Guest Post: My Life with Anorexia

‘Attention seeker’, ‘diet gone wrong’, ‘stick insect’, ‘grow up’. I’ve heard these all before, how apparently I am crying out for attention, on a diet gone wrong to become a stick insect and to get better I must grow up. I’ve heard it all before, and every time I hear one of those, or one of the other derogatory comments, not showing understanding but showing misinterpretation I would like to cry.

I am currently recovering from the Eating Disorder Anorexia Nervosa. I have suffered now for 2 ½ years. I was first diagnosed in December 2011, and now I am slowly trying to put the pieces of my life back together, trying to block out the Eating problems. It began as a desire to lose weight. I had lost some weight already healthily but it gradually became a quest for control, to be perfect and give off the impression of strength and grace. I have always been a perfectionist, and that was never helped by demanding parents, from school and from myself. Both parents putting pressure on my sister and I to achieve the best grades, with the best extra curriculars. My mother working several jobs and on a course to improve her own development meant that I had a lot of pressure from all around me, and that is something I used to then put on myself.

I started to lose weight to become a better singer and a dancer, and by the end I had set myself lots of goals. It started off with lose a kilogram and soon morphed into lose as much weight as possible, be the thinnest I could be. I honestly thought that I just needed to lose more and more, the more I lost, and the happier I would be. So I did. But when I looked in the mirror I was never thin enough. I could see someone who was never thin enough despite what others said. I was not thin enough for hospital treatment even though I was being seen regularly by the doctors. They asked me how I was and I lied, saying I was feeling better. I learnt to trick the scales, I learnt to trick the doctors and say the right things, when in fact I was losing more and more weight and spiralling out of what control I clung onto. Friends expressed concern and the family I saw asked me if I was ok, expressing that I was looking thinner and gaunter. I told them that I was fine, when in fact I just wanted to lose more weight, and be even thinner. I lied to people about food, how much exercise I had done, and finally how I felt inside and then hated myself after, self deprecating myself as I had hurt and lied to others.

I had claimed recovery for a year before I actually believed it. I just maintained a weight, eating small portions, rather than not at all. I felt like I could honestly get away with anything, and I really could, no one could see the fear inside my mind. Every time I wanted to tell people, I felt like that friends and family would not care, so I kept it inside. Asking for help, was like a cardinal sin, why should they after all bother about me? With recovery, I am slowly starting to love myself again, taking care of myself. I am learning to eat all the foods I cut out for so long. I still struggle with simple foodstuffs, and there are days I just don’t want to eat, because I could be thin again. I really do want to go back to that way of life sometimes. But with recovery has come energy – I was no longer as lethargic, or ill as I was. I am no longer as frail, and I have begun to feel again. Without the depression or the numbness from Anorexia, I am allowing myself to feel pride, happiness and hope.

Anorexia nervosa was not a diet gone wrong, and I did not need to grow up. I did not need male attention, nor was I wanting to be a stick insect but instead I was a young lady struggling for control in a world where structure, where control, and perfection were slowly melting away from me. With recovery, I have had to learn to cope with times like these, and it is really hard. Learning to eat again is a challenge, though learning to love myself again, was much more of a challenge and one which I hope will get easier in time.

Written by Sitara, @sky_blue_roses on Twitter

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Life After Recovery

It just occurred to me to write this blog post because I thought it would interest a lot of people. You hear the word “recovery” and you may have an idea about what it means, but once recovery happens…what’s next?

I was diagnosed with depression around 2005/2006, and I dealt with it up until 2011. That means that I recovered from depression, right? So is it just gone? What is my life like now?

I graduated from high school in 2007 with astoundingly good grades for someone who struggled with depression for half of her high school career, but after high school until my recovery were extremely rough. I attempted college several times, I tried to have a “normal” life, but the majority of my time was spent in bed or on the couch at home. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Once I decided that I was done with this stupid thing called “depression,” that I was done not living my life, that I was done with medication, I switched therapists. I’d been seeing my first therapist from about 2005/2006 up until the spring of 2011, but I felt like I needed a change. I found a great therapist who I saw for only a couple months that summer. She set goals for me (such as sending in college applications, making plans with friends and following through, etc.) which was a HUGE help for me. Once I started getting out and doing things for myself, I saw a massive improvement. This point was also made in an article that I recently read called Dealing With Depression: “It’s the Catch-22 of depression recovery: The things that help the most are the things that are the most difficult to do. There’s a difference, however, between something that’s difficult and something that’s impossible.” Was it difficult for me to put myself out there and try to live a happy and “normal” life? YES! It was extremely difficult (the social anxiety didn’t help much, either), but it was not impossible. I did it, and I am much better today because I did it. There is no change without some kind of struggle, and although it may be painful, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be absolutely worth it in the end.

