Tag Archives: mental health awareness month

What is mental health?

On the last day of #mentalhealthawarenessmonth2022

I am finally writing about one of the most profound personal and professional experiences I have had in my field. It took me a while to unpack this enough to say a bit.

#EmboldenPsychology was founded on the principles of culturally competent practice, DEI as a value system, and the belief, after 20 years of work in the field of mental health and clinical psychology that #mentalhealthisforall.

These values were severely tested during the last 2+ years, during which my company offered mental health services at little or no cost to first responders and healthcare professionals, the restaurant industry which was reeling, and support for the huge challenges facing students and parents. Need far outweighed resources.
I termed the Pandemic the ultimate compassion project: How could we help each other get through, when small businesses were boarding up, financial hardship was rampant, the health system was beyond capacity, and the summer of 2020 brought the highest level of clinical depression ever recorded in the United States since they started keeping records. I had incredible volunteers, community support, dear friends, colleagues, and peers who were there.

Even with all this, my belief systems were taken by the shoulders and shaken gently but firmly this past year. In February 2022, I was sought out by social workers and advisors working at two private schools in the DMV and asked to work with several STEM students; girls who had been evacuated from Afghanistan in August 2021, when the Taliban essentially closed down their state-of-the-art all-female boarding school in Kabul. After a nightmare journey on foot to the airport with a single backpack and with no notice or time for goodbyes to family, they were evacuated from their country of birth by US military aircraft. Education as a life and death decision.

I am human, and was quite overwhelmed with my schedule and commitments. These determined and incredibly caring schools pinged me every day for a week, and I finally agreed to speak with them to see what I could possibly offer in the face of a human rights crisis. I was known for work with refugees and new immigrants, my love for STEM, and deep interest in multicultural mental health projects.

I have no regrets about my decision to proceed forward with this endeavor, because since that time, I have been able to counsel some of the bravest, sweetest, smartest, most down to earth girls in the world. Although they sacrificed so much for education and their personal and family safety, they manifest joy, resolve, and just every day giggliness.

Certainly, we have sessions that are painfully detailed, harrowing, about the traumas they have faced. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so brave as these young women. But we also discuss hairstyles, academic goals, friendship, how cool horses are, college, soccer, my terrible accent when I’m speaking Pashto, fave foods, henna, and Bollywood. I have some new recipes and songs under my belt.

Together, we also planned and helped implement psycho-educational programs at their schools about Afghan culture, Ramadan, and of course, delicious world cuisine. I learned slang in Dari, Farsi, and Pashto. The crisis in Ukraine struck close to their hearts, particularly the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homes, and we spent several sessions processing what that means.

  • Mental health is flexibility. Of body and mind.
  • Mental health is finding joy even when everything seemingly sucks.
  • Mental health is curiosity, academic and personal.
  • Mental health is crying, and then still getting on with things.
  • Mental health is caring about others in the world who are suffering.
  • Mental health is interacting with teachers, students, customs, cuisines, and a psychologist you had never met with grace, humor, and openness.
  • Mental health is switching between languages, at a moment’s notice.

Clearly, mental health is an essential component in all lives. We don’t need a month, we need 24/7 everywhere for mental health awareness. I have great teachers.

Also see: https://www.sola-afghanistan.org/

What is Mental Health?

Foundations of Wellbeing
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am frequently asked by interviewers and websites about what defines mental health.

I believe there are seven interrelated foundations that underlie mental health: Physical, Intellectual, Environmental, Vocational, Social, Emotional, and Spiritual health.

Physical Wellbeing
Move More. Eat Better.
This dimension of wellbeing focuses on practicing healthy daily habits. It is important for building strength, flexibility, and endurance. Many of us have a genetic loading for chronic health conditions, including pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, or cholesterol. Starting early with self-care makes a huge difference. When it comes to exercise, variety and individual preferences are key. The biggest variable: Consistency.

