News Day Tuesday: BLOOM by Anna Schuleit

a cure for what ails you, bipolar disorder, major depression, memories, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Hey readers! This week, we’re doing something a little different for News Day Tuesday.

I stumbled across Anna Schuleit’s beautiful BLOOM project from 2003 (yes, I know I’m super late to the party). Today, I want to celebrate that project.

In 2003, artist Anna Schuleit installed 28,000 (28,000! Yow!) potted flowers throughout the psychiatric ward of the Massachusetts Mental Health Center (MMHC).

Anna Schuleit’s installation project was created within the entire building of MMHC, on all floors, inviting former patients and employees, staff, students, and the general public, to re-visit the historic site once more before its closing. There was also a symposium at a nearby venue, and an open forum on the front steps of MMHC, during which the patients were invited to tell their stories. The events were dedicated to the memory of the thousands of patients of MMHC, and included as many of them as we were able to contact, as well as the doctors, nurses, support staff, researchers, students, and the general public. The project was a non-profit effort run entirely by volunteers and all of the events were free and open to all.

Source

As people living with mental illness, some of us with more than one, we know the therapeutic power of telling our stories, of having a voice when we’re so often voiceless. Mindy Schwartz Brown wrote some beautiful poetry about her experiences at MMHC, which you can read here. One poem in particular, “Asylum,” touched me deeply.

ASYLUM
(for Anna)

How did this edifice become “home” to its inhabitants-
the renowned multiply degreed,
the haplessly homeless dually diagnosed,
the walking wounded,
the worried well,
the happy go lucky who cleaned floors,
cooked lunches,
took blood pressures.

How could it contain all of the
the egos,
the disintegrated, the inflated,
occupying one space in parallel play?
MD, SPMI
Ph.D, BPD
MSW, DBT
Tell me in this soup, where does one find one’s ME?

DSM IV, Anybody going for V?
What’s the code for those who close hospitals
then open prisons for the sick?

We all feel so much better now,
knowing our brains are
faulty and we are not.
Structural errors ,
neurotransmittor deficits,
viral origins,
genomic misconfigurations.

So now can we all be friends?
Can we do lunch?
Just as we would with a diabetic?

October 3, 2003

Mindy Schwartz-Brown © 2003

The pain of not being recognized is one we know all too well. The lines “We all feel so much better now, / knowing our brains are / faulty and we are not” struck a chord with me that resonated all the way through my body and down into what some people call the soul.

We are the ones who are forgotten. We are the ones who are hiding in plain sight, not out of our own desire to be invisible, but of the desire of others to make us invisible. We make others uncomfortable, particularly when we don’t outwardly fit the mold of the “mentally ill person.” Whenever I reveal that I have bipolar I and CPTSD to someone, I am typical met with one of two reactions. The person either recoils–the discomfort in their eyes is stark and harrowing–or they tell me how “brave” I am.

I am not brave. I simply live. What choice do I have? I do not want to die, though there are plenty of people who view living with a mental illness as a fate worse than death–and I find that more disturbing than anything going on in my attic. There have been countless times when the hauntings have gotten so noisy that I feel as though my mind may literally split in two. Still, I live. Our lives have worth. We have worth.

I’d like to end by including a few photos of Schuleit’s installation. I spent a great deal of time yesterday perusing the photos and reflecting–not on my own experiences, as I have never been inpatient, but on what others’ experiences might have been like as they lived out their day-to-day at MMHC.

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-red-mums-640x920

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-white-tulips

bloom-by-anna-schuleit-blue-hallway

All images above copyright Anna Schuleit.

Tell me your stories, readers. It’s important.

News Day Tuesday: Sick Days

a cure for what ails you, major depression, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Hey readers! I’ve gotten really bad about posting regularly and as we all know, structure is crucial when you’re living with a mental illness (particularly bipolar disorder). I made myself a super-nifty planner before I started school in January and am actually going to start using it to keep myself on track. What this means for you is that hopefully, I won’t disappear for weeks at a time!

Anyway, today’s article addresses the stigma against physicians taking sick days for mental health. While it focuses on doctors in Australia, the topic is extremely relevant to anyone who has ever taken or needed a “mental health” day. According to the article, doctors (unsurprisingly) feel uncomfortable taking sick days for self-care, even when they begin to feel burned out and can’t deliver their usual level of care to patients.

