Trigger warning: suicide attempt.
Belonging is such an innate human desire that we often forget what a large impact it has on our
overall mental health and wellbeing. Newborns need acceptance from their parents/caregivers, children and young adults seek acceptance from peer groups, and adults seek acceptance through partnerships, both romantic and platonic, because it makes us feel connected and fulfilled, bringing purpose to our time on earth. So, what happens when belonging seems to belong to everyone but you?
WITH UNDIAGNOSED ADHD AND SUSPECTED AUTISM, I NEVER FELT I BELONGED ANYWHERE
With almost 8 billion people in the world, it seems like it would not be that hard for everyone to find a sense of belonging somewhere with relative ease. I can tell you that was not the case for me, and if you are neurodiverse maybe it was not the case for you either. I spent the first 33 years of my life with undiagnosed ADHD and suspected autism. As far back as I can remember I have been “weird”.
Other than with my twin sister – who is my forever best friend and the one human on earth who understands and accepts me completely – I have never felt like I belonged anywhere. Always a bit of an outsider, I never held onto friends for very long and have never been in a relationship for longer than 2 and 1/2 years. To say that I struggled in academic, social, and professional settings for over three decades of existence would be a gross understatement.
My neurodiversity dictates how I perceive and interact with the world around me but for most of my life I had no idea I was neurodiverse so most of my energy was spent on trying to force myself to function like my neurotypical peers. After all, that’s the ideal, right? Societal, social, and professional norms are built on the premise that we all “should” think, behave, and communicate in a similar (i.e., neurotypical) fashion.
NO ONE UNDERSTOOD ME. NOT EVEN ME.
When you fall outside of that very small and limiting box of expectations, your reality may be very lonely. I could never quite grasp why it seemed so easy for others to make and keep friends, to move in and out of relationships, to know just what to say and how to act so that people wanted to be around you. I tried so hard to fake it and be like everyone else, but the real me always came out and it always meant losing friends and partners because they didn’t understand me. I didn’t even understand me. I knew there was something different and I spent a very long time trying to find out what that was.
For as long as I can remember, I have been searching for answers about why I was, well, me. I have been in and out of therapy since I was 8 years old, sitting in front of licensed clinical therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, primary care physicians, teachers, and really anyone who would listen, trying to find myself. Because I knew I was not like everyone else but could not figure out how to “fix” myself, I suffered from profound anxiety and depression with suicidal ideation developing in my teenage years. I was misdiagnosed multiple times and put on so many medications for anxiety and depression with nothing really working, which only added to my despair.
UNDULATING BETWEEN F**K THE WORLD ATTITUDE AND CHILD-LIKE DESPERATION FOR ACCEPTANCE AND LOVE
The root of my challenges came from my neurodiversity and because that had not been identified, nothing improved. As a result, I undulated between hyper independence with a f**k the world attitude and child-like desperation for acceptance and love. Without an understanding of the why behind my feelings, perceptions, and behaviors, I spent my youth adrift in dangerous waters.
In an effort to cope with my very loud brain and my incredibly deep emotions, I turned to alcohol, tobacco, occasional marijuana, and toxic relationships. Not only did these things give me a pseudo escape from a reality where I did not belong and did not know why, it gave me an excuse to lean into the rough edges of myself. After all:
“Everyone gets rowdy when they drink so it won’t seem weird that I’m loud and hyper and over the top.”
“Smoking will show everyone that I am damaged and tough. Besides, what do I care if it hurts me?”
“Weed helps my brain take a break from the never-ending stream of consciousness pulling me in 10 different directions at once.”
“Love is supposed to be chaotic. Screaming at each other and getting into fights is a show of passion. I have to process my strong emotions somehow and toxic relationships give me an outlet to do that with the false sense of security that comes with being with someone, even if they’re wrong for me.”
MY DOWNWARD SPIRAL DOWN INTO DARKNESS AND SUICIDE ATTEMPTS
Shocking no one, these tactics only furthered my downward spiral. The first time I tried to take my life I was 19 years old, just a few weeks shy of finishing my freshman year in college. I had gone through a bad breakup from my first serious relationship. The breakup was a result of a mistake I made, coupled with my unhealthy coping mechanisms and general lack of knowledge about my brain wiring, I descended into a very dark place.
Research shows us that those with ADHD are more likely to use alcohol, tobacco, and illicit substances and have a greater risk of developing a substance use disorder than those without ADHD. Never in my life had this statistic fit me more accurately than during this time. I was drinking to excess back then and engaging in dangerous habits like reckless driving and other thrill-seeking activities. None of these things made me feel better and no matter how hard I tried to fit in and find that sense of belonging, I still felt deeply alone.
One night sitting in my dorm room, it all became too much and I made the decision to end my life. I texted all of my “friends” to say I loved them and took an entire bottle of pills with a liter of vodka. One of the people I texted was suspicious of my wording in the message and found me on the floor when she came to my room to check up on me. She called for help, and I was taken to the ER, and given charcoal to neutralize and expel the poison in my stomach. I spent a night in the telemetry unit to make sure my heart was not damaged, evaluated by a psychiatrist, and sent home with my mom and sister, who had driven almost 6 hours to get to me when they received the news.