Intellectual Wellbeing
Boost your Brain.
An active and open mind (mental flexibility) leads to a life filled with passion and purpose. To engage in a variety of creative and stimulating activities is ideal, helping to keep your mind sharp and your brain healthy and happy. In fact, when a patient suffers a brain injury or trauma, I prescribe a regimen of word and strategy games, reading, art, trying new recipes, and other activities to stimulate our juices. You can also challenge your brain with a thought-provoking seminar or class, learning a new language, or engaging in interpersonal topical activities, such as joining a photography club or reading group.

Environmental Wellbeing
Love the Earth.
Help the planet and bring a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing to your own life. Have you asked how your daily habits can affect the world around you in a positive way? One environmentalist, my mother, Salma Siddique, I have worked with in this area, cultivates small personal and family habits that have a cumulative affect on our niches in this world; not wasting resources, recycling, sharing with neighbors and community all protect our planet and contribute to our collective mental health.

Be in Nature.
From going for a daily walk, to raising house plants as green babies, to spending time with companion animals, nature is good for our mental health.
Have a personal environment that resonates.

Whether it’s an apartment, house, garden, office, or even a single room, create a space that is soothing and rejuvenating.

Vocational Wellbeing
Live and Work with Purpose.
This aspect of wellbeing focuses on enriching your life and that of others by sharing your special gifts, skills, and talents. Whether through work, your craft, or volunteering, you can make a positive impact and reap the documented health benefits of adding purpose to your life.

Social Wellbeing
Connect with Others.
Personal connections contribute to a long and fulfilling life. When you nurture relationships with family and friends, you create healthy support networks that I call a scaffolding for good and bad times.

Sustain caring relationships.
Humans are social creatures, and having ongoing meaningful relationships is crucial for mental health. Be intentional about regularly FaceTiming,  texting, or Zooming with your close friends and family. You don’t even need to talk explicitly about personal problems. You can connect deeply on anything—from your week at work to a fantasy trip or home project you are planning. Research is unequivocal that a not-so-secret path to a long and healthy life is through human attachments.

Connect with Self.
You also have a relationship with yourself, your most important connection.Celebrate your self-image. Real confidence is being true to yourself and recognizing your strengths and vulnerabilities. Give yourself space for those moments and remember you’re a unique, multidimensional person. Self-image affects every aspect of well-being.

Spiritual Wellbeing
Nourish your Soul.
Is your mind at peace? A set of core beliefs or values that shape you and how you live your life often creates harmony. Personal prayer, meditation, volunteering for those in need all contribute to a positive mental health.

Emotional Wellbeing
Incorporate stress-free activities.
Practicing relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi can serve as powerful tools to diminish stress and regulate emotions.

Decrease screen time.
Unplug from work, social media, web surfing, and anything that may be distracting you from being centered.

Write.
From Journaling, to poetry and creative writing, to just keeping a list of wins and losses for the week, writing helps you understand and ventilate emotions.

Love.
Surround yourself with positive people who bring out the best in you, encourage you, believe in you, and occasionally scrape you off the floor when needed.

Be kind to others.
Volunteering and community service can be the most powerful feel-good actions.
Promote knowledge and safety.

Microaggressions, racism, financial hardship, vicarious trauma from images on social media and screens, and an inability to access resources can create a pervasive state of internal danger and emotional dysregulation.

9 Myths About Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s start off with some important myth-busting.

Myth: Suffering from mental illness is uncommon.
Mental illness is probably more common than you think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. Chances are you know or are somehow connected to someone suffering from a mental illness and may not even know.

Myth: Mental illnesses are not “true” medical conditions
There is plenty of research and empirical evidence that suggest that many, if not most, behavioral health issues involve chemical imbalances in the brain Much like medical conditions, there are often underlying biological causes and/or a genetic predisposition that account for illness. Importantly, chronic stressors including poverty, racism, abuse, and trauma significantly increase vulnerability for mental disorders.

Myth: People suffering from mental illness are more likely to commit a crime or engage in violent behavior. People suffering from mental illness are no more likely to commit violence than anyone else. In fact, studies show that people with mental health conditions are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than those in the general population.