“I’m completely supportive, but I’ll admit I’ve never been brave enough to take a mental health day,” one doctor said, adding, “How can you dump your workload on a colleague who is going through much the same things as you are?”

– abc.net.au

I find this extremely relatable because I’ve always felt awkward calling into work or needing to leave early because my brain has decided that doing anything other than crying in bed is just not going to happen. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve always felt the need to claim another reason–usually migraines, which I used to get several times a week–because we’re conditioned to believe that depression, anxiety, and other disorders of the mind are not a valid reason for absences. We’re taught to believe that we need to suck it up and get on with our lives, even if that means hiding in the bathroom to cry or have a panic attack.

Naturally, this poses a huge problem for anyone in the workforce, but it’s especially problematic for health care providers. It’s something I’ve often thought about as my clinical practicum draws closer. How can I best serve my clients if I’m experiencing the same symptoms as they are?

I also fear that even in a mental health facility, where one would expect supervisors to be a bit more sympathetic, I’ll come across as weak or unsuitable for the job because of what’s going on in my brain. There’s an indescribable level of self-loathing and shame that comes with mental illnesses, and I’m sure all of you can relate. It’s the feeling of being less-than, the feeling that you don’t deserve to have a job because some days, you just can’t handle the world. You begin to question everything about yourself–am I being weak or overly sensitive? Am I doing this whole “adult” thing wrong? The fear of losing your job is a constant presence, which only makes things worse.

So what can we do about it? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question. One would hope that with increased media exposure, employers will become more understanding, although every boss is different and there are zero guarantees.

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I loved my job. I was working as an editor at a translation company, but my symptoms were so severe that I actually had what I called my “Oh shit, I cried at work!” kit, which I kept in my desk so I could patch myself up after crying jags. Some of the items included eye makeup, because it’s embarrassing to have streaked makeup after crying (even though I became very good at crying without messing up my face). Although my employer was aware of my struggles, I still lost that job due to absences, which sent me into a horrific downward spiral that took over a year to break.

Since then, I’ve become quite anxious about divulging any information related to my mental health to anyone at any job…and that’s problematic by itself. Why should we feel ashamed of something that’s beyond our control? The answer lies in the stigma.

It’s going to be a long, uphill battle, though the fact that today’s article even exists gives me hope. Exposure and time are the only things that are going to remedy this issue. It’s an unhappy thought, but I sometimes find myself wondering if mental health issues will ever be considered as legitimate as something as simple as food poisoning when it comes to work absences.

I’d like to end on an up note with another quote from the article: “If we can’t help ourselves, how can we help others?”

Self-care is so important, readers. The Compassion Project offers a list of self-care activities that you can check out to build a plan for yourself. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Reading
  • Baking (I’m a huge stress baker, though I haven’t done it in a while)
  • Knitting or embroidery
  • Crafting
  • Cuddling with a pet
  • Going for a walk (which you can even do at work–take a five-minute break to stretch your legs)
  • Doing a crossword puzzle

What are some of your favorite self-care activities? Let me know–I’m always looking to add to my list!

As always, readers, stay safe and I’ll see you next week.

News Day Tuesday: Bipolar Awareness Day!

a cure for what ails you, explanations, major depression, medication, mood diary, News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, therapy

Happy Tuesday, readers! Today (October 4th) is Bipolar Awareness Day, so I wanted to share an article with you that outlines the basic symptoms (for the uninitiated, as I know there are some new readers here) as well as what’s on the horizon in terms of treatment.

First of all, let’s hear about what bipolar disorder actually is. I’m referencing bt.com for the purposes of this tidbit, as the article I found gives a really great Reader’s Digest condensed version of the illness.

National charity Bipolar UK characterise the condition as “a severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows”, and note that, “the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression”.

According to this article, it takes 10.5 years on average (in the UK) for people with bipolar disorder to be properly diagnosed. The National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMD) paints a similarly grim picture: it can take ten years or more for a diagnosis to be reached, and 69% of cases are misdiagnosed.

What are the symptoms?

There are two sides to bipolar: mania and depression.