Since I recovered from depression in 2011, I have had my longest and best relationship (we’re going on three and a half years), I made it through three years of college (in a row! I never thought I’d be able to do it), graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree, managed to balance extremely busy schedules, and I just got hired for my first “adult” job. Does depression still affect me? It tries to once in a while, but I won’t let it. Times like this past month where I’m pretty much stuck in the house by myself are not ideal times, and during times like these I can feel my depression try to creep back in, but now I know how to control it. The first time this happened it really scared me because there is no way that I’m going back down that road, but when I looked at the situation and said, “Okay, why am I starting to feel this way again? Well, I have been pretty much in the house by myself for the past couple weeks…” When I’m out, I’m fine, but I realized it’s being stuck in the house that’s caused my depression to try to re-surface. Okay, I can control that. I’ve come to know the signs that it may be trying to re-surface, I know both emotionally and physically how I feel when I’m depressed. I use breathing techniques and emotion regulation skills that I learned in therapy in my everyday life– I’m not always conscious that I’m doing it because I’ve practiced these skills for many years. It’s very helpful to have a toolbox like that to draw from. Learning how to keep everything under control is a huge key to recovery and to life after recovery.

I hope this gave some insight into at least one perspective of life after recovery from depression. Please do not hesitate to leave a comment or email me any questions that you have (endthestigma@live.com).

 

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Music and Mental Illness Recovery

brain-mind-music This is a post that I originally wrote and published on February 20th, 2010.

Music has the power to influence people’s emotions; it can make them happy, sad, or angry. Music can also aid in the recovery of mental illnesses.

The Geriatric Mental Health Department of the Chhatarati Shahuju Maharaj Medical University in India is starting a music therapy clinic to treat elderly patients with mental disorders (like dementia). Nearly 5% of elderly people older than 60 years of age suffer from dementia.

S.C. Tiwari, the head of the Geriatric Mental Health Department, said that music is found to have a positive impact on patients suffering from mental tension. Slow and melodious music soothes tension; rock, pop, and fast music should be avoided because of the negative emotions it can draw out, and it also raises blood pressure. So soft, melodious, and soothing music is the way to go if you want to relieve your mental tension.

Not only can music therapy help people with mental illnesses, but playing an instrument and being a part of an ensemble can help, too.

Tunefoolery Concert Ensembles is a group of 50 musicians from Cambridge, Massachusetts, who are all living with a mental illness. The group helps musicians move away from the mental patient role into a new identity as a professional musician and performer.

“Tunefoolery is a great example of how non-traditional mental health treatment truly can change people’s lives,” said one of the band members. “Music is powerful medicine! I have a tremendous feeling of belonging with Tunefoolery. I have found great friends here. It’s a job and a creative outlet at the same time.”

The members perform as solo acts or small ensembles; they play 75 to 90 gigs every year at mental health treatment programs, hospitals, nursing homes, and other locations. You can visit their website at www.tunefoolery.org.

When asked, “What role does music play in your recovery process?” this is what people had to say:

“Music is my life. When depressed, I have certain artists that help me get through. Tori Amos has saved my life many times.” –Tiffany Arnold

“Instead of using music to calm me down, I tend to find music to suit my mood…it’s something I’m working on.” –DeAnna Banfield Ross

“Music comforts me as long as I remember that during a crisis. My memory is so very bad.” –Rachel Morris

“My daughter always listens to ICP really loud to calm herself down when she is mad (and most of the time it works!!)” –Sara Paschal

“Music has a tremendous role in my recovery. I would not be as far as I am in life as well as my recovery without it. When I’m feeling stressed, I put on some good dancing music and dance away. If I need to just relax, I put on some R&B or Jazz.” –Rachel Johnson

“Music is the only thing that got me through my youth. That’s why music mends.”– @musicmends