At first I felt like a failure and the feeling of “I don’t belong here” and wanting to end all the pain did not recede immediately. Most days it was a fight to find a reason to stay, but I kept fighting. As time passed, the reasons to stay became more and more powerful. The journey hasn’t been easy, but it has absolutely been worth it.
INTERPLAY BETWEEN MY EXPERIENCES AND MY NEURODIVERSE MIND
I did not know it at the time, but my experiences are directly reflective of the neurodiverse mind. I have an extremely hyperactive brain, so I talk a lot. I also have a tendency to be impulsive, and constantly struggle with executive functioning like task initiation and working memory challenges. I always seek out dopamine and get bored easily when there is not enough novelty or excitement. I am plagued by rejection sensitivity dysphoria and ruminating negative thoughts, and have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships with romantic partners, finances, food, and physical activity.
Despite fitting the picture of a combined-type ADHDer perfectly, I did not receive an accurate diagnosis until I sought one out myself after my young nephew was diagnosed. At that time, I also dove into researching neurodiversity and was blown away by how much I related to the experiences of those with ADHD and autism. I found a local professional who diagnoses adults and made an appointment with her for assessment and on-going care management.
CORRECT DIAGNOSIS ENABLES ME TO LOVE ALL THE PARTS OF ME I TRIED TO EXTINGUISH FOR SO LONG
The diagnosis changed my life because I was finally able to put a name and a frame around my
experiences. It helped me to stop feeling broken and start feeling unique in a powerful and profound way. It has allowed me to find answers and explanations for so many of the things that made me hate myself.
I can now lean into my strengths and find ways to love all of the parts of me that I have tried to hide or extinguish for so long. Having undiagnosed ADHD and suspected autism meant that I walked through so much of my life trying to force myself to be anyone other than me. Wearing a mask every day and feeling like the real me would never be good enough was depressing and defeating. The lack of belonging led me to a point where I attempted to take my own life. Thankfully, I was not successful. “Failing” at that has allowed me to flourish in my purpose of creating a sense of belonging for so many others who have spent their lives feeling alone.
For me, life changed when I stopped trying to be everyone else and figured out how to work towards being the best version of me. Next time you feel like you don’t belong here, make sure you are seeking belonging in your “here” and not someone else’s.
Our heartfelt gratitude to our guest author this week, Gwendolyn Janssen MHA, MSN, RN, for courageously sharing her story with such vulnerability and bravery. In the words of California's former Surgeon General, Devika Bhushan, who thrives with a bipolar diagnosis, "stigma festers in the darkness and scatters in the light." By sharing our stories, we humanize our struggles, removing bricks from the wall of stigma and letting light shine through. Those struggling step out from the shame and silence and reach out for help; and, are empowered to come into their own surrounded by their inner lights, self worth and self love. We all deserve to be seen, heard and valued. Thank you for this reminder Gwen. You will always belong. Shine on mighty warrior, shine on.
I always knew I was different. A little too sensitive, a little too anxious, a little too much. As a child, I struggled with social anxiety and an obsessive need to please others. And, although I
appeared to be a very happy child, something was starting to change in me.
As a teenager I began to struggle with suicidal thoughts but was too afraid to tell anyone. I had been placed in therapy, but I was too scared to tell my therapist just how sad I was for fear of what would happen to me.
my facade crumbles and my mental health along with it
I once heard Jim Carey say that “depression” means “deep rest” and that a depressed mind is your body’s way of saying, “I need a break, I don’t want to play this character anymore.” That is exactly how I felt. I was physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to be happy all the time, trying to please others, and wearing a mask so that no one could see the real me and how much I was hurting.
By the time I reached college, the façade that I had been holding up for so long came crumbling down and I had a full mental breakdown. I was forced to drop out of school and was eventually placed into McLean hospital as my behaviors became increasingly dangerous. I felt like I had failed everyone in my life and had failed myself. I no longer saw a bright future. I didn’t care anymore about anything, especially myself.
Borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and depression diagnoses help me make sense of myself and my life
I was hospitalized at 19 years of age and diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, anxiety and depression. Once I came to understand my diagnoses, the distorted way that I thought started to all make sense. I finally understood why I was such a people pleaser, why I was so terrified of being abandoned by my loved ones, why I was so afraid of anger, and why I had reached my breaking point.
I started to realize that these illnesses had dictated so much of my thought processes that I didn’t even really know who I was. I lived in such paralyzing fear for most of my life, afraid to upset people and afraid to fail. I was exhausted.
BEGINNING REAL WORK OF UNDERSTANDING WHERE MY ILLNESSES END AND I BEGin
But now the real work has begun: learning to understand where the illnesses end and where Dina begins. After spending ten years in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities, I was able to slowly
reintegrate into mainstream society. I was able to go back to community college and then finish my Bachelor’s degree at Boston College while I worked a full-time job. The more I learned about myself, the more I began to realize just how smart I was, how kind I was, and what a great laugh I had.