During a bout of depression, it is possible to feel: grumpy, without hope, guilty, self-doubting, suicidal, pessimistic, worthless, lacking curiosity and concentration.

And with mania: elation, full of energy, ideas and plans, easily distracted, feeling invincible, risky behaviour including spending huge amounts of money.

Both can feature: lack of appetite, insomnia and delusions.

-bt.com

My experience began very early. I remember fits of agitation and depression as early as eight years old, which at the time was chalked up to the incredibly rough hand I was dealt–a broken home, a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder herself as well as alcoholism, extreme bullying, and persistent nightmares (which were later diagnosed as a feature of PTSD). NAMI states that rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, the most severe form of the illness, seems to be more common in individuals who begin exhibiting symptoms early in life.

From NAMI.org:

Early Warning Signs of Bipolar Disorder In Children and Teens

Children may experience severe temper tantrums when told “no.” Tantrums can last for hours while the child continues to become more violent. They may also show odd displays of happy or silly moods and behaviors. A new diagnosis, Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), was added to the DSM-5 in 2014.

– See more at: http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder/Overview#sthash.l0XKtkSy.dpuf

When I was eighteen, I decided to see a therapist and psychiatrist for the intense mood swings that had plagued me for most of my life. I was initially told that my deep depressions were the result of PTSD. I was prescribed fluoxetine (brand name Prozac), which only made the agitation worse. And I was still depressed.

At 22, I relocated to Wisconsin and began the search for something, anything, that would finally help me feel “normal.” The misdiagnoses continued: major depressive disorder, for which I was prescribed Abilify and trazodone. I felt amazing on Abilify for about two weeks, and then I crashed. Trazodone made me a zombie. (Note: It is not atypical for antipsychotics to be prescribed to treat both MDD and bipolar disorder.)

Bipolar disorder is most often misdiagnosed in its early stages, which is frequently during the teenage years. When it is diagnosed as something else, symptoms of bipolar disorder can get worse. This usually occurs because the wrong treatment is provided. Other factors of a misdiagnosis are inconsistency in the timeline of episodes and behavior.

-healthline.com

When I was 24 and in my first “adult job” with health insurance, I found a wonderful psychiatrist who, over the course of several sessions, examined my family history and asked very specific questions to find the root of my illness. At first, I didn’t even think to mention my “up” periods, because even with the agitation and sleeplessness, I actually felt good–and no one goes to the doctor when they’re feeling well. But upon deeper probing, he came to a conclusion: first bipolar II, then, after further investigation and a few weeks of mood tracking in a journal, rapid-cycling bipolar I.

That first year was rough. I cycled so frequently that the days were exhausting. One day, I bounced between depression and mixed episodes several times in a single 24-hour period. Slowly but surely, the medications my doctor had prescribed (venlafaxine/Effexor, lamotrigine, and lithium) began to take effect. I began to stabilize. There were no more florid creative periods, but I was also able to sleep for more than an hour a night for the first time in weeks. My misery began to ebb, and though it didn’t disappear completely (a dysfunctional marriage contributed, among other things), I began to feel like a person again instead of a defective thing that needed to be turned off and fixed.

Aside from pharmaceuticals, NAMI’s website mentions cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychotherapy that focuses on self-care and stress management, and, in rare cases, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). Learning to recognize the triggers for each type of episode is key; one suggestion offered by the numerous therapists I’ve seen over the years is mood tracking/journaling.

However, I had to stop at one point because, in the heyday of my illness, I began to obsess over the cycles, sometimes tracking up to ten or eleven times a day. Instead of the journaling soothing my mind, I began to worry that I was untreatable. I found my mood journal during a recent move and it was difficult reading, to say the least. But it was also a reminder of how far I’ve come and how much my quality of life has improved since receiving a proper diagnosis.

These days, I’m doing much better. My medications have been adjusted slightly to accommodate the deep depressive episodes I’m prone to during the fall and winter months, but I am proud of myself for being able to recognize that the winter storm was a-comin’. Three years ago, I would not have been able to see the symptoms for what they are: a warning sign and a signal that I need to not only keep up with my medications, but to practice good self-care. In the past, I saw fall and winter as something awful that I had to endure. Now, I realize that I can still enjoy life even when the days begin to get longer and darker. The seasons are no longer a metaphor for the overall “climate” in my head.