“It says what I can’t verbalize.” –Amy Ruiz

“I use relaxation CDs to relax me and it helps me to sleep too; soft in the background when you put light out. It’s CDs with no words just music, and the others are of waterfalls, birds in the background ,etc. And panpipe music also lets me relax.” –Melanie S. Grobler

“Before I was even aware that my mental health was not at its best I would find myself listening to things like Carmina Burahna (sp?) by Carl Orff and Guns and Roses when I was very stressed or angry. I would dance (untrained) by letting my body go and seeing what happened when at a dancer friend’s house and always feel vulnerable after. Once I was aware of depression I found that the sound of the TV in the background, people talking on radio 4 kept me calm when I was home alone. Carl Orff and Guns and Roses are still things I listen to when I have great pain, upset or stress, I listen very loudly for about 10 mins and have about 1 min of maximum volume where I scream, shout, sing along before turning it down so the neighbors don’t complain. I used to sing in am dram and G&S operatics at school and uni and I miss it. I would like to find somewhere to sing as singing used to give me feelings of passion and energy and high spirits and emotions that in other ways I would be afraid to express.” –Fiona Art

“Music plays a huge role in my depression, it helps, randomly, to listen to sad songs when I’m sad because I can identify with them and have a cry. It helps me to let it all out. I also find heavy rock to be empowering, calming and just listening to it can make me feel as though I have succeeded in venting a lot of anger.” –Vicky Protheroe Jones

“Music is vital to me in every way…it helps me in that, when I hear someone else articulating what I feel, I feel that maybe I am not alone, maybe someone else does understand… it feels good to have music be able to speak for me,when I am too weak to speak for myself.” –Ms MCR Makaveli

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A Little Bit About Self-Injury

**Trigger warning: this post talks about what self-harm is, including different ways to self-harm. If you think this may be triggering for you,  please do not continue reading.**

Self-injury is when someone intentionally hurts themselves. These behaviors include cutting, burning, picking at skin, hair-pulling, hitting, and drinking harmful chemicals. Self-injuring is a coping mechanism, and it’s important for anyone who self-harms to find healthier ways to cope. For example, you can physically prevent yourself from self-harming by throwing away your blades (or anything else you may use to hurt yourself) or being supervised in a hospital. You can also call 1-800-DONTCUT to make doctor and therapist appointments. Here is a list of some different alternatives to self-injury depending on your mood.

Why do people self-injure?

Here is a list of reasons why people self-harm. Some reasons include affect regulation (“trying to bring the body back to equilibrium in the face of turbulent or unsettling feelings”), communication (“using self-injury has a way to express things they can not speak;” they are not using self-injury as manipulation), and control/punishment.

Who self-harms?

More women self-injure than men, and approximately 1% of the populations has self-injured. Conditions in which self-injurious behavior is seen include BPD, mood disorders, eating disorders, OCD, PTSD, Dissociative Disorders, anxiety and/or panic disorder, Impulse-Control disorder not otherwise specified, and self-injury as a diagnosis.

What should you do if someone you know self-harms?

Be supportive, but don’t reinforce the behavior. Try to understand that self-harming behavior is an attempt to maintain a certain amount of control. Let the person know that you care about them and are available to listen. Encourage expressions of emotion, including anger. Spend some time doing enjoyable activities together. Offer to help them find a therapist or support group. Don’t make judgemental comments or tell the person to stop the self-harming behavior, because people who feel worthless and powerless are more likely to self-injure.

Check out the Bill of Rights for People Who Self-Harm.

National Self-Injury Awareness Day is March 1st.

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Guest Post: Life Imitates a Joke

I know this joke about a guy in a flood. As the water rises, he climbs higher and higher in his house. Finally, he is sitting on the roof.

A neighbor comes by in a rowboat and says, “Hop in, I’ll take you to a safe place.” The man answers, “No, thanks. I believe in God and I know He will save me.” The neighbor shrugs and rows on.

Later, a sheriff’s motor boat comes by. They say, “Hop in, we’ll take you to a safe place.” The man answers, “No, thanks. I have faith that God will save me.

Even later, with the water rising higher, a helicopter comes by. “Get in the harness and we’ll winch you up and take you to a safe place.” “No, thank you. I have a deep faith and I know God will save me.” The helicopter moves on.

