Blog For Mental Health 2014 Project

Sometimes I read something that steals my breath, steels my convictions, and reminds me that there is redemption in every story, that beauty can come from the ashes of despair.

This is why I write about things I’d sometimes rather forget.

This is why I know it’s important to add my voice of support and advocacy for those who are facing what may feel hopeless, impossible, or insurmountable.

This is why I want parents of adolescents who struggle with mental illness to know that there is hope, to know that they are not alone.

Because they’re not.

 

*****

 

“No one can be prepared for having a child or youth with an emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder. It can happen to any family, to any parent, in any social circle. It cuts across all cultures and economic levels. The self-confident parent, the model family, the teacher, preacher, and doctor can have a child or youth with emotional or mental health problems. Because it can hit anyone, anytime, anywhere, it is impossible to prepare for it. The best you can do is deal with your emotions one at a time and one day at a time.”

 

Excerpted from Straight Talk: Families Speak to Families about Child and Youth Mental Health by Conni Wells

 

Source: Google Images

 

*****

 

“Chief among [the] misconceptions [about mental illness] is that mental illness is uncommon. Every year, 1 in 4 adults in the United States will experience a mental illness … One in 10 children and adolescents will have serious problems that derail their educational and social development. This means that well over 50 million adults and children in the United States fall ill each year, with similar percentages in most other countries on the globe. Few families are spared.”

 

“The impact of mental illness doesn’t stop with the person who is ill: It places great demands on families, stroking tensions and often pitting parents against each other. Sucking parents, sibling, and other family members into its maelstrom, mental illness is the visitor no one wants. But countless families find it living among them.”

 

“What’s more, 50% of mental illnesses come on by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24. You are right to be attentive to your young family members and friends, as these are the years when mental disorders surface. Many of these young people also discover that alcohol or drugs (especially marijuana) reduce their anxiety, at least at first, and the ongoing use of these substances typically worsens their condition and impairs treatment and recovery.”

 

“Mental illness is no one’s fault. People fall prey to mental illness because of the way their brains have become abnormal. We know this because imaging technologies now allow us to peer into the brains of those who have mental disorders. And what we usually see is this: Areas of the brains of people afflicted with mental illness look different than those of individuals who are not. The message could not be clearer: The brain – just like any other organ of the human body when it is diseased – is operating differently in people with mental illness … Just as some of us are more vulnerable to diabetes and high blood pressure, others of us are at risk for mental illness because of genetics and development.”

 

“The good news is that there is help – and hope – that can be effective, and that is available to families who are able to confront and meet the challenges that mental illness presents. I say this after many years working as a psychiatrist in both the private and public sectors … Time and again, I have seen patients go on to lead full lives when they receive proper diagnosis and effective treatment. And when their lives change for the better, so too do the lives of their families and friends.”

 

Excerpted from The Family Guide to Mental Health Care by Lloyd I Sederer, MD

 

Source: Google Images

*****

 art by Piper Macenzie

Source:  A Canvas of the Minds

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2014
https://www.facebook.com/HelpToHope
https://twitter.com/HelpToHope

Warrior Moms

We met for coffee. Conversation came easily as we shared stories. She is a courageous woman, a mother whose only son took his own life and left her with deep heartache and a brave new quest.  She is now on the board of our state chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She volunteers. She speaks out. She encourages. She grieves. All of these things take so much courage.

She told of the time she was curious (as any mother would be) about what her son had been looking at online. Though it was years before his suicide, a brief glance told her that he’d searched for ways in which he could successfully end his life. Alarmed, she called his school counselor for help only to be chided for betraying her son’s confidentiality.

She was not lauded for seeking to save his life; she was shamed for being a snoop.

 angry_teacher

(Source)

We talked about how unpredictable finding help in the public school system can be. We found that within the same highly regarded school district, years apart, at two of the schools with very “good” reputations, we both had terrible experiences when it came to support for our teens who dealt with clinical depression.

“My daughter went into the psych ward on Monday,” I told her.”She was released on Saturday. She was back in school the next Monday. I had told them what was going on. Her accommodation was that she was given a pass to leave class if she needed to go to the nurse’s office or the school psychologist‘s office for a while. After she calmed down, she was to go back to class.

