BringChange2Mind

September 28, 2010

New Regular Blogger! Please Welcome Marc…

Marc

Hello fellow BC2Mers! My name is Marc Peters and I’m honored to be joining as a blog contributor. I wanted to take an opportunity to introduce myself and tell you why I’m invested in this important cause.

I’m a graduate student at the Clinton School of Public Service, but for the year prior to my graduate work, I worked as a mental health advocate. However, long before that and all the jobs and degrees to come, I’m a bipolar patient.

During my freshman year of college, I had a psychotic breakdown. I ended up spending a month in a mental hospital and months in outpatient treatment, eventually being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Afterward, I was a shattered version of my former self. I wasn’t sure where to go from there or, honestly, if I could go on. I realize that in hindsight, it would have been easy to quit. I could have stayed on medical leave indefinitely. I’m not sure what made me think that what was waiting for me on campus made it worth going back.

Like many other colleges and universities, at my school there was a real lack of understanding about mental illness. I could have transferred to a school closer to my safety net of family and doctors and further away from judgmental students who bought into the stigma tied to mental illness. I decided, however, that I did not want to let my disorder rob me of anything. I wanted the college experience that I planned on and that meant staying at Syracuse University.  Even with understanding people around me, it took a couple of years before I began to feel comfortable talking about what had happened with anyone other than my doctor.

Given my lack of comfort with the subject and my ignorance of any world of mental health beyond my own, I never thought that this would be an issue around which I would center my advocacy. While in college, I jumped from one ambition to the next. From journalist or policymaker, to taking on issues of gender equality to working against systemic racism – there wasn’t a job I didn’t consider or a worthy cause I didn’t care about.  Even after the psychotic break that so jarred my world, I still returned to my favorite causes. I just moved on, wishing, hoping and praying that my classmates would begin to forget that it ever happened. Considering I was hiding, I certainly wasn’t going to work to raise awareness about mental health on campus.

I came out of hiding when I started a personal blog about mental health: www.bipolarrealities.com and went even further by working at Active Minds. However, full-time advocacy just wasn’t sustainable for me. It was too close to home. It’s impossible (for me anyway) to deal with mental health every day, both at work and in my personal life. When I went through bouts of severe depression that led me to be suicidal, the last thing I wanted to do was to advocate. When I could barely make it out of bed, I didn’t want to be reading about other people’s struggles with depression. It was too much.

I think groups like BC2M are important because we need people who just simply care to join voices with people with mental health disorders and become an effective team to advocate for change. Sometimes it just hurts too much for me to talk about. I need you to speak up because sometimes I just can’t. If we all take a little bit of the load, it won’t get overwhelming for any one of us. I’m glad that you are checking this site out and I’m thrilled that I will get a chance to connect with you every week, but I need you to do more. I need you to get involved.

September 22, 2010

Community Engagement: How You Can Change a Mind

You may have read my last posts and thought, “I can advocate for myself, I can make a change, but where do I begin?” When I finally reached the point where I felt comfortable enough to step it up a notch I started writing, but as I became more confident in my ability to advocate for myself and share my story I started to use different forms of media and community engagement. Here are some of my favorite ways to reach out to my community and make a change in the mental health world. Don’t feel like you need to do it all at once, or ever, but doing just one thing can be healing for yourself and others.

Spread the Word: Start sharing your story in a bigger way. Blogging, Video-Blogging, Tweeting, or just interacting on a mental heath related social networking site (check out our BC2M Facebook page) can really make an impact. You are not only allowing yourself freedom and honesty, but you are showing others that it is okay to talk about these things. There are some great health blogging websites and communities out there that can help you to spread your story and educate the community. Here are some of my favorites:

· WellSphere: http://www.wellsphere.com/health-blogger

· WEGO Health: http://www.wegohealth.com/

Language surrounding mental health and mental illness can easily become stigmatizing, even unintentionally so be careful about the words you use. For a great guide on language check out these “Quick Tips to Improve Mental Health Reporting” or visit BC2M’s “Watch Your Language” bullet on the “Be Involved” page.