How long did it take for you to receive a proper diagnosis, readers? Are you taking care of yourselves as winter approaches? I hope you’re all doing well and staying healthy and safe. And spread the word–this illness is massively misunderstood, even by mental health professionals, so it’s our job to reach out and counter-strike against the misinformation and discrimination.


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News Day Tuesday: Knott’s Berry Farm and Fear VR: 5150.

stigma

I stumbled upon this article on a Facebook page dedicated to mental health news earlier, and I’ve been itching to share it with you, readers!

Knott’s Berry Farm is, as most of you know, an amusement park in California. The park has announced plans for an attraction called Fear VR: 5150, set to open just in time for the Halloween season! Festive, spooky fun, right? Hold on a minute.

For the uninitiated, 5150 is the code used in California for an involuntary psychiatric hold. That alone should be enough to give someone pause–a 5150 hold is no joke. It’s no picnic for anyone involved. It’s not something to be taken lightly, and it’s certainly not something that should be marketed as entertainment, as is the case with this attraction.

The ride begins with patrons being strapped into wheelchairs and “admitted” to a psychiatric hospital. The attraction’s story follows a psychiatric patient who is possessed by a demon.While the whole 4D VR experience sounds pretty cool, I must object to the attraction’s subject matter. It’s a shame the technology was used to stigmatize mental illness, since it’s not like the stigma needs any help gaining ground.

I’ve never been hospitalized for my mental illness, which is something that people often find surprising when they learn that I have bipolar disorder. The disorder often does require hospitalization. Therefore, I can’t really speak to what the actual admissions experience is like; though I’ve read plenty of memoirs, nothing can compare to experiencing it for yourself. However, the set-up for the attraction is wildly insensitive and I can’t begin to fathom how it was approved.

On the other hand, the stigma against mental illness is so prevalent that, upon further reflection, it’s frighteningly easy to see how most people could view it as “just fun.”

Thankfully, the “5150” portion of the name has been removed, but the fact that an attraction like this even exists is highly disturbing. I’m unsure whether they’ve revised it and removed the wheelchair/admission portion at this time, but considering Cedar Fair Entertainment (the mother company for Knott’s) issued this statement, I certainly hope so.

“It is never our intent to be disrespectful to any individual or group,” Cedar Fair Entertainment, parent company of Knott’s Berry Farm responded in a statement. “The virtual reality experience is actually built around paranormal, zombie-like activity in a medical hospital setting. Part of the confusion stems from the use of the code 5150 in the experience’s original name. For that reason, the name has been changed to FearVR.”

I can get on board with a horror attraction set in a medical environment–I definitely love horror movies and stories set in spooky old hospitals. What I don’t love is that even for a second (before backlash from mental health advocates pushed Cedar Fair toward some semblance of decency), someone thought that using a police code for an involuntary hold in the title of a theme park attraction was a good idea. And it’s not just one person–it’s the whole team of developers who approved the title. It’s the marketing team, who thought it was okay to take a very serious situation and turn it into a way to make money and draw patrons to the park. It’s the people who didn’t have a problem with the name because they either lack knowledge of mental health care or because they simply don’t care.

That Cedar Fair was quick to issue a statement and change the name of the attraction is cold comfort considering that many people won’t see the harm in the name. Those of us who speak out against it will be accused of whining, of being overly sensitive, of being “special snowflakes.”

The truth is, any sort of hospitalization is not to be taken lightly. I doubt anyone would defend an attraction that was called, for instance, Diabetic Shock or Alzheimer’s Ward. Why is it that in 2016, it’s still considered acceptable to make light of psychiatric illness? I long for the day when people living with mental illness are treated the same as people with cancer or organ transplant candidates.

There’s also a petition to shut the attraction down based on its stigmatizing and highly insensitive concept.

You can check out the full article here. And a new personal post is coming your way this week! It’s hard to say when, since my laptop is on the fritz and I’m borrowing my significant other’s (who needs it for class), but never fear–I will deliver!

Until next time, readers, stay safe and lovely.


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News Day Tuesday: Childhood Mental Illness

News Day Tuesday, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, stigma

Good afternoon, readers! This week, I’m featuring an article from NPR related to the early detection of mental illness in children. Child psychologist Rahil Briggs states that half of all children show signs of mental illness before age 14.