FULLY EMBRACING MY LIFE’S DREAMS, I Go for it
With a lot of grit and hard work, I was able to finally pursue the career path that I always envisioned for myself, landing internships and eventually a full time position working in television. I have achieved things that many thought were not possible for me and, even now, I need to constantly remind myself to be grateful for that.
However, as we age and mature sometimes our dreams change and now, I am beginning to
envision a whole new career path as a mental health empowerment keynote speaker. And once again, I plan to achieve that because I know that I can.
my journey to recovery is a medal of honor
I used to want to sweep the fact that I had endured a life-altering mental illness under the rug and just move on. I was ashamed and embarrassed of my past but now, I realize that I should NOT be ashamed of this. Rather, I should wear my journey to recovery like a medal of honor. I should be proud, and I should remind myself of that every day.
A mental illness that alters your life never truly goes away but rather it lies dormant and
reappears when life gets tough. I often try to control all aspects of my life because I have somehow convinced myself that if I can control life then it can’t throw me off the tracks. It can’t derail me and make me sick again. But that is not how life works.
my light is A Beacon Reminding me We ARE All Perfectly Imperfect
I am still learning to let go of the reins every once in a while, embracing the knowledge that even if life breaks me, I won’t stay broken forever. I am still actively in therapy and on a daily medication regimen. I fully support this because it allows me to lead a “normal” life. I still have issues that I struggle with daily, and I continue to work on myself every single day.
Do I wish I was not an anxious person? Yes, of course! Do I wish I had not lost ten years of
my life? Absolutely! But am I proud of the person I became? Undoubtedly!
please heed my advice to you
I once heard a quote, “when you go into the storm, you don’t come out the same person … you aren’t supposed to.” Mental illness is a storm but, like the quote says, you can come out of a storm, you just aren’t the same person who went into it. You are stronger and more resilient.
My advice to you is this: don’t allow your mental illness to dictate what you are capable of. Only you can determine that. And remember, you are not flawed. You are not unlovable. You are not unworthy. You are perfectly imperfect. Go chase your dreams. You got this!
Why are FAMILIES and mental health advocates of loved ones WITH SERIOUS BRAIN DISORDERS fighting so hard FOR RECLASSIFICATION?
Recently, the term Serious Brain Disorder (SBD) has been circulating in my Facebook mental health advocacy groups more and more.
At first, it seemed as if these circles of advocates wanted the insurance companies to code Serious Mental Illnesses (SMIs) differently so they would issue better compensation to psychiatric providers and so patients could have easier access to treatment. In that case, I thought, why not address it with how the insurance companies are required to code them?
But it starts elsewhere, beyond the insurance companies.
As I explored and researched the issue, it became clear that taking Serious Mental Illnesses seriously must include labeling it transparently and as unbiased as possible.
Here are several reasons why families and mental health advocates of loved ones with Serious Mental Illness—especially schizophrenia and the like—are fighting with all their hearts, souls, and minds to have it recognized as what it truly is: Serious Brain Disorder.
First, What is SMI?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses defines Serious Mental Illness as “a small subset of the 300 mental illnesses that are in DSM.”
“According to the National Institute of Mental Health, serious mental illness is relatively rare, affecting only 5% of the population over 18. Serious mental illness includes schizophrenia; the subset of major depression called ‘severe, major depression’; the subset of bipolar disorder classified as ‘severe’ and a few other disorders.”(4)
One of the sources I interviewed pointed out that the general public doesn’t know what Serious Mental Illness is so reclassification would clarify the concept. On the other hand, I pointed out, wouldn’t that muddy the water?
Not if they are educated.
An organization advocating for the reclassification of SMI to SBD is the National Shattering Silence Coalition (NSSC). The nonprofit has eight points of unity members align under, and the first is their primary concern:
The Two Were Once One
The two disciplines—neurology and psychiatry—are not as different as one may think. In fact, at one point they were one discipline.
Historically, psychiatry and psychology were a part of neuropsychiatry until “psychiatrists enthusiastically embraced the key that they were given to the human psyche, and this new ‘mentalistic’ approach consequently detached psychiatry from neurology,” this article in neuro.psychiatryonline.org explains. “It may be further speculated that neurologists, too, accepted this dichotomy and were relieved to leave the treatment of mental illness to others.”(1)
A Broken System Slighted and Misunderstood
Mental health and the demand for psychotherapy and psychiatry are coming into the forefront on matters related to COVID-19’s mental toll on peoples’ psyches. However, advocates for SBD have been begging for practical solutions to a broken mental healthcare system long before the present worldwide crisis.
Jeanne Allen Gore, SBD advocate, co-founder, and Coordinator of NSSC, argues that mental healthcare as an industry has been misconstrued, underfunded, and at a large disadvantage from neurology and pathology sciences and healthcare systems.
Gore points out, “If you do the math, there is a glaring mismatch: $36.55 spent on adults with SBD compared to $478 on those with Alzheimer’s, which is 13 times, or 1,327% more per person.”