“Now I know that legally they were supposed to do more, but at the time I didn’t know there were laws to protect and help students with mental illness. I didn’t ask for more because I didn’t know there was more to be asked for. And the school certainly never told me. ”

We shared frustration at the number of students who still surely go unsupported in these schools, how their academic reputations may seem impressive, but their legal mandate to identify and assist students in need of support services was not met in our children’s situations.

We ached for the parents who are now living what we lived: being shamed for their concern, or failing to be informed of the legal requirements schools have to help look after the safety of their students.

We did our best to encourage one another in our determination to work for change, to walk alongside those in need or in grief.

Such can be the plight of a parent whose child is struggling with any number of mental health challenges. The search for support and understanding can be frustrating and disheartening. To be in a world with confusing directional signs, where no one speaks a common language, and there is either an unwillingness or inability for anyone to point you to the path of help … this is what it can feel like.

 good-luck-road-sign

(Source)

But quitting is not an option.

We may have to fight or beg for adequate intervention for our kids. I know I’m not the only parent who’s had to insist that a suicidal daughter not be sent home from the ER because she didn’t have a specific plan to end her own life, “just” the desire to do so, shouted at the top of her lungs to anyone who would listen.

Everyone has a different story, and some of those stories are beyond belief. But they are true. Some Warrior Moms I “know” are online champions who give and offer support 24/7 to parents in their own cities and around the globe. Others are friends I’ve had the honor of meeting in person.

I have the privilege of being part of a local group of parents whose kids deal or have dealt with mental illness. We are made up of mostly moms right now. There is a brave dad who joins us when he can. It’s a place where openness, anger, vulnerability, fear, laughter, tears, and hope are all in abundant supply, as are pizza and Kleenex.

Some of us have older or adult kids, some younger, and some have both. None of us ever expected to have a child with an invisible but life-altering illness.

Some have been threatened, chased with knives, or forced to protect their other children from a sibling experiencing a “break”. Some are basically held hostage in their own homes because being able to make a quick run to the grocery store has disappeared along with the mental stability of their son or daughter.

All of them realize that if their child had something besides a brain illness, say perhaps a broken arm, an infection, or – heaven forbid – childhood cancer, people would be lining up to offer meals, rides, housecleaning, and free babysitting. But they live with knowing that mental illness is a “no casserole” disease. And they still get up every day and do it all over again.

Autism Recovery – Who is a Warrior Mom?

(Source)

If you can’t love and appreciate and honor women like that, I feel sorry for you because they are fierce and beautiful and awe-inspiring and deserving of respect and every possible support.

At one meeting some time ago, one of the women very kindly expressed her appreciation for what I’d written about our story. “You should write a book,” she told me.

“That would be a dream come true,” I replied. “But apart from the obvious challenges, my greater concern is that so many books give a message that seems to say, ‘We had a problem, but we don’t anymore. Everything’s fine! Hope you’ll be okay, too; good luck!’ “

I explained to them my discomfort that so many times it seems like we tie a big red bow on a closed-up box and give the impression that there are no problems anymore. But life doesn’t really work like that, like the book is over and we close it and put it back on the shelf. It’s really more like finishing one chapter and moving on to the next.

“And some of my chapters would definitely be named OH CRAP. WHAT NOW?” I confessed.

Another mom spoke up quickly, “I’d call most of my chapters ARE YOU F#!%@$G KIDDING ME?!?

We pretty much gave her a standing ovation.

*****

If you are bravely parenting a child with mental illness or emotional development issues, please see the Resources page of this blog for some helpful links and Facebook support/informational pages. If you are on Facebook, I highly recommend the Shut Up About Your Perfect Kid page. If you have specific resources you would like to share or need help finding, leave a comment below. Alternately, you can message me via the Help To Hope Facebook page linked below, or email me at HelpToHope@msn.com.

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013
https://www.facebook.com/HelpToHope
https://twitter.com/HelpToHope

Late, As Usual

I will be late to my own funeral. It’s not like if we make a bet on that right now we could settle up at the time (cuz it’ll be my funeral and all), so you’ll just have to take my word for it. Late is how I roll for the most part.

And so … I am a little late to the party in registering and fund raising for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s WalkOut of the Darkness Community Walk. My city’s walk is this Saturday. I just registered. Whatever.