Myth: Therapy isn’t necessary for people on medication
Therapy and other forms of self-care are usually an important part of a person’s treatment. All current best practice models indicate that use of pharmacological methods along with clinical/supportive interventions is the most successful approach in helping individuals on their paths to recovery
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Myth: There is one best answer or treatment for mental illnesses.
Everyone’s situation is different, so treatment methods should be discussed and individualized with a qualified professional. There is no cure-all.

Myth: You can will away your mental illness with positive thought
Though having a positive outlook and belief in one’s recovery is important, behavioral health conditions cannot be “willed away.” People sometimes have the idea that issues like anxiety or depression are all in someone’s head and can be “shaken off,” but the reality is that recovery requires the help of evidence-based interventions, self-care, and social/community support.

Myth: Mental illness is a personal weakness
People do not choose to live with behavioral health issues, and there are a variety of factors involved their development. Stigma and shame are still very much a part of diagnosis of mental disorders and seeking help. Treat struggling people with dignity, and become an advocate for awareness in your community.

Myth: Keeping a job or having a social life is too stressful for individuals with mental illnesses. Those with mental illnesses are no different than your average employee. They are just as productive. And having a job and sense of community is actually beneficial to those living with a mental health issue. It provides structure and a sense of personal purpose.

Myth: Mental health professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, marriage and family counselors, etc.) make a ton of money off of people suffering from these disorders, and want to keep them in treatment as long as possible. Mental health care is often the lowest paying, longest work day among the healthcare professions. The majority of behavioral healthcare and related professionals work in this area because they want to, not because of the pay. For every hour that they spend with a client, there are at least two hours of paperwork, documentation, communication with other professionals, and follow up.

Social Anxiety. It’s More Than Shyness.

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I have occasional days where it feels overwhelming to leave my house. I just want to have the quiet solitude of no interactions. This is a microcosm of the life of someone with social anxiety disorder. Although I do not suffer from social anxiety, it is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder. With the average age of onset being the early teenage years, it is a disorder that affects school, work, activities, and social interactions.

Social Anxiety is not shyness. It is an intense fear of being judged, rejected, or embarrassed in a social or performance situation. Symptoms may play havoc with daily routines, work performance, social life, and intimate life.

Social anxiety can be self-perpetuating. For individuals who suffer, avoidance of feared situations is common. The fear then becomes even more entrenched when exposure to anxiety provoking situations is limited. In my work. As part of the therapy process, I frequently meet people in various anxiety provoking settings.

Important facts:

  • A very broad range of interactions can be fear provoking. These might include having to return an item to a store, talk to a server in a restaurant, say hello to a neighbor, or place an order in a fast food drive-through.
  • Signs and symptoms experienced by individuals with social anxiety disorder may include blushing, sweating, racing heartbeat, shaking, avoiding eye contact, or feeling that their mind is going blank.
  • Misreading the behavior of others is a common factor. They might think that another person is frowning at them, angry at them if they don’t return a hello in the hallway, or believe they are being stared at.
  • Emotional distress may be experienced while being introduced to strangers, being teased or criticized, being the center of attention, having to speak in front of others, job interviews, group projects, meeting authority figures, or in classes or conferences that require social participation.
  • “Just face your fears, and they will go away,” does not happen. Therapy includes insight, strategies, practice, exposure, and fine-tuning.
  • Medication has been found to be very helpful, but is not the only solution. These may include antidepressants, beta blockers, and anti-anxiety medications.

Can We Talk About Suicide?

I really struggled with this blog post. I first sat down to write it weeks ago, in anticipation of Mental Health Awareness Month. But it was hard and I was busy with so many other things, and so I kept putting it off.

Suicide is something that’s so hard to talk about, often even for mental health professionals. But it is absolutely essential to have the conversation.

And so, if we’re going to talk about suicide, let’s start with some stark facts.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States across all ages.