On a personal note, I began experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder around age seven or eight. My mother had gone to prison when I was six years old, and I went twice a month to visit her at the correctional facility that was several hours from my home. By this point, nightmares were a common occurrence–I’d had them regularly since age five–so my guardian and other relatives didn’t think much of it when the frequency increased slightly after these visits began. There was some talk of finding a therapist for me, but the idea was abandoned.

One of the earliest memories I have of PTSD-related symptoms was one night when I was attempting to play chess with my aunt in the basement of my grandmother’s home, where I lived for the majority of my childhood and adolescence. I began to feel odd, detached from my own body and my surroundings. I remember saying to my aunt, “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?” because that was the only way I could describe it at the time.

She had no idea what I was talking about and gave me a strange look, a reaction for which I can’t exactly blame her–if I weren’t “in the know” about the symptoms of PTSD, I would have found such a statement very strange.

As a child, I was generally calm and reserved, but I did occasionally “act out.” I would get panicky and anxious, a tiny ball of pent-up energy and what I can only describe as rage at nothing in particular. That energy had nowhere to go, so it was directed inward, causing lasting damage before finally exploding outward. I would storm around the house in a dark mood, only to erupt moments later in a fit of crying so intense I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

My family was helpless to help me because they didn’t understand–or perhaps didn’t want to accept–the reality of what was happening to me. Bipolar disorder, which has spread throughout the family tree like Spanish moss, was beginning to wreak havoc on my still-developing brain.

Childhood mental illness is a tricky subject. It’s hard to recognize, and it’s terrifying, both for the sufferer and the child’s loved ones. It can strike anyone at any time, regardless of socioeconomic class or education level or how strong the family’s ties are. Therefore, it’s especially important for parents to remember and impress upon their children that it is an illness like any other and is not a moral or character judgment. It is not evidence of parental failings or proof that the child has not been loved enough. It simply is, and the earlier it is detected, the earlier treatment and healing can begin.

Did you start showing signs of mental illness in childhood, readers? How did your family/caregivers react?


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News Day Tuesday: Mental Health First Aid in Canada

News Day Tuesday, stigma

Good afternoon, readers! This Tuesday, I’d like to draw some attention to Mental Health First Aid training in Canada, the importance of which I cannot possibly overstate. As the article states, there’s training everywhere you turn to deal with things like broken bones or heart attacks. CPR classes have been around forever, and just about everybody can recognize the signs of a stroke.

But not many people know how to recognize the signs of mental illness. It’s hard to identify it even in yourself; without proper information, it’s almost impossible to spot it in others. Part of the Mental Health First Aid training program (or MFHA) is the discussion of symptoms and what to look for, but the other component–and, I’d argue, the most important–is discourse on the stigma surrounding mental illness.

After all, if we’re not comfortable talking about it, comfortable with asking our friends, family, and colleagues questions that probe deeper than a simple “Are you okay?”, there’s no chance that we’ll feel comfortable enough with the topic to actually help those who need it most.

I believe programs like MFHA are crucial to reducing the stigma and normalizing mental illness, because honestly, it’s not any different than physical ailments. It’s in our brains, coded into our DNA, not something we bring upon ourselves. It is not a moral or spiritual failing. It’s an illness that, like any other, requires compassion and treatment.

I know I’ve written about this almost to death, but I need people to know that they’re okay, that they’re not freaks or “insane.” I need people to stop flippantly saying things like, “You need to take your meds!” in response to an argument they don’t agree with. I need people to learn to confront, and eventually accept, the things that scare them, the things that lurk in the deepest, most private recesses of our mind.

Education is the only way to combat ignorance and fear. We need to share our stories and show everyone on the “outside” that we’re just like them. We have lives and relationships and jobs and passions. Above all, we are human. We are not something to fear. The sooner we can help others realize this, the sooner we can all start fighting the common enemy–the stigma that costs and destroys lives.

Do you know how to recognize signs of mental illness in others, readers? And more importantly, how and when did you first recognize it in yourself? It’s a hard topic for sure, but it’s one that needs to be addressed.