According to Gore, other brain disorders like Alzheimer’s and autism have been inclined to more empathetic responses from the public. Since Alzheimer’s and autism have been funded and fought for their position at the table of medical sciences to be recognized as structural, biological, and medical brain disorders, it appears they garner more compassionate attitudes and legitimized views from society.
The Science Has Been There
In the article at neuro.psychiatryonline.org, authors Shahar Arzy, M.D., Ph.D., and Shlomo Danziger, M.A. explain, “With our current scientific understanding of the cerebral basis of psychiatric disorders, the era of the computational, data, and genomic revolutions once again merges the domains of neurology and psychiatry for a neuroscientific-based diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of neuropsychiatric diseases.”(1)
In regards to SBDs like schizophrenia and symptoms like psychosis, science and technology are making ways to merge the disciplines of neurology and psychiatry. Especially in disorders like schizophrenia, severe depression, and severe bipolar disorder where psychosis is a symptom, these are brain-based and medical in nature.
“More recent and dramatic evidence has come largely through functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography,” per Mary G Baker, President, European Parkinson’s Disease Association as stated in Baker, Kale, and Menken.(2)
Mary Palafox, RN, Chair of the Schizophrenia and Psychosis Action Alliance (S&PAA) states, “It’s not a debate whether schizophrenia is a neurological illness. Science has already determined schizophrenia to be a neuro-developmental disorder.”
You can visit their website over the next few months and follow how S&PAA is actively changing the treatment paradigm for those with schizophrenia spectrum disorders.
A Legal Loophole and Political Problems
Yet in practical solutions to psychosis in schizophrenia, psychiatrists cannot treat psychosis if the patient is not voluntarily admitted or concedes to treatment by their own will. In any other discipline, in a state of psychosis as a result of a medical condition, the doctors must treat, and their hands aren’t tied by laws. The danger of the legalities with SMIs or SBDs is what happens to many with SBD like schizophrenia when untreated, known as “dying with their rights on.”
Jeanne Allen Gore writes: “People with neurological illnesses, under medical standards of care, have access to resources and supportive care that those diagnosed with a ‘mental illness’ do not have access to. Their doctor makes the decisions about what level of care is needed and when it’s needed, not a judge. For decades, the decision to admit a patient with SBD for medical care has been made based on laws requiring dangerousness and the availability of hospital beds, or should I say, lack thereof, rather than medical necessity.”
She emphasizes, “This unconscionably cruel system has resulted in horrific abuses, neglect, and suffering. Our loved ones end up homeless, incarcerated, or dead far too soon. Science has proven these are no-fault, neurological brain disorders. Clinicians, doctors, and scientists know this. They are not a failure to control one’s behavior, a character weakness, or the result of a traumatic childhood.”
Behavioral and mental health sciences have their value in psychosocial rehabilitation for substance use. Psychotherapy continues to be a respected and evidence-based approach for those with cognitive damage and disorders from substance use, trauma, and brain injury.
The value of psychology and psychiatry cannot be ignored and compartmentalized, and there is a place for all these studies to effectively work together to help patients and those who care for them.
It won’t be achieved as effectively and as successfully if true severe, serious mental illness, is not taken seriously in and of itself.
To do that, action must be taken to move psychiatry and neurology back into a working relationship. The advances in science are here and there is enough evidence to show the validity of a medical cause of schizophrenia and these types of severe illnesses.
The Bottom Line
The battle to have SMI recognized as SBDs continues, in order to be funded for more research to find better treatments and more physical tests connecting the symptomology of psychosis to the etiology (causes) of biological and physical structures.
When the standard world health organizations take serious brain disorders seriously, then doors can open to more changes and better care. Then insurance payers can code them “medical” and doctors in hospitals and ERs will have to treat them as any other medical condition: with integrity, compassion, and ethics.
Advocates for SBDs are pleading for this shift in terminology and semantics because of the severity of the illnesses and the brokenness of the system that currently treats those with them. With language that articulates that these disorders are brain-based and physical, reclassifying SMI to be recognized through medical standards can lead to better care and more practical solutions for individuals who suffer from it.
This will level the playing field for equity in research and treatment funding, awareness campaigns, and give access to care and programs like #HousingThatHeals, just as Alzheimer’s and autism have achieved.
With every discovery we make to understand mental illness, we will all inevitably have to face the reality that “mental” is medical. Reclassifying Serious Mental Illnesses as Serious Brain Disorders is the gateway to the broader acceptance of that reality.
addendum from Kerry Martin, CEo & Founder
An added benefit of reclassification is removing the word "mental" from our narrative which would erode stigma in our society — in our workplaces, schools, social media, etc — saving lives and lessening suffering for our children, youth and adults struggling with their mental health. Stigma is trapping far too many behind its wall in silence and in shame, keeping those in need from reaching out for help. And, for those who believe we have made great strides in eradicating stigma, I would ask you, why hasn't our own Congress repealed a blatantly discriminatory law that has been on the books for almost 60 years, the IMD Exclusion, that has resulted in marginalizing our most vulnerable citizens, incarcerating them in our jails and prisons, walking over them on our cold streets, and pushing them into early graves?