Finally, the water rises so high, the man drowns. Unhappy, but in Heaven, he goes to God and says, “Why did you let me down? Why did you let me drown?”

God answers, “I sent two boats and a helicopter.”

I have taken a long hiatus from God. I’ve been very angry at Him and turning my back on Him. Then today happened.

I now have a recumbent tricycle. It’s so fun. I love it. I took it out again today and ran it around the park trails near my home. I blew a tire. I didn’t blame God, those trails are fun, but they are littered with little tire puncturing projectiles. What happened next was what I believe was a message from God.

I was pushing the trike back to the van; it was going to be about half a mile. If I felt I could walk, I wouldn’t have bought the trike. And I had to bend over to push the trike, it really hurt. Then a man came along and offered to push the trike for me. I said, “No thanks. It’s my trike and I should push it.” (Oh, that little martyr me). So he walked on.

A little while later another biker came along and offered to try to fix my tube. I agreed this time. He couldn’t though because the cut was too large and his air pump wasn’t compatible with my tire. He did offer to push my trike for me and let me push his regular bike. I did for a little while, but felt guilty about keeping him from his ride. He had figured out to turn the trike backwards and pull it, so I had us trade so he could ride his bike and I’d (oh, my back) pull mine.

Not much later, I came across a woman and her two sons. One son offered to carry my trike. This time I got the hint (kick me a couple of times and suddenly my brain turns on). I said OK. He carried it in front of him for a little while, then slung that trike right over his back. We walked like that til we got back to the parking lot. I got my van, the lady loaded the trike and I thanked them and left.

Sound a bit like the joke? I thought so. Thank god, I learned before I died of heat stroke.

So now I think maybe God’s not so distant as I thought. Maybe my life just needed changing and the pain is because such life surgery hurts. I’m past the worst, but still have a long way to go til life calms down to just the normal crises. I think I’ll try turning toward God again.

I’m just glad he’s still there waiting for me. I still need my meds; still turn to Twitter for support, still trying meetup.com for friends (none so far) and still have suicidal moments. But my meds are stable, Twitter is there, I do go to the meetup meetings and the suicidal moments are farther and farther apart. Surprisingly, I’m getting better. I didn’t think it was possible.

Guess what, it is possible. I’m living (thank God) proof. You don’t have to believe in God for it to happen. I put a lot of this on the help of my therapist. She’s great. For anyone reading, take this as a statement of hope. Healing is possible. Keep on holding on.

Love, Lori B.

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Recovery Doesn’t Happen All At Once

Note: This is a re-post from another blog that I used to run. The original post is dated March 16, 2010.

I recently posted a status on Facebook about how I was frustrated that people kept telling me that if I wasn’t happy with my life, I needed to make a change, when I already AM making a change– I have been in remission for almost a year, and now I’m taking the first step at making my life better. I was frustrated that they seemed to want me to do everything all at once- I’m doing the best that I can, and I wish they realized that. Here’s a message that one of my Facebook friends sent me and allowed me to share with all of you– I thought it might be especially helpful to show to your loved ones.

I am not an expert in anything except for my own life’s difficulties. Let me just say that recovery and reclaiming balance in our lives does not happen in a linear pattern like that of a staircase–stepping up constantly and consistently and predictably. No, rather our recovery comes in waves, some smooth and others radical–but waves no the less.

It is next to impossible for most other people (non-mental illness) to grasp the gravity and depth of our struggle, our tragedies, nor celebrate the milestones of triumphs. We are expected to just become better in the same way we flip a light switch. Of course we know that our light switches are wired slightly different–whether it be bipolar, borderline, schizophrenia, anxiety, or depression.

Because our wiring is different from others, we will live our lives under the spotlight and microscope of others who feel we are not as we should and could be, and carry the expectations that we change as soon as we discover a diagnosis and hit two therapy sessions.

Well, it doesn’t work that way for most of us. We have become who we are because of genetics and our environment which has taken now –how many decades??? While change is certainly possible and recognizably desirable, we still must work hard and long to make the changes at our own pace and in our own ways.

Unfortunately, for many, the recovery process is hindered by the very people who want to see it the most. As we become educated about the illnesses, symptoms, relapse triggers, warning signs, and crisis, it becomes our responsibility to educate our loved ones, family and friends about all these issues as well.

