression. Just like sleep disturbances, appetite changes, loss of concentration, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, and hopelessness, suicidal thoughts are another sign, although the most serious sign, that our depression is present.

When we are having these thoughts we must tell a professional or family member or friend about them. We must not keep these thoughts to ourselves. They are like poison and can be lethal if left untold and untreated.

Today, if I am having suicidal thoughts I will tell someone about them and seek profession help. The peace I long for is to be had in this life. I will fight for it. I will find it. It will be mine!

An Open Letter to Those Contemplating Suicide

TRIGGER WARNING: Suicide

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An open letter to those contemplating suicide:

I have been where you are, and I know how you feel. Do not shake your head, please. I really do know…the gut-wrenching emptiness, the suffocating weight, the terrifying loneliness, the absolute certainty that you will never feel any better than this moment.

I know the maddening thoughts which peck away at your mind like a vulture picking and pulling rotting meat from a carcass. I know the horrifying realization that you have no control over your feelings; that no one can know the depths of your despair and worse, that no one can save you from the black hole swallowing your mind and soul.

I know the physical aches and pains, the dead-weight of every extremity as you try to simply move from one position to another; the grayness of the world, day in and day out; the tears, the endless stream of tears; the absolute void of anything positive; the loss of all things which use to bring you peace and joy. These things I know.

I have also been where they are, and I know how they feel. Please do not doubt me. I really do know… the feel of the hard floor hitting their knees after hearing the news of your death; the anguishing pit in their stomach as bile rises in response to the action you took; the constant and nagging nightmares of what your last thoughts were before you swallowed the pills, pulled the trigger, fell from the chair, jumped, or cut through your vein.

I know their flashes of imagery at how you must have looked while you died and right after; their regrets of things said or things not said, and never having the opportunity to tell you that you don’t have to do this; that you don’t have to choose a path that will cause so much horrific pain and devastation to those you leave behind.

I know the clutching of their hearts and their screams of “No, no, no!” I know how they’ll have to live the rest of their days wishing they could see you smile one more time; give you one more hug; share one more laugh, cry, argument or anything with you. I know that they will never stop thinking of you, or truly be able to fill the spot you tore from their being.

I know depression is a disease of perception, and it wants nothing more than to kill you. It is a disease of the body, attacking mercilessly. But it is also a disease that can be treated. No matter how many times treatment has failed, if there is breath then there is still hope.

Please do not take away the ever-present possibility of help. Breathe for one more day. Tell someone you are thinking of suicide, and then breathe again for another day. Tell someone else you are thinking of suicide, and breathe yet for one more day. Keep breathing and keep telling someone how you feel.

Be honest with those who can and will help you – family, friends, and professionals. If you don’t have those options, find another professional and another until someone can help you. Call a stranger, a hotline, go to a support group and ask for help; keep reaching out to someone; keep asking for help. Find people who will care. They are out there; keep searching and don’t stop until you find them.

And most importantly, keep breathing. As long as there is breath, there is hope.