So Many Hearts Ache for Lives Lost to Suicide THAT We, The Living, Must Shine a Healing Light on Silence, Shame and Stigma: AN Interview with Child Psychiatrist, Artist and Poet, DR. DianE Kaufman, MDRead Now
Hope lives. shame kills. everyday is suicide prevention day for Dr. diane kaufman, MD.
Kerry: As suicide survivors and mental health advocates, Lucia and I both so deeply appreciate your tremendous body of work in suicide prevention. Your award-winning poems, songs, posters, videos and even an opera have inspired hope, encouraged people who are hurting to reach out and offered solace to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Can you tell us why suicide prevention plays such a prominent role in your life and work?
Diane: In August 2019, my friend and mental health colleague Stacy ended her life by suicide. Her tragic death was and still is a shock to me. Stacy was a psychiatric nurse practitioner of great skill and compassion. I respected and admired Stacy for having so many positive qualities.
I used to tell myself, if a family member of mine needed care, I would send them to Stacy. Her taking her own life and leaving behind two sets of young twins was absolutely one hundred percent out of character for Stacy – the woman, friend, and mental health professional - that I knew her to be.
What ended Stacy’s life – what devoured, destroyed, and killed her – was depression. Even as I say these words, tears come to my eyes. I still can’t believe she is gone. Depression is a physical illness that invades the mind, body, and spirit. And, it can kill.
There, however, have been other significant events. When I was a medical student, I attempted suicide, and was medically hospitalized. When I was married, my father-in-law killed himself by gun shot. My teenage patient, who seemed to her mother, her teachers, and to myself to be doing so well, hanged herself in 2016. The best friend of my young adult patient died by overdose in 2020. My patient, who had her own history of suicide attempts (prior to when I began treating her), found her friend, and then became at increased risk for suicide herself. All of these tragic events have transformed me into a suicide prevention activist.
poetry transforms depression and despair into Healing and hope
Lucia: Why do you choose to express yourself through poetry? And, what was the impetus behind writing the poem, “Don’t Give Up” which you would later turn into lyrics with a song-writer and then two Suicide Prevention Public Service Announcements (PSAs), both a one minute version and a longer five minute version, in hopes that people would share the PSAs far and wide to help those who were struggling?
Diane: I turn to poetry to express myself when I am feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings. It’s a way to safely get what is inside of me – what’s troubling me – out into the world and onto a page. It often feels like the poem is a living thing wanting to communicate and be expressed, and I am the one listening and holding the pen to let it out – to be taken in and experienced by another.
“Don’t Give Up” was an outpouring of my heart listening to the sadness, depression, despair, and suicidality of my youth patients. It’s a conversation with a suicidal person. The poem is saying even though you want to kill yourself, please don’t do it because I understand how you feel, and I know that your choosing death is not the answer. There are reasons for you to keep living and people who truly care and can help you.
How do we convince those feeling hopeless to not give up?
Kerry: There is a quote by Hal Lindsey, “Man can live about 40 days without food, about 3 days without water, about 8 minutes without air, but only for 1 second without hope.” Not surprisingly, hopelessness is the leading predictor of suicide.
Speaking as an attempt survivor, I can certainly attest to that being the case for me. For months on end, I battled with feeling like there was no hope that anything was going to get better, no hope I was going to feel anything other than this unbearable sense of loneliness, bleakness and foreboding, no hope for a better tomorrow … really that there was no hope for me. And, then to see those I love seeing me that way and not knowing how to help me was just too much to bear. I was not only hurting but I was hurting them. How do we get people to not give up and give into these feelings of hopelessness?
Diane: The first line of the poem/lyric is “Don’t give up even though you want to.” Many people – maybe all people – have at times felt like giving up - wishing they were never born, wishing they could just sleep forever, wishing they could be dead, and for some – wanting to end their emotional pain by killing themselves.
I want the person listening to the song to feel the song is being sung just for them. For them to know they are not alone in feeling hopeless, and yet also to know that this day is not forever, there will be another day and life can change for the better. As long as there is life and there is help available there is hope.
Suicide is forever. The severe emotional pain coming from depression and/or severe life stressors can be helped, lessened, and improved while we are still alive. We don’t have to kill ourselves to stop the pain.
I know this to be true as I have lived it. When we are depressed, our thinking gets distorted and it’s as if all we see is darkness. It’s important to be compassionately reminded that, “There will be a better now even when we don’t see how” and that “Tomorrow’s light is a gift from the night.”
What more can we all be doing to help our CHILDREN struggling with their mental health?
Kerry: Given your specialty is child psychiatry and you see in your practice teens who struggle with suicidal ideation or who have attempted to take their own lives, what more do you think we need to be doing to help our kids given suicide rates are increasing in this demographic?
In October 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a national emergency in youth mental health. This declaration should inspire and galvanize us to collaborate on behalf of youth mental health by improving access, services, and resources.