Be strong for yourself, be proud of and for yourself. Be well– you’re worth it.

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The Stigma of Postpartum Depression: Guest post by Dr. Elizabeth Hatchuel

Postpartum Depression. We’ve all heard about it. Most pregnant women have read about it. Many of us know people personally who have experienced it. As one of the most common complications of childbirth, nearly 1 in 7 women (about 500,000 per year) will experience Postpartum Depression (PPD). In spite of this high prevalence, there remains a stigma to the disorder that leaves many women undiagnosed and untreated during an extremely vulnerable time.

Having a baby and becoming a mother does not come without challenges. Even in the “best” circumstances, its really hard. How many times in your life will someone tell you to go through the rigors of labor and delivery, then proceed to stay up for hours on end, nursing, changing, burping, and generally attending to someone else’s needs without an end in sight? Any parents reading this can probably vividly remember what I am describing. I know I sure can.

As a mental health professional, I knew the warning signs to look for. I made sure to discuss them with my husband so he would know how to intervene. In spite of this, I was still surprised when some of the symptoms popped up. I was even more surprised at the feelings of isolation and shame I felt following the birth of both of my two children. I had beautiful, healthy babies and yet had moments where I felt angry, scared, sad, anxious, and questioning my ability to be a “good mother.” I also wondered what others would think if they knew I was feeling this way. I stayed quiet. While my symptoms didn’t develop into a full PPD episode and resolved relatively quickly, my reluctance to openly discuss my feelings gave important insight into the shame and stigma associated with the illness.

It’s normal to feel exhausted, emotionally labile, tearful, scared, and anxious in the immediate postpartum period. Approximately 50-80 % of women experience these symptoms that are commonly referred to as the “Baby Blues.” The Baby Blues are largely related to rapid hormone changes occurring in a new mom’s body. Symptoms typically peak 5 days after delivery and are resolved within 2-3 weeks after birth.

PPD is more than just the “Baby Blues.” PPD is an extremely agitated depressive episode that involves a number of symptoms that can interfere with a mother’s ability to care for herself and/or her baby. The Postpartum Stress Center outlines the following symptoms for PPD:

  • Weepiness, excessive worry, agitation, anxiety
  • Feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, despair
  • Difficulty sleeping, exhaustion
  • Changes in appetite, weight loss/gain
  • Distorted/negative thinking, ruminations
  • Scary, ego-dystonic thoughts about baby
  • Guilt, sadness, fear of being alone, irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, panic, anger
  • Thoughts of death, dying, suicide

PPD can significantly impact a mother’s ability to care for herself and her baby. With such high stakes, it is critical to consider why more women aren’t getting treated for PPD. There are a number of barriers that prevent women from accessing appropriate treatment and support and many are related to the stigma associated with the illness.

(1) Mother-related barriers

  • Many women are in denial of the severity of their symptoms.
  • Confuses clinically significant symptoms with normal maternal adjustment difficulties.
  • There can be an inability to mobilize self to reach out for help; feeling stuck.
  • Desire for a quick fix.
  • Afraid of potential stigma of being labeled as “depressed” or a “bad mother”

(2) Physician-related barriers

  • Failure to adequately screen for postpartum distress of any kind.
  • Failure to recognize symptoms for what they are—many moms go to great lengths to hide just how bad they are feeling.
  • Misinterpreting PDD for the Baby Blues; often results in being told they will “feel better soon” when it might not be true.
  • Failure to refer for medication evaluation or supportive therapy.

(3) Environment-related barriers

  • Societal pressure—we live in a society that expects (and often demands) women be happy and resume normal functioning shortly after a new baby arrives.
  • Family expectations—new moms may be under pressure from family to behave a certain way as a mother. She might not tell those around her how bad she feels if she thinks they will tell her to “suck it up” or perceive her as a bad mom.
  • Geographic isolation—many people live in rural areas where access to screening and treatment is limited.
  • Cost—therapy and medication can be expensive if one lacks insurance or sliding scale options.

