Tag Archives: mental health awareness

The Psychological Importance of Juneteenth

Juneteenth not only celebrates the freedom of Black Americans from slavery, but it also is a time when achievements are noted and continuous self-development is encouraged.

People dress with pride to show spirit, sometimes in African garments. This day of national pride is celebrated with food, music, games, and other activities to promote cultural awareness and community cohesiveness. Memories are shared for passing down to generations.

Black Mental Health and Juneteenth
From the clinical psychology research on Black mental health: (1) messages focused on instilling a sense of pride and learning about the history of one’s racial group (i.e., cultural socialization); and (2) messages focused on increasing youth’s awareness of racial discrimination and skills to manage it (i.e., preparation for bias) are BOTH powerful psychologically.

Overall, cultural socialization messages are associated with positive psychological and academic outcomes for youth. Preparation for bias messages are sometimes linked with positive outcomes, but there are mixed findings indicating these messages in isolation may not be consistently helpful for youth. One reason for these mixed findings may be because youth need a combination of messages that prepare them for racial discrimination along with messages that instill racial self esteem and pride. For example, if parents only provide messages about racial bias without messages focused on pride, it may lead youth to feel worried or hopeless. A combination of racial pride and knowledge and conversations about racial bias led to stronger mental health outcomes.
(For a great review on the research, see  Umaña-Taylor & Hill, Journal of Marriage and Family, 2020).

Additional ways to celebrate Juneteenth:
Vote.
Every time, every election.

Buy Black.
By buying black, people are also assisting in strengthening local economies and positive effects like the creation of more jobs.

Representation.
Promote Black images and experiences in advertising, social media, movies and shows, podcasts, and webinars.

Share resources.
Share information about housing, job opportunities, banking and loans, medical resources and clinics, agencies, and educational opportunities.

Intergenerational conversations.
Build relationships and communication between younger and older adults.

Destigmatize mental health.
Black people are far less likely to seek mental health care. Statistics show that about 25% of Black Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of white Americans. Unequal access to health care is one major contributor to this disparity. The lack of cultural sensitivity by health care professionals, feeling marginalized, a history of exploitation by the medical field, the reliance on family, community, and spiritual support instead of medical or psychiatric treatment are others.

Culturally responsive mental health treatment is one way of addressing the disparities in psychological wellbeing in the Black community. Finding and sharing information about culturally informed and responsive mental health professionals and agencies is vital. Also see Racial Trauma and Mental Health.

Strengthen Community.
Conversation around what people can do together that they cannot do apart should be mindful, intentional and strategic.

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.

Men and mental health

In my practice, the majority of my clients are male. Overall, three times as many men as women die by suicide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) comprehensive report from 2018. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also cited 2018 data, similarly noting that in that year alone, men died by suicide three and a half times more often than women in the United States.

Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit, collected data suggesting that more than 6 million men in the U.S. experience symptoms of depression each year, and more than 3 million experience an anxiety disorder. Despite these figures, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that men are much less likely than women to have received formal mental health support.

In a study from Canada, published in the Community Mental Health Journal, in 2016, more than one-third of the participants in the study admitted to holding stigmatizing beliefs about mental health issues in men. Significantly more male than female respondents said that they would feel embarrassed about seeking formal treatment for depression.

BIPOC men face additional challenges when it comes to looking after their mental health. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), in the U.S., Black and Latinx men are six times more likely to be murdered than their white peers. Indigenous American men are the demographic most likely to attempt suicide in this country and Black men are most likely to experience incarceration, based on statistics gathered by the American Psychological Association. The consequences of these disparities on the mental health of people of color and of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds is exponentially challenging.

Depression symptoms often manifest differently in men than women, perhaps based on these disparities. Some men with depression hide their emotions, and may seem to be angry, irritable, or aggressive, while many women may seem overtly sad or express sadness verbally.

For men, some symptoms of depression are physiological, such as a racing heart, digestive issues, muscle tension, bodily aches and pains, or headaches, and men are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms than emotional symptoms. Additionally, self-medicating with alcohol and other substances can be a common symptom of depression among men and that this can exacerbate mental health problems and increase the risk of developing other health conditions.

It is not easy for men to be open with others about mental health struggles. In fact, many of the male patients that I see have never spoken about their struggles until they come to my office, often not until they have experienced dire difficulties. Often, their pain is palpable.

As a mental health community, and as a society, we have to teach men to not mask their emotions. Instead, we need to encourage men to speak up, not man up. Talking saves lives; let’s normalize mental health.
(statistics from the American Psychological Association and NIMH). 

Some thoughts for Labor Day on Emotional Labor

Happy Labor Day
Emotional labor is the capacity to assist others in times of emotional difficulty. It’s when somebody in your life says I am having a sh*t day. And your willingness to say, I am here.

I am here. There are three no more powerful words in this world.

Asking for consent for emotional labor, even from people with whom you have a long-standing relationship should be common practice. Just like intimate activity, it’s not OK to text, DM, call, email someone with your stuff, without their consent. I have actually worked out rules of timing with my closest circle as to when it’s OK to call, text, email, and when it’s not. This is crucial.

Ask: May I ask you something. Do you have a moment. When can we talk. Is this a good time for you.