We need more mental health providers and services available. We need more in-patient psychiatric beds available, as well as a higher level of care and specialty programs.
Social media can damage youth mental health when self-worth is judged by “likes” and when sense of self and self-esteem plummets by negatively comparing ourselves to online profiles of others. Youth need healthy social connections and to experience themselves as worthwhile.
They need caring adults who will ask the questions – “Are you okay? Are you feeling anxious and/or depressed? Are you thinking about hurting, cutting, and/or killing yourself? You can tell me because I care about you.”
Youth need to know there is no shame in seeking help and that mental health is physical health and help is available. Mental health education should be integrated into all school settings.
There are skills and coping strategies we all need to learn and practice. We also need to understand the warning signs of mental illness so we can better recognize when things are not okay with us.
honoring and practicing THE human art of connection To promote mental health and NUTURE resiliencE
Lucia: Diane, you have also worked for many years as a Child Psychiatrist back East and now in Oregon, and have extensive training in the therapeutic use of poetry, art, and story. Now, as Founder and Director of the Arts and Healing Resiliency Center at Mind Matters, PC, how are you working to eliminate silence, shame, and stigma to prevent suicide?
Mental health well-being can be nurtured in many different ways. I have Bipolar II Disorder, attempted suicide as a young adult, and became a child psychiatrist. Sharing my story helps break through silence, shame, and stigma.
I am an ASHA International storyteller and am on their Board of Directors. It’s a great organization that highlights the “superpower” of our personal mental health stories.
The expressive arts can also play a vital role in facilitating and fostering mental health. The inspired mission of the Arts and Healing Resiliency Center is to honor and practice the caring art of human connection. The ARTS Program, our unifying concept, inspires Adolescent and Adult Resiliency Training as well as Skills and Support by interweaving evidence-based mental health skills, positive psychology principles, and the creative arts to promote, nurture, and build mental health and life affirming resilience.
The goal of the program is a felt sense of personal integrity, authenticity, and responsibility leading to social-emotional and behavioral well-being. We offer online workshops, special events, mentoring, and therapy.
Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder, and Lucia Martinez Rojas, Social Media Strategist and Videographer, Accelerating Social Good with guest Diane Kaufman, MD, Child Psychiatrist, Humanism in Medicine Awardee, and Founder and Director, Arts and Healing Resiliency Center, Mind Matters PC.
EMPATHY AND KINDNESS IN our WORKPLACEs priceless: WHAT WORKING WITH STIGMA FREE LEADERSHIP LOOKS LIKE when you have undiagnosed major depression, anxiety, add and an eating disorderRead Now
We have an advocacy campaign running to eliminate stigma in the workplace and create cultures based on kindness and empathy, and have published a number of blog posts speaking directly to our team's lived experience with workplace stigma and the negative impact it has on their lives (such as being fired after CEO finds out our India Chair has bipolar disorder and a suicide attempt after our US Chair is laid off whilst in throes of major depressive episode.)
This is a different story however - one based on working in a stigma-free environment with my lived experience, mental (read physical) illness and an eating disorder.
What I was up against: undiagnosed inattentive ADD, social anxiety, major depression, and an eating disorder
I was working for a large building corporation that had umbrella companies such as telecommunications and facilities management. While I had a direct manager, I also had the Chief Operations Officer who managed me (and the entire company).
At the time I was living with undiagnosed inattentive ADD, generalised and social anxiety and major depression. I was also living with an eating disorder for which I needed intense treatment. While I was seeing a psychiatrist during this time, he diagnosed me with depression. That was all.
Little did I know the depression was slightly more than just your everyday depression. Major depression sucks but it would take another five years before I was formally diagnosed with this.
My bosses put my wellbeing first when I seek treatment for my eating disorder even thou pain in the ass for my co-workers.
After working in the Business Centre of this company I got a promotion and moved into the Telecommunications office. It was an all male office except for me. I was the only female.
At first I was my normal self - quiet because I was anxious and trying to find my feet in this different part of the company. Once I felt comfortable and opened up, the boys I worked with became more like brothers than coworkers. We had a lot of fun and laughter.
It was during this time that I needed to seek treatment for an eating disorder. This involved missing every Friday morning and having a two-hour lunch break once a week so I could go to a shopping centre and have lunch there with my therapist as my biggest phobia was eating in front of people.
This is where the stigma free workplace and management comes into things.
Not only did my boss in the telecommunications department support me during this time, but the Chief Operations Officer did too as he had to approve it all. I know it was a pain in the ass for my coworkers but I needed to do this for myself.
You have no idea how grateful I was to have the manager I had in telecommunications and the Chief Operations Officer be so supportive of what I had to do.
when you google "cats in tights" due to your inattentive add and anxiety, thing start to fall apart. Yet, I was Supported by management once again.
I was working with undiagnosed mental illnesses at the time but what really impacted me on a daily basis was my inattentive ADD and anxiety.