Another significant barrier to women reaching out for help relates to the media’s sensationalism of PPD. When the media highlights stories related to PPD, it often tells stories of maternal suicide or a mother harming/killing her baby. These types of stories are meant to grab headlines and often end up doing a disservice to women by perpetuating fear and confusion about the way they feel. The media frequently refers to clinical postpartum terms interchangeably (e.g., baby blues, PPD, Postpartum Anxiety, Postpartum OCD, and Postpartum Psychosis) and as though they are the same thing. These diagnoses are NOT the same things. Let me repeat, they are not the same thing! Saying someone has the Baby Blues is not the same thing as having PPD or Postpartum Psychosis. They are different disorders and require different treatment approaches.

Some of you might remember when Andrea Yates drowned her 5 children in the bathtub back in 2001. This was a terrible tragedy but it’s a good example of the media presenting a headline story about a woman with “PPD” when it was really Postpartum Psychosis that led to this event. Unfortunately, this type of misinformation further reinforces a woman’s desire to stay quiet about her symptoms. She would rather suffer in silence than be told she is “going crazy,” be told she is a bad mother, have her baby taken away, or have her family/society reject her. It’s important to note that women with PPD do not want to hurt their babies. Most would rather hurt themselves in order to protect their babies from the experience of having a “terrible mother.”

Much of this comes down to stigma. In a time where there is more access to help than ever before, PPD remains a misunderstood, under diagnosed, and mistreated illness. Women are afraid to speak out due to stigma of being labeled as sick, damaged, inadequate, wrong, a bad mother, a bad wife, etc. To any mothers out there reading this who think you might be dealing with postpartum adjustment issues, help is available. Your symptoms do not define you as a mother, wife, or friend. You can feel better with adequate support and treatment. All you have to do is ask. If you know someone who you think might be suffering from PPD or other postpartum adjustment issues, please offer your support and understanding. Try to connect them with help as soon as possible. Things can get better.

For more information about PPD, treatment, and support, please visit the following websites:

www.PostpartumStress.com
www.PostpartumProgress.com
www.PostpartumSupportInternational.com

Elizabeth Hatchuel, PhD, LPC
Elizabeth@evolveclinicalservices.com

Dr. Hatchuel is a Licensed Professional Counselor practicing in Alexandria, VA specializing in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and perinatal mood disorders. She is also a counselor educator on faculty at Walden University in the graduate School of Counseling. Dr. Hatchuel tweets @EvolveClinical.

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My Battle with Stigma: A Psychologist’s Story

I am a strong woman, a self-proclaimed wise old woman of 59 years, a helping professional with my own history of mental illness, and hailing from a family where untreated mental illness was devastating. I dance under the stars on winter nights now, and I pluck my way through life. I am a bit too mouthy and a bit too passionate about my causes, but I have my reasons! I have suffered from mental health stigma and I let my own stigma affect my family. I owe and I fight a battle that needs to be fought, so that others do not suffer as I did and so that they do not make the mistakes I made.

My observations about stigma, 40 years ago, are still valid today. I only sought help for myself after broken relationships, failed friendships, and emotional pain became unbearable. I didn’t understand then why no one sent me flowers or cards while in I was in the hospital. I didn’t understand why no one brought a casseroles to the house. Before treatment, I was popular in my educational and faith community, even though I was a single parent. Then, when I sought help, good people seemed confused about me. I didn’t know the word “stigma” then.

I went underground with my illness, and moved out of my community. I spiraled out of control and ended up in treatment and then therapy for years, worked hard to build positive social support, and attended and still attend support groups regularly. One of the ways that social stigma affected me was through my own embarrassment about my illness. I failed to educate my own children to preventative measures and warning signs to mental illness, the way I educated them to my faith, my values, safe sex, and educational success. I talked about myself as “crazy” and “nuts” and didn’t talk much about my therapy or recovery. My own stigma harmed a son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and drug addiction. He committed suicide at age 25. Sometime after his death, my mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, untreated until then. I was able to repair that relationship, share with her, and be at her side as she died. We talked about her father’s mental illness and suicide. I know the tears and healing that can happen when we rid ourselves of socially harmful stigma.

I am a strong Psychologist now and I strive, every day, to build a kinder and gentler world related to supporting people in their struggles with mental illness. It might be uncomfortable for many to hear a professional with this sort of a background. But, if a medical doctor had a broken leg and recovered, or cancer in remission, or controlled high blood pressure, would you see that person as weak or having boundary issues? Or would you see that Dr. as a professional who believed in treatment and recovery?