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News Day Tuesday: Press Release – CPTSD.help

News Day Tuesday, ptsd, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Greetings, readers! It’s News Day Tuesday once again, and I have something exciting to share this week. A little over a week ago, I was approached via email by Adriaan Bouman,  a web developer from Holland who’s created a new online community called CPTSD.help. The following is the press release I received:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

CONTACT:
Adriaan Bouman
CPTSD.help
info@cptsd.help

https://cptsd.help/

Introducing CPTSD.help

– Community-based recovery –

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Knowing the name of it helps. Knowing that you’re not alone helps even more. CPTSD.helpis a secure, online, real-time chat platform where members can share experiences, offer support and discuss recovery topics in a safe space.

“Recovery can only take place within the context of relationships; it cannot occur in isolation.”

– Judith Lewis Herman

While C-PTSD is not yet recognised within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it is defined as a psychological stress injury, resulting from continuous or repeated trauma over which the victim has little or no control, and from which there is no real or perceived hope of escape.

Web developer, Adriaan Bouman, created this open-source chat site not as a substitute for traditional therapy, but to establish a community that could help others on the road towards recovery. “In my own personal discovery and research I found that there are three main phases,” Bouman explains. “The first is diagnosis: identifying your condition as C-PTSD. The second phase is the journey towards recovery: a very personal journey. And the third is the period after recovery.”

This platform is for the many individuals within the middle phase. It’s for those who have identified their condition and are embarking on the journey towards recovery. Although that journey is always incredibly personal, it does not have to be taken alone.

CPTSD.help also links to many of the online resources that already exist, but what sets it apart from the rest is that its interactive nature encourages the dialogue necessary for understanding, grappling with, and hopefully overcoming C-PTSD. Discussion topics range from managing emotional flashbacks, finding the right therapist and mindfulness, to relationships, family, work, and even politics and philosophy.

Counsellors and therapists are also encouraged to join the community,” states Bouman. “The future aim is to have regular online Q&A events with experts; not only therapists, but also community members who have recovered from C-PTSD.”

– MORE –

While we may not know how many people suffer directly from the condition, we do know that there are millions out there who have been exposed to trauma on a continual basis. CPTSD.help allows us the opportunity to share valuable information, gain insights, and develop a community voice to demand a space in the DSM in the near future.

ABOUT CPTSD.help

Adriaan Bouman is a freelance front-end engineer and web developer from Holland, working out of Barcelona. He is not an expert in C-PTSD. His vision is simple: by building the platform for community engagement and support, those experts will eventually arise and help guide those still starting their recovery journey. No stranger to the power of online communities and international collaboration, Bouman brings a wealth of expertise in terms of digital and user experience design, to ensure CPTSD.help remains a secure and interactive platform for safe chat.

– END – 

I’m intrigued, to say the least. In general, I don’t jump into online spaces about mental illness because I usually go online to distract myself from whatever’s going on inside my head. However, this community is one to watch and I’m definitely going to be checking it out.

What communities are you into, readers? Have you had any experiences with targeted sub-Reddits (r/bipolar, for example)? What are your thoughts on an online community that includes patients as well as mental health professionals?

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News Day Tuesday: Proposal to open safe havens in St. Tammany Parish.

News Day Tuesday, stigma

This week, I have some optimistic news to share! St. Tammany Parish is planning to present a proposal to New Orleans city officials regarding a safe haven for people suffering from mental health issues as well as a day center for homeless families.

The plan is to offer services related to mental health crisis intervention and management (which is aimed at keeping people with mental health issues from ending up in jail, or worse). The center, which will be run by the National Alliance on Mental Health, is designed to be a safe place where people taken into custody by police can receive medical care and be stabilized, as opposed to being thrown in jail by default.

There has been an overwhelming influx of news articles about dangerous and often tragic interactions between police officers and people living with mental illness, so I’m pretty excited about this proposal. Even if New Orleans city officials don’t bite, I’m hoping  that this will set a precedent and spur more cities to action. It’s become obvious that we need more proactive, helpful approaches to de-escalating situations and actually helping people instead of just sticking them in holding cells with little to no treatment.

I’m planning to keep an eye on this one for sure. While other cities offer similar programs, the issue as a whole could certainly use a boost in publicity.

So, question time, readers: Does your city have any type of safe haven program? And, more importantly, are they well-known?