Emotional labor applies when, say, a restaurant server is told by their manager to “put on a smile” to serve a rude customer. As you may know, I teach mental health seminars for the restaurant and bar industry. The customer is not always right. You don’t ever have to be taken advantage of.

Whether it’s a close friend, family member, employee, employer, client, or customer, emotional labor is the work that we choose to do to help someone else. It’s work. Emotionally and psychologically. It requires consent and willingness. It’s a labor of love.

Happy Labor Day y’all.

Mental health and Corona

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in five of U.S. adults (47 million) reported having a mental illness in the past year, and over 11 million had a serious mental illness, which frequently results in functional impairment and limits life activities. Please remember that these are only the reported numbers, because many people do not seek help or endorse symptoms.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders, who were previously substantial in number. In polls conducted in mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32% reported in March. Many adults are also reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. As the pandemic wears on, ongoing and necessary public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation, health worries, evictions, and job loss.

Some takeaways:
A broad body of research links social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health, and data from late March shows that significantly higher shares of people who were sheltering in place (47%) reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus. In particular, isolation and loneliness during the pandemic may present specific mental health risks for households with adolescents and for older adults. The share of older adults (ages 65 and up) reporting negative mental health impacts has very significantly increased since March. Polling data shows that women with children under the age of 18 are more likely to report major negative mental health impacts than their male counterparts.

Research also shows that job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem and may lead to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide. Recent polling data shows that more than half of the people who lost income or employment reported negative mental health impacts from worry or stress over coronavirus; and lower income people reported much higher rates of major negative mental health impacts compared to higher income people.

Poor mental health due to burnout among front-line workers and increased anxiety or mental illness among those with poor physical health are also concerns. Those with mental illness and substance use disorders pre-pandemic, and those newly affected, will likely require mental health and substance use services. The pandemic spotlights both existing and new barriers to accessing mental health and substance use disorder services.

In my practice, many people do not have access to consistent Wi-Fi or Internet service. During this unprecedented time of uncertainty and fear, it is likely that mental health issues and substance use disorders among people with these conditions will be exacerbated.

Embolden remains dedicated to providing access and services for medical professionals and front line personnel. The long-term effects that we are experiencing cannot be minimized.

How to help a loved one who is having mental health problems

We all go through tough times and people help us through them. Other times we have been worried about other people’s mental health. Whether they are a friend, family member, significant other, neighbor, or colleague, there are many ways to support somebody you care about.

1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression in the past week.

Talking about mental health
If you are worried about someone it can be difficult to know what to do. When you are aware there is an issue, it is important not to wait. One of the saddest components of depression is that it is immobilizing. You can simultaneously know that you desperately need help, and have absolutely no energy or desire to seek it.

Waiting and hoping others will come to you for help might lose valuable time in getting them support. Openly talking with someone is often the first step to take when you know they are going through a hard time. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.

Eight tips for talking about mental health:

  1. Set time aside with no distractions. It is important to provide an open and non-judgemental space.
  2. Let them share as much or as little as they want to. Let them lead the discussion at their own pace. Don’t put pressure on them to tell you anything they aren’t ready to talk about. Talking can take a lot of trust and courage. You might be the first person they have been able to talk to about this.
  3. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess their feelings. You probably aren’t a medical expert and, while you may be happy to talk and offer support, you aren’t a trained counsellor. Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.
  4. Keep questions open ended. Say “Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” rather than “I can see you are feeling very low”. Try to keep your language neutral. Give the person time to answer and try not to grill them with too many questions.
  5. Talk about wellbeing. Exercise, having a healthy diet and taking a break can help protect mental health and sustain wellbeing. Talk about ways of de-stressing and ask if they find anything helpful.
  6. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Repeat what they have said back to them to ensure you have understood it. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but by showing you understand how they feel, you are letting them know you respect their feelings.
  7. Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this.
  8. Know your limits. If you believe they are in immediate danger or they have incurred injuries that need medical attention, you need to take action to make sure they are safe. More details on dealing in a crisis can be found below.

How do I respond in a crisis?

People with mental health problems sometimes experience a crisis, such as breaking down in tears, having a panic attack, feeling suicidal, or experiencing a different sense of reality (dissociation). This may include even losing a sense of time and place. You may feel a sense of crisis too, in response, but it’s important to stay calm yourself.

There are some general strategies that you can use to help:

    • Listen without making judgements and concentrate on their needs in that moment.
    • Ask them what would help them.
    • Reassure and help point them to practical information or resources.
    • Avoid confrontation.
    • Ask if there is someone they would like you to contact.
    • Encourage them to seek appropriate professional help.
    • If they have hurt themselves, make sure they get the first aid they need.

Seeing, hearing or believing things that no-one else does can be the symptom of a mental health problem. It can be frightening and upsetting. Gently remind the person who you are and why you are there. Under extreme stress, people can dissociate. Don’t reinforce or dismiss their experiences, but acknowledge how the symptoms are making them feel.

How do I respond if someone is suicidal?
If someone tells you they are feeling suicidal or can’t go on, or if you suspect they are thinking of taking their own life, it is very important to encourage them to get help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English and Spanish
1-800-273-8255

Social Anxiety. It’s More Than Shyness.

16203233 – black woman holding her head in a living room

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.

*****

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).

 

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.