I work to help people recover because I know it is possible. I believe in what I do and I see recovery and life blossom when stigma is addressed and treatment is pursued. My work doesn’t just mean treating the mentally ill, but educating family and communities to how they affect my ability to treat mental illness and the client’s ability to heal. A study put out by NIH says that 59% of Americans feel that we are supportive of people with mental illness, but only 25% of mental health clients felt supported. This same agency tells me that 1 in 4 Americans will struggle with mental illness in the next year. People you know will fail to seek treatment for fear of being labeled or losing jobs. People in your family will keep therapy a secret or hide medication because of the way you casually use the word ‘crazy’ or ‘psycho’. People you know will suffer in isolation and silence, when social support would help them heal just as it helps those with physical illness.

What can you do? Talk about mental illness, respectfully, to others. Watch how you use derogatory terms like “crazy” and “psycho” when you describe someone you don’t like. It is okay to say you don’t like someone without stigmatizing mental illness. When you hear a friend or a colleague talking about someone’s ‘weird’ behavior, educate them to the seriousness of supporting others and accepting emotional differences, just as we accept other differences. When a friend discloses symptoms of mental illness, LISTEN and help them understand that you care and that help is available. Help your friend understand that if they disclosed physical symptoms, like a lump in the breast or chest pain, you would give the same advice. Help them understand that stigma should not prevent them from seeking help. Take your friend to get help, just as you would if your friend had chest pains. And if they are diagnosed with mental illness, take a casserole to the house and offer to help, just like you would for a dear friend with cancer. Help them decide who and when to tell, just like you would for a friend with heart disease. Send flowers when they get home from the hospital and get well cards. Watch your own life for symptoms of mental health problems and go get a check-up and treatment, just like you would for a cough or a sinus infection. Participate in community and local activities to fight mental health stigma and to support those with mental illness, just as you do for cancer. Remember that suicide kills more of our young people than cancer.

We are in the midst of an epidemic that concerns us all. Make a commitment to fight mental health stigma.

Carla Edwards, MBA, PhD
@todayswisewoman

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Guest Post by @aadawareness

farmwellpresentationMy name is Marley Puckett and my friend, Emily Adams, and I are from Broad Run High school in Ashburn, Virginia and we are in FCCLA, which is a student run organization with its main focus as family. We complete community service and leadership projects in our chapter throughout the year. I am currently the Vice President of Star Events and Emily is the Vice President of Community Service in our school chapter. We are doing a project at our school on the awareness of depression & anxiety, particularly in teenagers because we know the pressures of school and how much it can impact us. Our goal for this project is to create as much awareness as possible on depression and anxiety. So far, we have made five slides of facts about anxiety and depression that we showed at our school for a week. Each day, a slide was posted and said on our school announcements along with the anxiety & depression hotline. We ordered three hundred wristbands that say, “When nothing goes right, go left” as a convenient reminder that there is always a way out of any situation that someone is in. We have been giving them out around our school and in our classes. We intend to continue handing them out until we run out. We also presented an informational PowerPoint to an after school program all about anxiety and depression at our local middle school, Farmwell Station. The presentation includes the following: signs and symptoms, forms, causes, ways to help a friend and ways to help yourself as well as charts and pictures that go along with it. In addition, we have made social media accounts consisting of facts, pictures, quotes, videos, and statistical charts with the hopes of creating even more awareness about these disorders. Our goal is to get 100 “likes” on our Facebook and 100 followers on our Twitter page. Our Facebook is “Depression & Anxiety Awareness” and our Twitter is @aadawareness. We also made a website that you can visit at www.anxietyanddepressionawareness.weebly.com, where we post our project’s events, facts about anxiety & depression, our journey through FCCLA, and partners/sources that we have used. Lastly, we will be holding a fundraiser at our local Chipotle on May 14th. We will be raising money to go to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. We will be competing in the FCCLA State Conference in Virginia Beach April 3rd to April 6th, where we will be presenting our project to judges and hopefully advancing to the National Conference in San Antonio, Texas in July! Be sure to follow us on our social media accounts! Please feel free to email us at anxietyanddepressionawareness@gmail.com!

(Good luck, and thank you for all the great work that you’re doing!)