In a meeting with my COO, he said my performance was like a rollercoaster, that went up then went down again, then up then down. I couldn’t focus on the task at hand and know I would have been the employee they knew I could be if I had been diagnosed and medicated for ADD.
My COO took hits for me as well - my performance came into question with the Directors and upper management. I know that he guarded me and shielded me from being fired or disciplined for my work performance.
I tried so hard during my time in the telecommunications department, but when you can’t focus and end up googling cats in tights due to your inattentiveness, things start to fall apart.
I was moved to the facilities management division probably in the hope my work performance would improve.
after making alcohol my best friend, I let that friendship end and elected to resign. But through all this, they never gave up on me.
My work did not improve. I was so anxious all the time. Almost every day my friend and I went to the pub at lunchtime so I could have a beer to calm myself down.
Alcohol became my best friend during this time because it masked all my emotions and I didn’t need to think about my underlying anxieties.
While most people would be fired for this, the company knew something wasn’t right with me. Every Christmas party I would get hideously drunk and black out, not being able to remember the night before. We had an amazing team of people at this building corporation and when I drank I embarrassed every single person I worked with.
Sure, I laugh about certain things now, but the reason for my drinking was to hide my mental and emotional pain.
I ended up handing in my resignation from the company after five and a half years to pursue real estate, as my family were moving back to Perth and I wanted to stay living in Melbourne.
Creating a stigma-free workplace isn't rocket science. If i didn't get the support I did from leadership, I don't know where I would be today.
Creating a stigma free workplace isn’t rocket science or hard. This company did it for me so willingly and never ever questioned what I needed to do. They were there to support me and they went above and beyond to do this. There were no questions asked. It was just what I told them I needed to do and they were amazingly understanding.
I think on the day I resigned everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I couldn’t continue working there the way I was. They perhaps knew it before I did. But I realized I needed to pause and seek more intensive treatment.
I still have relationships with a lot of people from the company today, 15 years later, including my boss in telecommunications and the COO. They now all know about my mental illnesses as I have been very vocal about it, and they are just as they were at work - totally understanding and supportive. They are just all around great people.
To rid your workplace of stigma, you just need acceptance. That is all anyone wants.
If the shy, anxiety riddled kid starts working below their capacity, ask them if they are okay.
If the severely depressed person takes more days off than allowed, ask them how you can help.
When people go to management and advise them of their mental illnesses ask how you can make it so that it won’t impact their job. Keep things on a level playing field.
I will forever be grateful to my company I worked for and the way they handled me, my mental illnesses (albeit undiagnosed), and my work ethic and behaviour. They could so easily have wiped the slate clean, said this is too much and have somebody else replace me. But they didn’t.
They kept their belief in me. I don’t know how or why, but they did.
But what I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is, if they didn’t help me through those hard times with my eating disorder, I don’t know where I would be today.
Empathy and kindness go a long way. And, they both cost nothing. My bosses and colleagues giving me the feeling that I was worthy and that I belonged despite my issues was invaluable to me and my mental wellbeing.
Really, when you give it a think, aren't we all worthy? Worthy of empathy and kindness?
Erin Macauley, Chief Hope Officer, Accelerating Social Good, and Australia Chair, We Are All Worthy, a cause-advocacy campaign to co-create stigma free workplaces on foundation of empathy with needed mental health programs and supports for all.
fighting through Hell as a child to emerge an empowered woman: the grit and resilience of a true mental health superhero, Meagan CopelinRead Now
[TRIGGER WARNING: SH, SA, R*PE, ED]
i have to fight through hell to become the EMPOWERED WOMAN i am today.
BEING BORN WITH GRIT, DETERMINATION AND FIGHT DOESN'T MATTER WHEN YOU'RE BORN TO TEENAGE DRUG ADDICTS
As a young girl, growing up in the city of New Orleans, I was always determined to be the very best and to never give up despite my obstacles. In fact, my aunts and uncles nicknamed me “Maybe Tomorrow” as they saw determination and grit from the moment I was born.
My great-grandmother, Anna Copelin, who we called Mother Anna, holds a special place in my heart. Mother Anna passed away when I was 3 years of age, and although I do not remember much about her, I do know she still guides me and watches over me daily. She has truly been my guardian angel.
My mom and dad were teenagers when I was born. I was primarily raised the first 3 years of my life by Mother Anna and my great grand-father, Daniel Copelin (Granddaddy Copelin), not because they wanted to but because they needed to.
Even born as a premature baby, I had so much fight in me. I was a very small baby, with a big forehead (LOL).
My great grandparents were full of love. The greatest memories I shared with Granddaddy Copelin was us sitting at the kitchen table eating stale ginger snaps and cold hot dog links. For some reason, my granddaddy loved giving us grandkids stale snacks.
I still smile thinking about how my granddaddy enjoyed a snack that I found very unpleasant, but I still enjoyed spending time with my love. He was the first man that I ever loved, and he showed me love as I didn’t grow up with my dad in my life, so my granddaddy and certain uncles were there for me.