Don’t judge me ~ support me! Visit my donor page to make a tax deductible donation. Help AFSP to fight stigma and prevent suicide. (You can donate for a few months still, but if you’d make your contribution now, that would be great.)

AFSP community walk

(Source: AFSP.org)

(I am supposed to meet my friend Saturday morning at 9:00. If I shoot for 8:45, I should be there by 9:15. I’m a realist.)

* * * * *

September is National Suicide Prevention Month in the U.S.
 
 
Did you know: 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and TREATABLE disorder at the time of their death.
 
 
While many of us fear that talking to someone about suicidal thoughts can actually create those thoughts, the truth is that discussing them is a first step to safety.
 
 
Feelings of suicide cannot be ignored or shamed away. The good news is that help is available.
 
 
 
Visit AFSP if you are feeling suicidal or are worried about someone who is.
 
 
You can also find support there if you are grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide.
 
 
Or try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24/7. Many other hotlines are listed HERE as well.
 
 
reach_out_for_help__by_djmaddison00-d5tp7dt
 
Help is available to you.
 
 
 
The point is this: You are valued {even if you don’t feel like it}. You cannot be replaced {even if you’re sure you can be}. The world would not be better off without you {even if you are sure it would be}.
 
 
Let someone else hold your hope for you until you can hold it for yourself.
 
 
 

Blog For Mental Health 2013

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

blogformentalhealth20131

I’m proud to say that I am participating in the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Campaign detailed here at A Canvas of the Minds.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a little while (well, it’s only been around for a little while), you will know that the focus is on mental health issues, not the least of which is the struggle our family faced when my daughter was a self-harming suicidally depressed teenager.

What you may not know is that I have also dealt with the darkness of depression myself. I reached a place that was so unnervingly and unexpectedly dark that I welcomed the idea of being run over by a bus. Thankfully this happened after I’d been able to get my daughter to the help she needed.

My therapist said I was passively suicidal. I can’t argue with that. It wasn’t as dramatic as the struggle my daughter (and many others) have dealt with, but it was a sobering surprise to find myself there. It’s also been a sobering honor for me to walk though various mental health issues with my kids, including depression, anxiety, and panic, among others.

I am taking the opportunity to publicly display this badge not only so that readers know the focus of my blog, but also to invite you writers whose blogs focus on mental health issues to do the same. Find the info and instructions here if you are interested.

I advocate for people who deal with mental health challenges, and also for those who love and support them. I feel strongly that the stigma of mental health (or mental illness, whichever you choose to call it)  should be confronted and changed.

We do not blame someone whose body becomes diseased. Neither should we blame someone whose brain has an illness. We jump to support someone getting help to manage a physical ailment. We should do the same when a mind or a brain need extra care and treatment.

I am not ashamed of our story; in fact I believe that sharing our stories is one of the most effective forms of education that exists.

There are lots of “us” out here. You won’t really be able to recognize us if you pass us in the grocery store, but we’re there. We’re here. We’re not going anywhere. In fact, quite the opposite.

If you ever find yourself unexpectedly within our ranks, believe me when I tell you these two things are true:

1) None of us planned or expected to be here either. But we are. And that’s okay.

2) You will find some of the most kind, knowledgeable, compassionate, strong, and supportive people in the world walking next to you.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013
https://www.facebook.com/HelpToHope
https://twitter.com/HelpToHope

PTSD Awareness

Today, June 27, 2013, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day.

I would like to invite you to read a blog post I shared this week at TheWiddahood.com regarding PTSD.

Soldiers and abuse/trauma survivors are not the only ones who can be affected by PTSD. Anyone who has gone through a life-threatening event can develop PTSD. (And please bear in mind what may be perceived as non-life-threatening to one may be internalized as the opposite by another.)

PTSD

(Photo Source: Google Images)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 1 in 30 adults in the U.S. suffer from PTSD in a given year.

The Department of Veteran Affairs tells us that

  • About 7-8% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  • Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. About 10% of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with 5% of men.

Please read PTSD Awareness for links to information on symptoms, causes, treatment, and hope for those dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Soldiers, victims of crime, widows, and everyone else should be aware of the signs and symptoms of PTSD. If you never suffer from it yourself, you can be a source of encouragement, understanding, and support for someone who does.

