BringChange2Mind

February 23, 2011

Strength in Numbers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:00 am

The greatest gift you can give someone is the gift of your time.

The past few weeks have been a sort of a hell for me. When I started to write this post, I was still mired in a severe depressive episode. The ripple of effect of that misery hit all facets of my life. The ties with friends fray when it becomes exhausting and uncomfortable to talk on the phone or meet up with classmates. On a theoretical level, I know that the first thing I should do when I’m depressed is reach out. However, it’s often the last thing on my mind. I can usually go against every fiber of my depressed being and call a friend or two for support, but this episode was different.

For one thing, I haven’t yet been able to build the support system during my six months in Little Rock that I left behind after most of my life in Maryland. When I was working for Active Minds in Washington, DC, I had friends in the area to rely on and co-workers who were intimately familiar with the field of mental health. I had it easy. Undergraduate too was easy compared to now. If you think about college, you have friend networks built in and even if there is stigma and ignorance, people are always around. It is hard when you are in a transient point in your life to make local support networks a priority. It becomes even harder as a student knowing that even if you decide to stay put, the people you’ve come to trust may leave.

There are steps to take that I haven’t. I don’t have a local therapist. I’m only starting to think of Arkansas as a long-term home and I found the prospect of building a relationship with a new therapist daunting (especially if I was going to up and leave in a year or two). Something else I realize that I had failed to do was educate my classmates about warning signs and how they can help me when I’m in need. If I had taken those steps, my journey this past month might not have been so awful.

Eventually I did reach out and my classmates were there for me. People have an incredible capacity for compassion if you give them the opportunity. However, if you aren’t in a place where you can disclose what is going on in your life make sure that you can rely on a doctor or a therapist. If you are in crisis, make sure you know that there are places you can call for support without judgment. Keep that 1-800-273-TALK number handy in the case of an emergency. Know that there is incredible strength to be had in numbers when you choose to let someone in. The burden of an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder, depression, mania, and anything and everything else on the mental health spectrum is near impossible to bear alone. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to receive help. It’s okay.

All the best,

Marc

October 13, 2010

What Can I Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Marc Peters @ 7:30 am

Ask yourself why you are involved in this cause. You may have a mental health disorder or know a family member who does. You may have lost a friend to suicide or simply had your heart broken by all of the news reports of young people taking their own lives. We all have our own motivation for getting involved. The problem is that it is (relatively) easy to get fired up about a cause. It’s much more difficult to sustain that commitment.

One of the things we can do is to guard against “do-gooder” flame-out. You may have instantly realized that youth suicide is a tragedy and an issue to be addressed. Maybe you think it should have been eradicated yesterday. Perhaps you quickly came to the conclusion that mental health stigma is a disgrace and that every day that it exists in our world is a terrible reflection on us as human beings. Impatience can be a valuable trait when it keeps you from settling for the status quo. It becomes dangerous when you grow easily frustrated when change doesn’t come at your preferred pace. Mental health stigma and suicide have been a part of our culture from day one. They will be a part of our culture tomorrow, next week and next year. Yes, we should challenge ourselves and each other to set HUGE goals, but we also need to set small, achievable benchmarks.

I know that I explicitly needed to be told that I couldn’t do everything myself. I could commit every hour of every day to this cause for the rest of my life and not reach everyone. Some things can only be done together. It is instinctive (and reasonable) to think, “Well if I won’t see results right now and I can’t get it done alone, why tackle this at all?”

Just because you can’t fix the problem completely doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. The onus is on all of us to serve as support system for each other and prevent others from losing hope and giving up.  Everyone has a sphere of influence. Everyone has people they can reach. We all have people we look up to and people whom look up to us. If you learn that one of your friends suffers from depressive episodes, you can find out how they want to be supported and fill that void. You can offer to be called day or night and be willing to drop anything you are doing to be with them when they desperately need the presence of a friend. You can speak up in groups of your peers when they are bad-mouthing people who are “crazy” or dismissing people with depression as “overly emotional.” We can all be more supportive to people we care about and (more importantly even) to people we pass by daily and hardly notice. We can use teachable moments not to admonish people for expressing ignorant beliefs, but rather to increase understanding and decrease stigma.