My birth mom was in and out of my life and was extremely unstable. I remember when I was around 6 years old, she was involved in an unstable relationship with a man, and he got so mad at her that he hit her in the head with a car jack. She needed over 200 stitches. That was very scary to watch.
I really think I started to experience mental health issues around that time or maybe earlier, starting around the age of 5.
My dad disappeared when I was around 7 years old. I didn’t remember him and never cared to find him. I did start asking about him later but remembered that the other men in my life made sure I was good. (I am happy. I never had daddy issues thank goodness.)
My mom and dad were both crack heads. I mean call it like you see it. They abused drugs heavily. I saw my mom take drugs, snort crack, and sell her body. I was young seeing all of this. WTF.
No child should ever have to live through this hell.
My mental health was spiraling out of control. I was starting to act out and cut myself. I was a child. Why was I seeing this shit?
At the time, I never realized this was a sickness she possessed and for years I did not like her. I hated her. I didn’t want a relationship with her. I even told people she had died.
I was angry so anything I said at that time I meant it. She was fucking up my mental health.
I was depressed, had PTSD, was wetting the damn bed, experiencing an eating disorder, etc.
I was a child. No child should ever have to experience this, no matter what. I WAS MAD at that time.
My mom had lots of men in her life, and I mean LOTS of men. She would meet a man on Wednesday, and we would be living with him on Friday. I watched my mom experience lots of pain from men, from being abused to assaulted.
She was on drugs and gone for days. There were times I didn’t see my mom for days, even weeks. This was traumatizing for myself as well as my brother and sister.
My mental health was spiraling out of control. I was cutting myself and biting my nails down to the skin. I was going through hell.
getting held down, raped and pimped out by your mother when eight seriously fucks with your mental health
At the age of 8 years old, I was raped multiple times by my mom’s boyfriend. I think he was boyfriend number 500 of that year. I loved school and would go right to school after being raped by that ugly old ass monster. He smelled like grease and molded bread. He was a PIMP and would have sex with prostitutes before and after he raped me.
My mom was aware of this but when drugs take over your life, that is typically the focus and not anything else around you. He told me not to tell anyone, and he even told me that he would tell her and that she wouldn’t do anything. The nerve.
And he was right: I told her and nothing was done. These two were really messing with my PTSD. Severe depression was kicking in. Crack and cocaine are truly a hell of a drug.
at age of 12, diagnosed with clinical depression, ptsd, anxiety, eating disorder, ocd, and behavioral and emotional disorder. thanks mom.
School was my safe haven and even though I was bullied daily, I still went with dirty ass clothes and cuts on my body. I should have been playing with barbie dolls and eating dinner at the table with a normal family, but I was facing severe trauma at 8 and 9 years old.
I eventually moved in with an abusive aunt, who would beat me with a broom and make me sleep in my own urine as I was still wetting the bed from severe trauma. I was suffering and going downhill. After two years or so, I had an opportunity to move with another aunt who changed my life.
That aunt saw that I needed help and sent me to see a licensed psychiatrist. At the age of 12, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, PTSD, anxiety, an eating disorder, a behavioral and emotional disorder, and OCD. I was provided a prescription for mental health medication as well.
learning to forgive, not for her, but for me.
For years, I did not like my mom and didn’t see her again until I was 20 years old. I had to really learn forgiveness and it was hard. I sought counseling and joined a church to help me learn how to forgive my mom. I finally forgave her about 7 years ago. I am now 40.
I realized that forgiving her was not about her but about me. And about freeing me. To move on and succeed in life, I had to learn the power of forgiveness. That was truly a process for me. I had to be open and understanding. I had to place myself in her shoes in order to understand her struggles.
I didn’t have to have a relationship with her to forgive her. It felt good to rid that baggage that was holding me back for years. The act that hurt me will always be with me as I have that right, but forgiveness has lessened its grip on me. Forgiveness has allowed me to led with understanding in my personal life, as well as show empathy and compassion for my parents, as well as others around me.
How can you improve your child's mental health? your child deserves it.
One of the best things you can do to keep your child mentally healthy is to take care of your own mental health. As a parent, it is important that you protect your child and never allow them to be placed in situations that may harm them and scar them for life. A child needs to be a child and do things that children do, such as playing with dolls and car toys.
Children are innocent.
Parents should also have a basic understanding and answers to questions such as what mental illnesses are, who can get them, what causes them if that is known, how diagnoses are made, and what treatments are available. Do your homework.
Your child deserves it.
i was put on this earth for a reason. speaking up about stigma is my gift. It is my calling.
When I share my story with others, I always say that I am happy I have been through the things I have been through. My reason is because I believe GOD knew I could handle this. I am not my parents and never inherited any of their traits or habits. I was placed on this earth to help young girls and women all over the world share their story. Speaking up regarding the stigma of mental health is my gift. I was meant to do this.
If you're thinking about hurting yourself, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Dr. Meagan T. Copelin is the Supporting US Chair of Accelerating Mental Wellness, a social-justice campaign to co-create stigma free workplaces built on a foundation of empathy with needed mental health supports and programs.