Learn. Reach out. Heal. Support.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

Care Enough

Her words left me speechless and heartbroken. I finally sputtered out a few things I’m sure were better left unsaid. I can do that when I’m not sure what to say. Not that I’m proud of it, it’s just what I do sometimes.

I had been asked to speak with a group of single moms, to share my story and offer my perspective on hope and beauty in the midst of struggle. That’s something every single mom wants to know exists. Every parent wants to know it. Every person wants to know it.

When I speak to groups, I don’t hold back much. I tell the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am a firm believer that we all need to know we are not in this mess and muck alone.

There are wounded and brave souls surrounding all of us, ready to help carry our burdens while still struggling to stand up under the weight of their own. It’s a wonder to witness. It’s a privilege to partake. We all have the capacity to become wounded healers if we are willing to accept the painfully glorious task that it is.

helping others

(Photo Source: Google Images)

I had told these women about the day I’d had to call 911 on my suicidal teenage daughter. She had spent months descending into a place of darkness and turmoil, and had reached the point where she no longer wanted to be there, to be here, to be alive.

I’d watched her beautiful self lose light and life and the will to live. I had tried, we had tried, so hard to make sense of it, to look ahead and see any glimmer of light, to swim to the top of the abyss and break the surface of the water for a deep breath of clean air.

It wasn’t working. She wasn’t living. Her deepening depression was killing her as I looked helplessly on. So I had called for help.

And I told these weary, heart-hungry moms about the seven armed policemen who had responded to my 911 call, how they walked up the stairway to my daughter’s room to intervene on behalf of life, of her life.

I shared that as terrifying as that moment was and as quickly as its memory brings me to ruin, it was necessary. It was the awful beauty that was needed in that very moment. It was a terrifying early step on the road to assuring my daughter’s safety. I loved her. I had no other choice.

There were plenty of other things I talked about that Saturday morning, but as I sat down to lunch one young mother approached me falteringly.

“I was your daughter,” she said. “I was just like her. Well, I didn’t cut myself like she did, but everything else you said about her, that was me. For a long time, when I was younger and living in my parents’ home, that was me.”

I nodded and smiled sadly, understanding the depth of pain that leads someone to such a place of despair.

“You told that story about all the policemen going up your stairs, you know? About when your daughter wasn’t okay and you knew it so you called 911 for help?”

She paused.

“I wish someone had cared enough to do that for me.”

* * * * *

If someone you know is in crisis, please do not deny or ignore the need. Please do not worry about how it might reflect on you as a parent, friend, family member, or partner. Please know that making a suicidal person mad at you is the least of everyone’s concerns. Do it. Call for help even if they get mad.

In the United States you or your loved one in crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).

suicide prevention lifeline

(Courtesy: www.afsp.org)

Many US cities offer community assistance by dialing 211. There you can find resources to help with substance abuse or addiction, self-harm, mental illness, and any number of situations, such as emergency shelter or help getting school supplies for your child.

Whether you live in the US or elsewhere, find and keep handy emergency numbers, as well as the information for your local mental health center. Here is a list of some international resources to get you started.

“Wait and see” is not an acceptable practice when someone’s life is at stake.

If you come upon a car accident, you don’t stop and wait to see if someone loses a limb before you call 911. If you are with someone experiencing chest pains and arm numbness, you don’t wait to see if a heart attack is really going to occur. You call at the first hint of need, as soon as you spot the crisis.

People dealing with mental health issues deserve the same consideration and assistance.

Care enough to give it.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013

To Walk in Another’s Shoes

Warning: This is a rant of sorts. I admit it. I rarely do this (beyond anywhere but in my own head). And perhaps I am guilty of doing what I am saying others should not do. I get the irony. I do. But here goes …

I am one to believe that no matter what difference of opinion may exist, people ought to set aside judgment and simply walk alongside those in grief. It’s naïve of me, I know, and perhaps it is born of my own experiences, the times when I have felt so alone and abandoned, and subsequently shocked by the insensitivity and abrasiveness of people I may or may not know. My belief system leads me to surmise that, apart from sheer ignorance, people who hurt others the most are the people who themselves are hurting the deepest. Maybe their pain displays as arrogance, bitterness, indifference, or outright assault either verbally, emotionally, or physically. It is heartbreaking to me to see this type of reaction by people who more often than not think they know a situation in its entirety, even though they’ve only caught glimpses of the most peripheral details. From there, right-and-wrong and black-and-white judgments and declarations abound, and the lack of gray (and grace) leaves little to no room for compassion or mercy.