We all can do something. Take Ron Artest for example:

From ESPN.com

Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers is motivated to win another NBA championship because he plans to auction his ring from last season’s title to raise money for mental health counseling in schools.

I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point.

When I think of mental health advocates, it’s easy to relate to Tipper Gore using the reach of the Vice Presidential office of her husband to bring mental health issues into the national debate. It’s easy to comprehend Mrs. Carter offering fellowships to journalists to write about mental health. We applaud Glenn Close for sharing her sister’s story and using her celebrity to draw attention to a cause that is all too often ignored. They are the ideal advocates we have…for middle class and elite America.

But what about everyone else…it’s commendable that Ron Artest is using his considerable clout among young people, the very people unlikely to seek help, to make a difference. We may not all be NBA superstars with a sphere of influence in the millions, but no matter how large or small, what is important is that we do something.

You don’t have to change the whole world. Start by changing your world and I will work on changing mine and if enough of us do that, the entire world will begin to change.

October 6, 2010

Acts of Kindness: Countering Bullying in our Schoolyards

Filed under: Youth — Tags: , , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:15 am

My heart may have been irrecoverably broken this week. Each and every day this week there seemed to be a new story about a student lost to suicide. People are waking up to the fact that there is an epidemic of bullying in our country and all too often it is ending in tragedy.

I’ve been suicidal before. I get brought up to the edge by a chemical imbalance, but what keeps me there thinking about taking my own life is self-loathing. A self-loathing that was fostered by making the wrong friends in grade school and sticking by them after being constantly demeaned. A self-loathing that was fostered after being called out for being overweight. A self-loathing that was fostered by being made to feel too smart by my classmates and not good enough by my father. It took me a long time, a great therapist and good friends to get over all that. But too many young people aren’t giving themselves that chance.

Bullying is a fact of life. From the time we start kindergarten until we graduate from college, we are faced with “school-yard bullies” Some kids are just mean and haven’t been taught a sense of right and wrong. Others have an abusive home life that fosters the belief that doing wrong is right. Now, we can love these bullies and hope that they grow and change and mature, but the reality is that eradicating bullying from our society is unlikely.

Let’s work under the premise that bullying will always exist and the bullied will always be suffering as a result. We can try and be punitive. We can confront bullies with fists or we can sentence them to detention and never change the behavior of others. It’s futile. We aren’t going to win playing this game. We need to change the rules of the game. We need to change the game itself.

To be honest, the bullies aren’t where we need to be spending the majority of our energy. It’s the bystanders at whom we need to take a hard look. So many of us watch people getting harassed and never respond. If we do respond, it is to challenge or report the bully. All too often, we forget to support the bullied student. We need to counteract anger with love. If there will always be premeditated acts of hatred, we need premeditated acts of kindness. Random acts of kindness are all well and good, but that’s not what this situation requires. We will never get anywhere in fits and starts. We need to take every opportunity to affirm the people in our lives. We need to build their defenses up before these incidents take place.

We all must realize that our words and action carry serious repercussions. Words carry weight. They can affirm someone or they can break them down. We need to build people up. We are losing far too many people to keep doing the same old thing. I doubt that we will ever “cure” depression, but we can bring an end to this senseless loss of life taking place in our communities and across our country.

I’ve seen people argue that suicide is without exception, a byproduct of mental illness. Speaking from someone who has gone through severe depressive episodes, it is important to know that the behavior is triggered by something. You may have a warped sense of reality, but it is in fact still reality that you are looking at. A rational person might look at being publicly humiliated and bullied and be able to cope with the ramifications. A depressed person might look at the same situation and thing that their world is over and they have no choice but to end it. That is what we are fighting. That is what we need to prevent. Tell your friends and family what they mean to you. Tell your classmates that you care. Tell your neighbor that they are important to you. Together, we can make this a better world to live in and one that our friends stick around to see.

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.

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