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Stigma and Eating Disorders by @Katiecatharsis

Eating disorders tend to be very stigmatized by the media and are usually mentioned in conjunction with celebrities who have lost a tiny bit of weight and are suddenly classed as ‘anorexic’. There are many stigmas about eating disorders and I decided to write this blog to highlight just a few. I’m not a medical professional so I am writing in a specifically non-medical capacity. I am however a recovering anorexic so I have pulled together the experiences I’ve had myself and those of other people I have spoken to. You can read about my struggle and recovery with anorexia on my own blog – www.chaoticcatharsis.com if you wish.

Now, onto stigmas!

People with eating disorders are all skinny? (No!)

While the stereotypical image of an anorexic person is the emaciated photos designed to shock and scare, it’s not the true picture and not all people who suffer from eating disorders have Anorexia Nervosa. This means that you could walk down the street and see a hundred different people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds and not be able to tell who is suffering with an eating disorder.

Only young women get eating disorders? (No!)

Anyone can get an eating disorder at any time of their life – you can be a child, a teenager, an adult, an older person, pregnant, male, female, transgendered, straight, gay, lesbian, bi, asexual – eating disorders doesn’t discriminate against age, gender or sexuality. But the media and the sensationalized images that the general public get to see tend to focus on teenage girls. This is bad because it excludes a whole range of people and a whole range of problems. Eating disorders are not just an illness ‘for teenage girls’. They can affect anyone and everyone.

 Anorexia is the only eating disorder (Nope!)

Anorexia is the most commonly talked about eating disorder and the one which faces a lot of stereotypes but in actual fact it only accounts for about 10% of diagnosed eating disorder sufferers. Bulimia is more common at around 40% but in reality half of all eating disorder sufferers have EDNOS or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specialized. EDNOS is when someone is suffering with eating but they don’t have all the characteristic symptoms of anorexia or bulimia to be diagnosed or they have symptoms which don’t fit into either category or into both.

Eating Disorder sufferers are attention-seeking and vain (NO!)

Eating disorders can often stem from low self-esteem and becoming focused on weight loss and food intake can be a way to deal with life’s bigger problems. Sufferers can often be the last person to realize they even have a problem – with parents, friends, partners, co-workers or teachers realizing (and worrying) long before.

When an eating disorder sufferer looks in the mirror they’re not looking to be vain, they’re analyzing themselves from different angles and telling themselves things that they believe are true, even though someone who is not suffering would tell them something completely different. (I’m deliberately being vague because I try and keep my writing from being triggering.) Sometimes they hide away in clothes and try and blend into the background, to keep the attention away from them and what they may or may not be eating or doing. In some ways this is the worst stigma because it causes people who aren’t aware of the complexity of the issue to just assume that someone is vain or attention-seeking.

Sometimes actions may come across that way, but chances are if they do, then maybe that person is hoping someone WILL see them and will try and help them.

Eating Disorders are Physical Illnesses (I can see why you’d think it, but no)

Eating Disorders are mental illnesses with physical symptoms. The illness doesn’t stem from a physical condition – you can’t treat the symptoms that you can see until the reasons for the disordered eating have been dealt with and understood, otherwise the treatment isn’t going to the root of the problem. It is often a form of control or release or something to focus on when life is bad and there are often other mental illnesses alongside like depression and anxiety.

‘You’re not really skinny anymore so you’re not ill anymore’ (Not the case)

As I mentioned before, being very slim is not the only indicator, but even that were a symptom, just because someone puts on weight doesn’t mean they’re suddenly ‘cured’ or ‘well’. With eating disorders being more of a mental illness, while someone may be fighting the physical side of things, the mental side with the disordered thoughts and view of themselves may still be causing them problems. The only way to know that a sufferer isn’t ill anymore is for them themselves to admit that they no longer feel controlled by their disorder. And that can often take time – so be patient with them.

To sum up…

These are only a few of the stigmas that surround eating disorders but hopefully my brief overview of the main ones will help to raise awareness and make at least one person stop and think before they say something that might not actually be true.

If you think that someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, please encourage them to see a doctor or to visit a website like www.b-eat.co.uk for advice and help, but try not to push them too hard – sometimes it takes a while for a person to admit they need help, but with love and support, they will hopefully get there.

Follow Katie on Twitter @Katiecatharsis

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