The recent suicide of Matthew Warren, adult son of California pastor and author Rick Warren, is a sad example of this situation to me. I have never read any of Rick Warren’s books, but out of curiosity, I went on a few websites to read comments in response to articles about the Warren family and Matthew’s death. Knowing that mental health issues play into this, I was very interested to see what I would find. Setting aside the fact that this could easily be my family – or yours – I am dismayed at those who are using this grievous situation to speculate, to mock, and even to gloat. Some may blame this on our celebrity-worshipping culture, and the fact that many feel justified in drawing their own conclusions because they read an article or heard what someone said about some hot-button issue, so they feel warranted in making their ill-informed proclamations. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s part of the equation.

Admittedly, I didn’t stick around to read all of the comments; there were just too many. There were those who expressed sadness and support, but it seemed they were greatly outnumbered by those who blamed the parents, blamed their faith, blamed reasons that were admittedly speculative at best. I won’t go into the details because they really are mere speculation. But I will say that I was most taken aback by those who mocked the family, as well as those who felt they had a right to demand more information (as if this family’s grief is any of their business), and those who intimated that Matthew’s struggles with depression were just an excuse for him to be selfish enough to take his own life. Really? To make such blanket statements, to presume that you know the details of, or what is best for, anyone else’s life is sheer arrogance at best. Truth be told, most of us are having one heck of a time just trying to keep our own lives in order. How dare such pronouncements be made upon a grieving family simply because they happen to be more well-known than our own.

As a parent who has walked the path of mental health issues (both my own and that of my children), I find this appalling and offensive. Living with mental illness (however brief or extended the experience may be) can be a living nightmare. To simply wake up and fight to put one foot in front of the other, to dread the thought of going to bed because it leads only to waking up and wondering if your daughter will be dead or alive in the morning, driving your desperate teen to the Emergency Room for psychiatric care, or being forced to call 911 because the child you bore is suicidal and raging … I have lived these things and more. No amount of denigration or finger wagging from those who demand to know details, or think they have it all figured out, does anything to help anyone. Ever. These things are added violence to the already swirling mayhem that for some is daily life.

It takes courage to walk alongside those we love in the best of times. When depression or other mental issues are present, we must gather together more courage than one person alone can possess. We must ask for and accept the courage and hope of those willing to loan them to us, of those willing to bear us up when we are barely able to crawl. Shame on those who think they can render a verdict about a situation in which they are not intimately involved. And at the same time, my heart breaks for you who behave that way; I am sorry you are so wounded that upon seeing another human soul or family in pain, you cannot muster enough kindness to offer a word of sympathy. Or at least keep your mouth shut out of respect. I suspect this is the very thing you want and feel you have not received, either from the ones you harass or from someone significant in your life. And this makes me sad for you.

Some people are still so stuck in the dark ages about mental illness. Why are they so reluctant to admit that there are some things that are beyond our (and their) control? Why the reticence to simply say, “Sometimes things are awful and scary and hard, and we just do our best to love each other through them”? Perhaps because acknowledging that it can happen to others means acknowledging that it can happen to you, too. Knowing that some things are so grievous and difficult that they can actually cause death … this is a terrifying concept, but it is real. Sometimes treatment works, and sometimes it does not. And whether you want to believe it or not, many people wrestle with that truth every day. We are sorry if it scares those of you who have never experienced it, but we ask that you not condemn those of us who have simply because you may not fully comprehend it.

Instead of judgment, a good and courageous start in response to the struggle of another – whether stranger or friend – is compassion, which can be defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune”. Compassion is simply imagining what it would be like to walk in another’s shoes, then responding with empathy. I believe we all long for this most basic of human connections, but our woundedness and fear can make us reluctant to give it.

Compassion is a powerful weapon, one that we must use to fight against the stigma of mental illness as well as many other societal ills. It is one weapon that is, ironically, inherently devoid of violence.

 

© Monica Simpson and Help To Hope, 2013