Volunteer: Many mental health websites and organizations are seeking volunteers. My involvement and volunteering with BringChange2Mind has changed my life in so many positive ways. The ability to help an organization that I believe in, the opportunity to share my voice, and the privilege of working with volunteers that I now consider family is healing and empowering. There are so many things you can do as a volunteer whether it is spreading information about an organization, helping as a peer, or responding to emails or help requests. Here are a few organizations with volunteer pages:

· Active Minds often has amazing Internship Opportunities.

· The Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) has a great page on Volunteer/Intern Opportunities as well as other ways to help.

· The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) often has volunteer positions in the regional offices in your area. Click this link to visit a map and find an affiliate in your area.

Take Action: It is important that you contact your state and national representatives to make sure that they are on the side of individuals struggling with mental health conditions. By taking action and contacting you representatives you can help organizations that you trust get the support they deserve as well as help change laws that may be harmful to the mental health community. Here are some great websites to help you take action:

These are just a few of the ways you can get involved in the growing movement to change the mental health world for the better. Don’t forget to visit BringChange2Mind’s great “Be Involved” page to learn more!

Next time: Empowerment: How my move from Acceptance to Advocacy has changed my life.

September 9, 2010

Take 5 Minutes to Educate Yourself (and Others)

“As anyone who has been close to someone that has committed suicide knows, there is no other pain like that felt after the incident” ~ Peter Greene

From Take5toSaveLives.com

Most of you probably know this, but for those who don’t, tomorrow (Friday, September 10th) is World Suicide Prevention Day.  In fact, all this week – from September 6th – 11th – is National Suicide Prevention Week.  Why should we make a whole day out of suicide prevention?  Wait, a better question is why should there be a week dedicated to suicide?  Here’s why…

  • 11: suicide is the 11th cause of death for all Americans in 2007*
  • 34,000+: the number of people took their own lives in 2007
  • 1 in 15: in 2007, 1 suicide occurred every 15 minutes
  • 376,306: the number of people treated in Emergency Departments for intentional, nonfatal self-inflicted injuries in 2008
  • ~1,100: approximately 1,100 college students took their own lives on campuses across the country
  • 2: suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 25-34 year olds

Now that I’ve laid out the facts for you, here’s how you can help yourself, a family member, friend, or even a complete stranger in need.  I encourage you to read the details of each step on Take 5 to Save Lives, a campaign produced by the National Council for Suicide Prevention:

  1. Learn the signs**
  2. Join the movement
  3. Spread the word (via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  4. Support a friend
  5. Reach out

For a list of additional resources, I urge you to go to the Find Help page on our website If you know of anymore resources, I encourage you to use the comment section to educate other people about them.

Remember, when a family member or friend reaches out to you for help, you should always be there for them.  The fact that they are trying to get your attention means they really need a helping hand.  Help yourself, and them, by learning the signs and joining the movement. During Suicide Prevention Week, take it upon yourself to spend 5 minutes learning how you can help someone who is in need.

Also, be aware of your surroundings and the people you regularly pass in the hallways of your school or office, the courtyard on your campus, or the cashier at your local coffee shop or grocery store.  You never know when you might meet someone showing signs of depression or suicidal ideations.  These tips can – and, at some point, will – come in handy.  We owe it to each other to live life with our eyes wide open, ensuring that everyone we meet has someone to talk to.

*Statistics were found on a PDF from the CDC’s website | **Steps were found on Take 5 to Save Lives

September 7, 2010

Self Advocacy

Filed under: Youth — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Linea @ 7:30 am

When it comes to mental health conditions and disabilities self-advocacy is essential. Though not everyone will reach a point where they feel safe telling the world their story, it is crucial for everyone to be able to demand quality care and accommodations.

Last year I had the honor of presenting at a conference for a group of young adult leaders for disability rights and empowerment. These young people were between the ages of fifteen and twenty and came together to talk about their experiences as youth with disabilities. They talked about the importance of speaking up for yourself and/or advocating for your needs. Here is a list of the things they found important when it came to self-advocacy:

  • Be honest with your doctors, therapists and care team. Tell them if you feel uncomfortable or unhappy with your medication or treatment and see if there are other options that are more in line with your wants and needs. Add your voice into the mix and listen if professionals have a different perspective because they might have good ideas too.
  • Be honest with your teachers and/or coworkers. You may not need to tell them what your diagnosis is (though with teachers this may be necessary), but do tell them that you have a disability or condition that needs certain accommodations if you feel it could make your life easier. Speak up for your needs even if it may seem embarrassing or scary because in the long run you may learn better or get more accomplished.
  • After you have tried these see how you feel about advocating for yourself and see if you feel ready to take it a step higher and share your story. Provide more detail and talk about your personal experience with people when these issues come up. This will allow others to better understand the illness and who you are as a person. Many times this can even create an ally that will do anything to help you if you need it. You can practice this with friends and family.
  • When it comes to stigma or bullying: Situations where there is discrimination and/or judgment are often the most important place for people to hear a personal story. Many times bullies or others may not understand what you are really going through. Judge the situation and if you think it is worth it speak up. Tell them why their words hurt and what you are really experiencing. Tell them what is really going on instead of letting them continue to spread the misinformation. This one is tricky of course, so always judge safety first. If you feel you are being bullied or harassed talk to a teacher, parent or other safe adult.

Listening to these pointers impressed and inspired me and I hope that you can take something away too. It is also important to know that because of your ability to advocate for yourself you are inspiring and helping others to do the same. You may even start a small movement!

August 21, 2010

From Diagnosis to Empowerment

Filed under: Youth — Tags: , , , — Linea @ 1:27 pm

I just returned from a weekend conference for NAMI Washington State. Having been diagnosed only five years ago I have found it interesting to watch myself as I have moved through the various phases of acceptance. Between the inspiration of the conference and my present realizations I have decided that I should start a series for young adults (or anyone interested) on the path from initial diagnosis to empowerment. In these posts I hope to provide examples from my personal story along with tips and ideas for how you can achieve these goals. My upcoming posts will be:

Stayed tuned!

August 5, 2010

Why I am an Advocate, by Brandon Staglin

I have schizophrenia, and sometimes I think about whether I have let my illness define my life. I work for my family’s nonprofit, International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO), as a mental health advocate. If you asked me when I was a kid what work I would want to do, the last thing I would have said was to take on a family enterprise. I used to value my individuality above anything else, and dreaded being corrupted by conformity. Thanks in part to my illness, my values have shifted since then.

Brandon Staglin

I had a psychotic break in 1990, the summer after my freshman year at Dartmouth College. A friend managed to get me to a psychiatry ward. At first, I could not accept that I had a mental illness. I had a life plan, to be an astronautical engineer! I would not be cut down by a schizophrenia diagnosis.

Three nights into my first hospitalization I decided I would get out of the psych ward immediately. I was unable to sleep, furious, and refused to take meds. A nurse was on her way with an injection to make me sleep. I would not let her violate my consciousness! In fact, I would just knock the syringe from her hand and walk out of the unit before she could do anything. …Of course, when I tried that, several nurses wrestled me onto a bed, strapped me down and gave me the injection.

Now I understand their perspective, but at the time I felt mistreated. Still, when I woke up the next morning I realized I needed to get better somehow and get on with my life. Hard though it was, I agreed to a treatment program.

I was able to return to college, get my engineering degree, and secure a job designing communications satellites. I kept my illness under my hat.

When I had my second psychotic episode in 1996, it became clear to me that I could no longer work as an engineer. The job was too stressful for me, I admitted, with disappointment. But, my wonderful parents offered me a position in the winery they own and run, Staglin Family Vineyard.

A few years later, a film director was interviewing our family for a wine film he was making for international release. The time came when the director asked my parents what had inspired them to start their annual fundraiser for mental health research, the Music Festival for Mental Health. I made a split-second decision. I did not want to hide my illness, such a large part of my life, any more.

“I can tell you about that.” I told him my story.

The director, a little hesitant, asked, “Do you want me to keep this out of the film?”

I blinked, and said, “No, by all means put it in!”

Although my disclosure (and our mental health advocacy) ended up on the cutting-room floor, a change had taken place in me. I volunteered to help produce the Music Festival in its next year.

I began to talk more openly about my disorder. People were interested! When asked why I was so gung ho about helping to raise awareness, I explained that mentally ill people could be misunderstood by the public. Often, even caregivers found it hard to understand their patients’ suffering. I realized as I spoke that I wanted people with mental illness to be understood, to retain their sense of self-worth. I thought then, “This is something I can help with.” When asked, I began giving interviews for local radio and TV.