There is one death by suicide in the US every 12 minutes.

An estimated quarter million people every year are suicide survivors.

There is one suicide for every 25 estimated attempts.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world for those aged 15 through 25.

Lesbian gay and bisexual kids are three times more likely than straight kids to attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Females are more likely than males to have suicidal thoughts.

African-American, Latino,  Asian-American, and Native American individuals who are lesbian, gay, transgendered, or bisexual have the highest rates of suicide.

Suicide rates among the elderly are highest for those who are divorced or widowed.

Males over 50 have the biggest increase in suicide rates in recent years.

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If you, or someone that you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-799-4889 or 1-800 Suicide. Another great resource is 211 for essential community services,  including disaster assistance, utilities jobs and support for veterans, housing, meal plans.

Sources: Center for Disease Control (CDC); National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH); National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

 

Depression Facts

Depression Facts

Depression Facts

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and so this month we join Mental Health America in spreading the word that mental health is something everyone should care about.

This is the first blog post in a series designed to help people have a better understanding of some of the most common mental health issues.

This week I’ll be sharing some facts on depression.

Depression is so often misunderstood. It’s a real illness. People with depression are NOT weak or crazy.

Depression is more than ordinary sadness. Everyone experiences sadness in reaction to painful circumstances. Depression is an illness caused by an imbalance in neurotransmitters that play an important function in regulating your mood.

Some depression facts:

  • 80% of depression sufferers do not receive treatment. The reasons for this are variable, including stigma, lack of exposure to screening or treatment, or a medical professional’s failure to adequately understand the symptoms.
  • Depressed people might not look depressed. People can seem cheerful and “together”, and still be struggling with symptoms. We are caught by surprise when a celebrity commits suicide: “But they seemed like they had everything. “ For many reasons, depressed people may not show their struggle.
  • Depression is a leading cause of disability. According to the national institutes of health (NIH) and the world health organization (WHO), depression is debilitating. It affects decision making and makes everything a monumental effort. Further, it is a leading reason for calling in sick to work.
  • Exercise is an antidepressant. Endorphins that are released from at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity make you feel better.
  • Recent research in gastroenterology indicates that there may be a link between the brain, the central nervous system, depression, and “good bacteria” in the gut. Emerging research suggests that a diet that includes probiotics may help manage depression.
  • Depression is not just “in your head.” It can cause headaches, stomach problems, body tension, insomnia, and shortness of breath, according to the national Institute of mental health (NIMH).
  • Depression tricks your brain. Your mind can distort your thinking when you are depressed. Working with a professional or checking in with a trusted friend can help with these glitches in thinking.
  • J. K. Rowling based the Dementors, horrifying creatures from the Harry Potter series, on her own experience with depression. These creatures suck all the warmth and happiness out of any wizard within 100 meters, an apt metaphor for depression.
  • Depression can make people seem selfish. It’s hard to think about other people and their needs when you are wrapped in a fog of sadness. Getting help is important for yourself, and for others in your life.
  • Persistent irritability can be a symptom of depression, especially in children and teens. If things are constantly annoying you, or you’re lashing out or withdrawing from people in your life, you may actually be suffering from depression.
  • Depression is hard on your loved ones. Some people may distance themselves from a depressed person because they feel helpless or pulled into the pain. Others might feel that you don’t care about them.
  • Depression is often experienced as anxiety. You may have to see a psychotherapist or psychiatrist to get an accurate diagnosis.
  • Depression can have different triggers. People going through a stressful life event, past episodes of depression, or close family members who have suffered depression are more at risk.
  • Medical problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and chronic pain, can trigger depression.
  • Warming up can help you feel better. Exposure to heat can reduce symptoms. More research is needed, but a warm bath or shower, hot tubs and saunas are ways to help take care of yourself.
  • Though many people take antidepressants, psychotherapy and other treatment modalities, including cognitive behavioral strategies, mindfulness, and TMS can play a very important part in alleviating symptoms.
Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.