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News Day Tuesday: Digital mental health care

a cure for what ails you, News Day Tuesday, stigma, therapy

This week, I’d like to touch briefly on digital mental health care, which has become increasingly popular. I recently applied to work as a volunteer with Crisis Text Line, which is an awesome resource that allows people in crisis to communicate with trained volunteers via text message.

I’m still waiting for one more letter of recommendation, but if I’m approved, I’ll get to counsel others via text–how cool is that? It’s a four-hour-a-week commitment that lasts for one year, and I’d definitely encourage anyone with an interest or background in mental health to consider applying.

From Crisis Text Line’s website:

  1. We fight for the texter. Our first priority is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy. YOU = our priority.
  2. We believe data science and technology make us faster and more accurate. See our Founder’s TED talk for more scoop on how we’re using this stuff. While we love data science and technology, we don’t think robots make great Crisis Counselors. Instead, we use this stuff to make us faster and more accurate–but every text is viewed by a human.
  3. We believe in open collaboration. We share our learnings in newsletters, at conferences and on social media. And, we’ve opened our data to help fuel other people’s work.

This article from Scientific American examines digital mental health care and its pros and cons. I’m a huge fan of anything that allows people to get the help they need, and many people simply don’t have the means to physically attend therapy due to income, transportation, disability/illness, or other factors.

The article also raises very valid concerns about “impression management,” or the tendency clients have to only share information that is likely to make the therapist think positively of them. On the one hand, many people find it easier to express themselves through writing; because there are barriers between the writer and the reader, people may share more freely than they would in person.

On the other, it’s hard to overstate the importance of face-to-face interaction, particularly in a therapeutic environment. Being able to see the client allows the therapist to assess the client’s nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. This, in turn, can help the therapist direct the session in ways that make the experience as comfortable and productive as possible.

What do you think, readers? Would you be more likely to “talk” to a counselor via text, or do you prefer old school face-to-face therapy? Personally, I’m all for attacking issues from every possible angle, though I haven’t tried digital counseling myself (yet). If anyone has personal experience with digital mental health care and would like to share their story, please do! I’d love to hear from you.


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News Day Tuesday: Should emergency personnel be able to access protected health information?

News Day Tuesday, stigma

For this week’s News Day Tuesday, I found a rather intriguing article on the NY Daily News about providing emergency personnel, particularly police officers, with information about a person’s mental health prior to arrival on the scene.

Shaun King makes an excellent argument in favor of this:

Sometimes people having a psychotic breakdown are completely unable to stop moving. It may be impossible to actually hear what someone else is saying. When men or women do not obey police officers, law enforcement is often trained to say it louder and clearer.

At first, I was all in–if we can save lives and keep people with severe mental illnesses from being, you know, shot because of misunderstandings and lack of knowledge, that’s awesome! But then I began to consider the cons, such as 911 operators (who may or may not have medical training themselves) having access to my protected health information (or PHI).

While I agree that relaying pertinent information about a person’s mental state, such as whether or not they are psychotic, could perhaps positively influence how police interact with said person, we have to consider the very real danger of this information making things worse. Despite the fact that emergency personnel and law enforcement officers should be held to a higher standard than the general public, they’re still human, and humans are prone to biases. That’s one reason the whole mental illness stigma is still a thing.

Using the same example of a person suffering from psychosis, I worry that this person could fall victim to an officer’s personal biases and be treated worse because of their mental illness(es). And frankly, that thought is scary as hell.

This danger could be mitigated, to an extent, by requiring further training on how to deal with calls involving any kind of mental illness. But there are the usual concerns of how to fund the training and the risk that a law enforcement officer could, in the heat of the moment, completely forget (or disregard) what they learned. At the end of the day, human behavior can be pretty unpredictable, especially in situations as tense as a 911 call.

Even if this weren’t a concern–and it very much is, given the troubling track record of police interactions with those suffering from mental illness–I know a lot of people simply wouldn’t feel comfortable with having non-medical personnel having access to their charts. I worked in medical billing for a brief time and often felt uncomfortable with the amount of access had, even though I sometimes needed to explain charges and medical codes to patients and therefore needed to be able to see their charts.

I’m definitely straddling the fence on this one, at least for now. What do you think?

You can read the full article here.