The next Fall a Music Festival patron, Liz Browning, sent me a link to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article about her son’s experience with schizophrenia. The health care system had failed to treat Marc adequately, the article reported, and after years of progress of his disease, he may have been beyond therapy. I was heartbroken for her and for Marc. This issue was much, much bigger than what I had experienced.

Since then I have met many people whose experiences with their own illnesses have inspired me. In September 2009 I appeared in the BringChange2Mind PSA. Talking with the Closes, the other principals and the people who helped to produce it showed me how much passion there is behind this cause. The momentum of that day caught me up and has never let me go.

Today, my job as communications director and blog-writer at IMHRO enables me to pursue my own passion for the cause. Has my condition defined my life? Yes, to some degree–and I like it. It has given me a new direction which I hope makes people’s lives better. And, it has led me to compassion and patience. I love my life and would live it the same way again, illness and all.

To learn more about the Staglin family and the International Mental Health Research Organization (IMHRO) please visit their homepage: http://www.imhro.org/

To watch a video clip of Brandon and his mom, Shari, sharing their story with BringChange2Mind, please visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa3CddPGD8A

July 22, 2010

Bouncing Back, Advocacy and the Canadian Mental Health Association, By Keith Anderson

The BringChange2Mind blog is going to start featuring some of our favorite resources. Here’s Keith to tell you about one of his favorites…

By the fall of 2007, three years after my breakdown, I was confident that I was well on my way to being healthy. So, I turned my thoughts to seeking that public voice to discus my mental illness, its impact on my life, and my recovery. I knew I wasn’t yet capable of speaking about it, but I thought I could perhaps write something.

I emailed the National Post newspaper, which is distributed throughout Canada, with the suggestion of a first person account of what happened to me. The following day, I received a response, and was told that my story was a perfect fit for a new upcoming series, “ All About Bouncing Back”. My story appeared in the paper on February 20, 2008, titled “ How I Returned to a Life Worth Living”. My first sense of accomplishment in many years.

Then I wondered how I could use this article to continue with my advocacy. Up until this time, I had used the internet, as I recovered, to read news and sports. I went looking for websites on depression. I had read somewhere about the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). So, I thought I would see if CMHA had a website.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has a full and comprehensive website ( www.cmha.ca ). I first found a list of mental illnesses and clicked on “depression.” Under “signs of depression” I read what were the signs of my life the last dozen years. Just reading these symptoms gave me a sense of comfort. I knew again that I was not alone with my depression, it was real illness with real symptoms that other people had as well.

I was also impressed with the section on “Public Policy” which listed various reports and submissions that CMHA had presented to government bodies and agencies. This was a group that was taking visible and strong positions in the area of mental health.

But the most impressive part of the site was the list of locations. There was a national office, but also provincial offices, and even local offices. I live in Nova Scotia, which is a small province in Canada, small in terms of geography and population. But CMHA has a Nova Scotia Division and also eight local offices in different parts of the province. I really felt that CMHA with such an extensive network had a handle on helping people.

So I emailed my National Post article to CMHA, Nova Scotia, with no expectations at all. Within an hour, I received a response from Carol Tooton, the Executive Director, asking if I wanted another audience. I replied positively, but not knowing to what I had agreed. In her second email, Ms. Tooton asked if I wanted to speak at the CMHA National Conference in a few months time. The Conference was being held in Nova Scotia to honor CMHA, NS, and its 100th anniversary. So, I went and spoke for the first time in public in five years. It went well for me, and the audience was receptive. I then knew I was still capable of speaking in a public venue, perhaps no longer on behalf of clients, but with my own story.

CMHA’s website initially provided me with information and thus a sense of acceptance. It then provided me with a means to advocate more on mental health issues. I realize that it is a Canadian based website, but we all know that mental illness knows no boundaries and the internet knows no boundaries. I have learned about depression from this site and from sites based in other countries.

I suggest finding a site that provides the information and thus the guidance that you think you need. From that site, many benefits can arise, and your life can even be changed.

In the interest of being open and forthright, I note that I have done some volunteer work with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Nova Scotia Division, over the last year and continue to do so, and will be volunteering with the Winnipeg Region, Manitoba, on an 18 month project, beginning the weekend of July 16, 2010.

To learn more about the Canadian Mental Health Association please visit their website here: www.cmha.ca.

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